Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in December 2009
At the end of the year its results were summed up. On 22 December the leadership of the United Democratic Forces of Belarus held a press-conference at which it was stated that this year the situation for the opposition was no better than last year. The country again has political prisoners, the Ministry of Justice again denies state registration to political parties and NGOs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs denies accreditation to foreign media and their correspondents. Besides, democratic activists are kidnapped by unidentified persons and are arrested for participation in unauthorized peaceful street actions.
On 10 December the Belarusian human rights defenders intended to hold a number of various events dated to the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including informational pickets, quizzes, contests, etc. 14 applications for authorization of such actions were filed with the authorities in the capital and other large cities of Belarus. None of them were granted. In fact, in Belarus the Human Rights Day was put under a ban. Only in Brest the authorities sanctioned a rally at the unfrequented Locomotive stadium on the outskirts, though the local civil activists filed applications for three actions: a rally, a picket and a procession in the center of the city.
In Minsk the first events dated to the Human Rights Day took place before 10 December. On 6 December an open youth meeting was held at the International Educational Center (IBB). On 7-9 December the Minsk activists of the Movement For Freedom organized the viewing of human rights documentaries.
On 9 December the civil initiative Human Rights Alliance presented its yearly prizes. Aleh Hruzdzilovich, a correspondent with Radio Liberty, was awarded as journalist of the year, Pavel Sapelka – as the best lawyer and Raman Kisliak – as the best human rights defender. The award ceremony was followed by a joint press-conference of representatives of human rights organizations.
On 10 December the Minsk human rights defenders and civil activists went out to Nezalezhnastsi Avenue to congratulate passers-by on Human Rights Day. Together with the congratulations people were given informational booklets and postcards with information about different human rights issues.
On 23 December the organizing committee of the civil initiative Charter'97 presented its National prize for human rights protection in 2009. Political activist Franak Viachorka, civil activist Zmitser Barodka, young activist Maksim Viniarski, political prisoner Artsiom Dubski, the Vaukavysk entrepreneurs Uladzimir Asipenka, Yury Liavonau and Mikalai Autukhovich and the Salihorsk human rights defender Yana Paliakova were awarded for personal courage (the latter one – posthumously).
On 23 December the Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs presented symbolic awards to the representatives of the civil initiatives who were most active in 2009. Among the prize holders there are the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Center Viasna. Human Rights Defenders against the death penalty was declared the civil campaign of the year. The anti-hero of the event was the Ministry of Justice that won in the nomination Non-registration of the year.
On 17 December the European Parliament adopted by the overwhelming majority of votes a resolution on Belarus. The documents points at the absence of significant progress in the situation of human rights in spite of a number of positive steps. The resolution welcomes the decision to extend the sanctions against the Belarusian officials till October 2010 and freeze them till that time. The European MPs believe that the dialogue with Belarus on human rights must be aimed at concrete results and significant progress in the sphere of democracy and supremacy of law. The MPs expect that in 2010 the Belarusian authorities will reform the law On mass media and will put it in line with recommendations of international experts, will abolish the article that penalizes organizing and running unregistered organizations, will allow the registration of political parties and NGOs and will create favorable conditions for activities of NGOs and mass media. European MPs also insist on urgent introduction of the moratorium on death penalty in Belarus. The resolution also calls on the Belarusian authorities to review the verdict that were issued in 2007 to figurants of the Process of 14 including Artsiom Dubski and urgently release from jail the former Vaukavysk entrepreneurs Uladzimir Asipenka and Mikalai Autukhovich.
The Belarusian human rights defenders also prepared and passed to the UN Human Rights Council an alternative Universal Periodical Report on Belarus. The authorities' report is due by February 2010. On the basis of these reports the Human Rights Council will adopt its recommendations for Belarus. According to Valiantsin Stefanovich, lawyer of HRC Viasna, within the frames of preparation of the alternative UPR the authorities agreed to hold consultations with the NGOs that prepared it. The human rights defenders twice met with representatives of the Belarusian MFA and the first Deputy Head of Presidential Administration Natallia Piatkevich.
The human rights defenders also prepare an alternative report to the UN Human Rights Committee on implementation of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights by Belarus. The official Minsk has already twice ignored its obligation to report on the ICCPR to the Committee and implement its decisions.
As stated by the Director General of Democracy and Political Affairs Jean-Louis Laurens, the Council of Europe insists on introduction of the death penalty moratorium in Belarus.
1. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 7 December in Navahradak, Yury Kazak, an activist of the Belarusian Christian Democracy and the Young Front, was charged under Article 339, part 1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (hooliganism). The young activist had been detained in the night of 6-7 November 2009, when the local monument to Lenin had been smeared with green paint. The court hearings took place on 29 and 30 December. The activist confessed to having poured the paint over the monument to Lenin. The director of Navahradak local core museum stated that the monument wasn't a historical or cultural value and Lenin Square would soon be renamed. Historian Yury Bachyshcha read a letter from his colleagues about the negative role of Lenin in the history of Belarus. The prosecutor asked to fine Yury Kazak about 8 million rubles. Judge Valer Yatsynkavich postponed the trial to 11 January 2010.
At the end of December Yuliya Pashko, Chairperson of the Brest branch of the Young Front, received a prosecutorial warning for activities on behalf of unregistered organization.
In his letters activist of the Young Front Artsiom Dubski writes about an increasing pressurization by the administration of the prison where he is serving his one-year term. He writes that the prison authorities try to isolate him, prohibiting other prisoners to communicate with him. He cannot even a detailed description of the situation, as his mail is censored in prison.
2. Harassment of civil and political activists
On 2 December the Young Belarus activists Andrei Kuzminski, Pavel Prakapovich, Nastassia Mashchava and Yahor Babrou were detained for holding a performance near the Belarus department store. The young people set up a stand, painted a man with moustache on it and wrote below the picture: 'Throw an egg at me if you don't like the regime'. The young activists placed a box with eggs near the stand. There were some persons who liked the idea, and a number of eggs were flung into the stand. On 3 December A.Niakrasava, Judge of the Zavadski district court in Minsk, found the detained activists guilty under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (participation in unauthorized action). Pavel Prakapovich and Yahor Babrou were sentenced to 15 days of jail, Andrei Kuzminski – to 7 days and Nasta Mashchava was fined 1 050 rubles (about $376).
On 17 December the Savetski district court in Minsk fined Aliaksandr Haharyn for taking part in the protest action near the Embassy of Iran on 16 December. That day representatives of the Belarusian LGBT community protested against the Iranian law punishing homosexuals with death. A.Haharyn was fined 105 000 rubles (about $38) under article 23.34, part 1 (participation in unsanctioned rally). Two other participants of the action, Siarhei Androsenka and Siarhei Pradzed, were tried on 23 December. Aksana Reliava, Judge of the Savetski district court in Minsk, found Siarhei Androsenka guilty of organizing the mass action and fined him 825 000 rubles (about $295), while Siarhei Pradzed was fined 350 000 rubles (about $125).
As it follows from Ruling 16 of the Ministry of Information of Belarus, the administrative case against the Russian ecologist Andrey Ozharovskii was dropped because of absence of corpus delicti in his actions. 'One can be administratively punished for distributing printed periodicals without imprint. The materials that were confiscated from Ozharovskii weren't production of a printed media,' runs the court verdict. It means that the confiscated printed editions, in which Ozharovskii criticizes the idea of construction of a nuclear power-plant in Belarus, must be returned to him. Bear in mind, the Russian nuclear physicist, project coordinator of the EcoDefense group A.Ozharovskii was detained on 9 October in the town of Astravets in Hrodna oblast to which he came as an official participant of the public hearings about the possible influence of the nuclear power plant on the ecology. Later the local court sentenced the ecologist to 7 days of jail on charges in hooliganism.
3. Freedom of expression
In the beginning of December the Ministry of Justice refused to register the news office of the Polish satellite TV channel BelSat. The denial was signed by Valer Varanetski, Deputy Foreign Minister. The official reason is that BelSat journalists worked in Belarus without accreditation in 2009, thus violating the law.
The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal lodged by Iosif Siaredzich and Maryna Koktysh, the chief editor and a journalist of Narodnaya Volia, against the refusal of the Minsk city court to start civil proceedings concerning the refusal of the Chamber of Representatives to accredit the journalist. 'As far as the question of accreditation of journalists is beyond the competence of the court and the Belarusian legislation doesn't empower it to consider appeals against accreditation denials, the judge reasonably refused to bring the case,' reads the letter signed by A.Fedartsou, Deputy Chairperson of the Supreme Court. Maryna Koktysh was denied accreditation two years ago and has been trying to get justice since then.
On 24 December the Ministry of Information issued the private socio-political newspaper Narodnaya Volia with a warning for dissemination of allegedly inaccurate information (Article 4 of the Law On mass media). It is already the second warning to the newspaper in 2009. The first warning was issued on 17 November.
On 28 December the editorial office of the private regional edition Hazeta Slonimskaya received a written denial to request for accreditation of its journalists at the Slonim district executive committee. In the letter signed by Deputy Chairperson of the Slonim district executive committee Dzmitry Dzeshka it is stated that ' sittings and counsels held by the executive committee are covered by journalists of the state newspaper Slonimski Vesnik, the official press edition of the Slonim district executive committee'.
4. Death penalty
On 10 December representatives of human rights community acting within the frames of the campaign Human rights defenders against death penalty in Belarus passed to the Presidential Administration a petition with the call to annul this kind of punishment that violates the right to life. A copy of the petition was passed to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus. It was signed by more than 30 well-known cultural and civil activists, human rights defenders, lawyers and scientists.
The Office of the UN Supreme Commissioner on Human Rights received the commentary of the Belarusian government to the individual communication of the death convict Andrei Zhuk's mother. In this commentary the authorities appealed against the legitimacy of the communication and state that Andrei hadn't depleted all national means of defense (they consider clemency petition to the President as one of such means).
5. Freedom of association
On 9 December the Ministry of Justice refused to register the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party. Inaccurate information about the regional assemblies of the party founders was cited as the official reason. It was the second registration denial to BCD in 2009. According to co-Chairperson of the party Vital Rymasheuski, there were dozens of cases when founders of the party were summoned to the ideological departments of executive committees or educational establishments and threatened. As a result, signatures were revoked by five persons.
On 15 December the Supreme Court of Belarus dismissed the appeal of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Party of Workers against the non-registration of the latter by the Ministry of Justice. Aliaksandr Bukhvostau, Chairperson of the organizing committee, refers to cases of intimidation of founders of the party, as a result of which some of them revoked their signatures. He also stated that the organizing committee would start preparing to a new constituent assembly.
On 18 December the second constituent assembly of the Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs took place in Minsk. The first attempt of the Assembly to legalize its activities was unsuccessful. Aliona Valynets, Chairperson of the Executive Bureau of the Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs, expressed the hope that the recent election of the Assembly representative Siarhei Matskevich to the position of Speaker of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum could positively influence the decision of the Ministry of Justice on registration of the organization.
On 29 December the Brest oblast court dismissed the lawsuit of the co-founders of the human rights civil association Berastseyskaya Viasna against the main justice department of the Brest city executive committee that had refused to register the organization. The judge agreed with the opinion of a CEC representative that presenting a copy of the receipt for the state registration fee instead of the original was an incorrigible mistake and was a sufficient reason for non-registering the association.
On 29 December the Hrodna oblast court considered the complaint of members of the Zalaty Leu NGO against the justice department of the Hrodna oblast executive committee that had refused to register Zalaty Leu, and left the decision on non-registration in force. As stated by representative of the NGO Ales Masiuk, the judge confessed that most reasons for non-registration of the NGO were wire-drawn, but agreed that according to the registration documents the organization Board had too many powers, which allegedly contradicts to the Civil Code.
6. Tortures and abductions of civil and political activists
On 5 December two unidentified persons in mufti assaulted the leader of Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich near his apartment and pulled him into a bus. They pulled two caps down over his eyes so that he couldn't see anything and took him to a forest located about 70 km from Minsk. There they passed a pole through the mantles of his overcoat so that he couldn't move normally for some time, then took the caps off his head and drove away.
On 6 December Yauhen Afnahel, an activist of the civil campaign European Belarus, was seized by people in mufti in Bialinski Street in Minsk. He was taken into a car, ordered to lay his head down on the knees so that he couldn't look in the window and drove him around the city for about 20 minutes. Then they drove several kilometers in Barysau direction, halted and ordered him to go out. Before driving away they took out the battery from his mobile phone.
Human rights defenders consider such seizures of citizens and politically motivated kidnappings, which is a criminal offence. Such actions are conducted by representatives of law machinery, are evidently unlawful and gravely violate such human rights as security of person.
In the middle of December the Leninski district procuracy in Brest refused the Young Front activist Mikhas Iliin in bringing a criminal case against the policemen and persons in mufti who had inflicted bodily injures to him. The refusal was signed by investigator Aliaksandr Yaroshyk. On 17 September the activist had been beaten at a picket near the monument to the 1000th anniversary of Brest by policemen directed by a person in mufti. Besides, M.Iliin had been fined for participation in the unauthorized picket.
On 18 December officers of the organized crimes section of the Valozhyn district police department interrogated the administration of the Ivianets branch of the underground Union of Poles in Belarus. Policemen checked up the documents and asked about the economical activities of the organization. The administration of the Valozhyn district police department refused to comment on the reasons for the check-up within the frames of which the interrogation was conducted. Before this, the Ivianets UPB branch had been checked up by the State Control Committee.
7. Freedom of conscience
On 8 December the College Board of the Supreme Economic Court made up of Judges Siarhei Kulakouski, Aksana Mikhniuk and Stsiapan Turmovich dismissed the complaint of the Protestant church New Life and left in force the ruling on the eviction of the believers from their temple. The parishioners stated they were not going to pass their building to the city authorities. On 29 December the New Life Church filed a petition with Vasil Dzemidovich, Deputy Chairperson of the Supreme Economic Court, asking him to appeal against the ruling of the Supreme Economic Court and the Minsk Economic Court about the eviction of the church from the building in Kavaliou Street, 72 in Minsk.
Residence permits weren't extended to three Polish priests. As Polish Radio informed with reference to Gazeta Wyborcza, the official reason was serving masses in the Polish language.
8. Freedom of peaceful assemblies
On 10 December the authorities disrupted the festive action Human Rights Tramway, organized by the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. Members of the organization rented a tramway in order to drive by one of the usual routes handing out human rights brochures to the passengers, telling them about human rights and treating them with cake and tea.
Viachaslau Bolbat, Siarhei Housha and Viktar Syrytsa lodged with the procuracy a complaint against the Baranavichy city executive committee that had failed to provide them with a timely answer to their application for authorization of a picket dated to the Human Rights Day. The Baranavichy activists asked the procuracy to hold a check-up and give a legal evaluation to the inaction of officers of the executive committee.
Alena Papova, Deputy Chairperson of the Kastrychnitski district court in Vitsebsk on civil affairs, dismissed the complaint of the local human rights defenders against the prohibition of a picket dated to 10 December. The Kastrychnitski district executive committee of Vitsebsk banned the action on the grounds that the human rights defenders hadn't concluded agreements with the police, ambulance and the community services. The human rights defenders also asked the court to find unlawful Ruling 881 On mass actions, issued by the Vitsebsk city executive committee on 10 July 2009. Predictably enough, Judge Papkova took the side of the authorities.
9. Politically motivated expulsions from educational establishments and dismissals from work
On 3 December Tatsiana Shaputska, Press Secretary of Young Front, was expelled from the second year of the juridical faculty of Belarusian State University because of participation in the Civil Society Forum in Brussels in November 2009. T.Shaputska was one of the best students. Her average grade was 8,5 out of 10. Just one week was left to the winter exam session. That's why the expelled student filed a complaint with Education Minister Aliaksandr Radzkou and petitioned the Rector's Office for reinstatement at the place of study. Together with the text of the petition she passed about 400 signatures of BSU students in her support. 'The surnames of the students that had to revoke their signatures under the pressure, are crossed out – let Mr. Ablameika (Rector) see the results of activities of the administration of the juridical faculty and the student dormitory,' said Tatsiana Shaputska.