Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in April 2010
The local council election was the main event
in April. According to information of Lidziya Yarmoshyna, Chairperson of the
Central Election Commission, 21,293 deputies were elected to local councils on
25 April. Among them there were nine representatives of democratic opposition, including
3 members of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, 5 members of the
Belarusian Party of Leftists Fair World
and 1 member of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada.
Participants of the monitoring campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections vigilantly watched all stages of the electoral campaign and concluded that the general spirit of the campaign corresponded to the previous ones. Likewise with the previous elections, serious systemic retractions from the democratic standards were registered, for which the Belarusian authorities had often received fair criticism. Thus, the BDIHR/OSCE recommendations concerning democratization of the electoral process remained actual. However, it was also noted that the amendments that were introduced in the election legislation fostered to a certain extent the progress of the national election legislation towards the international democratic standards. First of all it concerns the abolition of strict limitations in the procedure of nomination and registration of candidates for deputies.
At the end of April, the trial of the criminal case against the Vaukavysk entrepreneurs Mikalai Autukhovich and Uladzimir Asipenka came to an end. There were two more defendants in the case, former police lieutenant colonel Mikhail Kazlou and Aliaksandr Laryn. The trial started at the Supreme Court on 10 March and lasted for more than a month. On 20 April, following the court debates, Prosecutor Eldar Safarau demanded that Autukhovich was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment with confiscation of property, U.Asipenka and A.Laryn – to 11 years of high security colony and M.Kazlou – to 3 years of general regime colony with deprival of the right to occupy executive positions. M.Autukhovich and U.Asipenka pleaded innocent and stated that they were persecuted because of their anticorruption activities. Both had been kept in custody since 8 February 2009 and were charged with preparation of a terrorist act against high-rank state officials and arson of a policeman's house.
Bear in mind that Mikalai Autukhovich, Uladzimir Asipenka and Yury Liavonau were detained on 8 February 2009. In ten days, they were charged under Article 218 of the Criminal Code (deliberate destruction or anientisement of property). On 20 November U.Asipenka and M.Autukhovich also faced charges in preparation of a terrorist act. In the beginning of August Yu.Liavonau was released from jail and on 24 September he was cleared of all charges.
The crackdown on independent media continued. During the press conference in Minsk on 29 April, journalists of private media Sviatlana Kalinkina, Maryna Koktysh, Natallia Radzina and Iryna Khalip reported ceaseless pressure on the part of the state security services. Short before the press-conference, all of them were interrogated at the Pershamaiski District Police Department of Minsk in connection with a criminal case that had been instigated by the Homel Region Procuracy concerning libelous web publications about Ivan Korzh, former head of the Homel Region KGB Department. The computer system blocks and information carriers that had been confiscated from the journalists still remained at the disposal of the investigative organs. According to Natallia Radzina, editor of the Charter'97 website, no information libeling Ivan Korzh was found at the 8 computers that had been confiscated from the organization office. However, more than 3,000 files with words ‘dictatorship', ‘Jerzy Buzek' and ‘European Parliament' were found, as a result of which another criminal case was instigated.
On 29 April extraordinary debates on Belarus took place in Strasbourg. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) decided to suspend its activities involving high-level contacts with the Belarusian Parliament and/or the governmental authorities, having noted a 'lack of progress' towards Council of Europe standards and a 'lack of political will' on the part of the authorities to adhere to the Organization's values. The appropriate PACE resolution also expresses regret concerning the recent events in the country including the execution of Andrei Zhuk and Vasil Yuzepchuk, the situation of the Polish minority and the absence of international observers during the local election.
The American human rights organization Freedom House ranked Belarus 189th place (out of 196) in freedom of press. As far as freedom of press is absent in Belarus, the country traditionally occupies closing positions in such ratings.
On 6-8 April the 37th congress of the International Human Rights Forum of the International Federation for Human Rights held by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) took place in Yerevan, Armenia. It was attended by 300 delegates from different parts of the world including the Belarusian human rights defenders Ales Bialiatski and Valiantsin Stefanovich. During the congress, Ales Bialiatski, Chairperson of the Human Rights Center Viasna, was elected for the second term as vice-president of the FIDH by secret vote.
1. Electoral rights
On 2 April Heorhi Stankevich, a candidate for the Beshankovichy District Council, received a warning from the district election commission for alleged improper remarks concerning deputies of the district council of the 25th convocation during his electoral radio speech. As a result, the speech wasn't put on air.
On 6 April a member of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada Aleh Ramashkevich, a candidate running at the Berastavitskaya election constituency #18, lodged a complaint with the Central Election Commission against censure of his speech and change of its air time by workers of the Hrodna regional radio station. As a result of interference of the radio workers, the speech became almost two minutes shorter as the most important expressions that formed its core were deleted. The candidate asked the CEC to identify and punish the guilty and provide him with an opportunity to appear at the regional radio again. Meanwhile, on 30 April Ramashkevich was fined 875,000 rubles (about $296) on charges of posting agitation leaflets in wrong places. Bear in mind that Ramashkevich ran opposed by Chairperson of the Hrodna Region Executive Committee Arkadz Karputs, Chairperson of the Berastavitsa District Council and Chairperson of the Berastavitsa electricity network.
As it was discovered on 25 April, 4 candidates for deputies of the Chysts Village Council, S.Bazhko, H.Kurylovich, S.Miroshnikau, and A.Ulchyts were also members of precinct election commissions, which is a gross violation of the electoral legislation. The complaint about this fact was lodged with the Maladzechna District Procuracy at 3.20 p.m. on 25 April, after five days of early voting and 7 hours of voting on the Election Day. As a result, the election at these precincts was to have been declared invalid, and the registration of these people as candidates was to have been annulled. However, according to Lidziya Yarmoshyna, Chairperson of the Central Election Committee, these persons were excluded from the election commissions and didn't participate in the counting of the poll. As a result of such election, violators of election legislation became 'deputies'.
On 26 April the Maskouski District Court of Minsk found Ales Taustyka, Chairperson of the council of entrepreneurs of the Zhdanovichy market guilty under Article 17.1 of the Administrative Code, 'disorderly conduct', and fined him 175,000 rubles (about $59). The activist had been detained on 24 April at election precinct #27 of the Sukharauskaya election constituency #30 while observing the early voting as electioneering agent of an activist of the For Freedom movement Ales Lahvinets, a candidate for the Minsk City Council. Taustyka was kept at the delinquents' isolation center in Akrestsin Street till the trial.
On 29 April democratic candidates for the Mahiliou Region Council Tamara Maskaliova, Yury Novikau, Mikalai Rasiuk, Larysa Shukaila, Aliaksandr Silkou and Yury Stukalau addressed the regional election commission with complaints demanding to consider the election in their constituencies as invalid. The reason was that none of their representatives were included in the precinct commissions and they were deprived of the possibility to distribute agitation materials in their constituencies. Moreover, independent observers were unable to witness the counting of the poll.
2. Persecution of public and political activists
On 5 April the Leninski District Court of Minsk fined Andrei Krechka, Chairperson of the BPF Youth, 700,000 rubles (about $236) under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code, 'violation of the order of organizing and holding mass events' for participation in the picket of solidarity with political prisoners Mikalai Autukhovich and Uladzimir Asipenka on 16 April. The unauthorized action took place near the Supreme Court during a court sitting on the criminal case of the Vaukavysk entrepreneurs. Fines were also given to other participants of the picket. Aleh Ladutska, an activist of the European Belarus, was fined 700,000 rubles. In two cases, the court took into account paragraph 6.5 of the Administrative Code, as a result of which Artur Finkevich, the leader of the Young Belarus, and Yauhen Afnahel, an activist of the European Belarus, received minimal fines – 17,500 rubles (about $6) each.
On 14 April political draftee Franak Viachorka got an early discharge from military service on medical grounds, having served 15 months (only three months were left). By the way, as it was written in the final diagnose of the military medics, F.Viachorka got a heart illness while serving in the army, that's why he was convinced in having sufficient reasons to apply to court against unlawful actions of the medics who had forged diagnoses during his drafting, and members of the draft board by which he had been drafted. He also intended to demand compensation from the military officers and medics who ignored his state of health and discharged him from the army only after 15 months of service.
On 20 April the Kastrychnitski District Court of Vitsebsk was to have started the trial of the criminal case against civil activist Siarhei Kavalenka who had hung out a white-red-white flag on the main New Year tree of Vitsebsk in the beginning of January. The trial was delayed because the accused raised a white-red-white flag in front of the court building right before it, and was detained together with his younger brother Vital and Taras Surhan, an activist of the Young Belarus.
On 21 April the Kastrychnitski District Court of Vitsebsk found the Kavalenka brothers guilty under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code ('violation of the order of organizing and holding mass events') and sentenced Siarhei to 7 days of arrest and Vital – to 6 days. In addition, the former was fined 70,000 rubles (about $24) for alleged urinating in public. On 23 April, the court also sentenced T.Surhan to 9 days of jail.
On 28 April the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk fined Aliaksei Atroshchanka, Andrei Kuzminski and Mikhail Naskou 17,500 rubles under Article 23.34 for having come to the Kastrychnitskaya Square with banners 'We demand passing Bakiyeu to the Kyrgyz people and 'No – to dictators of the whole world'. The action lasted for several minutes only, after which all participants were detained by the police and guarded to the Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk where they were given administrative charges. They were kept at the delinquents' isolation center in Akrestin Street during the night before the trial.
On 30 April workers of the crime detection section of the Navapolatsk Town Police Department conducted a search at the office of human rights defender Zmitser Salauyou. This investigative measure was sanctioned by the town prosecutor and was conducted within the frames of a criminal case under article 341 of the Criminal Code – 'defilement and anientisement of buildings', concerning the appearance of Nazi inscriptions on the town walls. As a result, police confiscated a computer system block, CDs, white-red-white flags and many printed materials. All this was done despite the fact that during the last two years Salauyou had repeatedly applied to the procuracy in connection with activaties of neo-Nazis in Navapolatsk. A similar search took place in Salauyou's office before the presidential election of 2006, and the confiscated computer equipment still hasn't been returned to the owner.
3. Freedom of word and the right to impart information
On 1 April the Shchuchyn police detained Mechyslau Yaskevich, Deputy Chairperson of the unrecognized Union of Poles in Belarus (headed by Anzhalika Borys), and Veranika Sebastsianovich, Chairperson of the association of veterans of the Polish Army and the World War II, on the highway – Hrodna-Minsk not far from Shchuchyn. Police examined their car and confiscated 450 copies of Magazyn Polski na Uchodzstwie, a magazine issued by members of the unrecognized Union of Poles.
In April police detained the personal car of Viktar Ramniou, manager of the private Unitarian enterprise Vitebskiy Korund and founder of the Vitebskiy Kuryer and Nash Dom newspapers several times. On 1 April they confiscated from him 53 copies of Vitebskiy Kuryer and drew up a violation report under Article 22.9, part 2 of the Administrative Code, 'distribution of periodicals containing no imprint', though the newspapers had imprint on the back page. On 8 April the road police stopped the car on the way from the Smolensk printing house where the newspapers were printed. The car was guarded to the Horki District Police Department, where 10,000 copies of the newspaper were confiscated and another report under Article 22.9 was drawn up. Bear in mind that Ramniou had been already fined a large sum of money in March for distribution of private editions, because police qualified as distribution the mere transportation of newspapers from Russia and stated that a special permission was necessary for distributing the editions which were registered in Russia.
The Homel newspaper Silnye Novosti Gomelya was denied registration by order #43 of 1 April 2010 signed by the Information Minister, Aleh Praliaskouski. He explained the refusal by stating that the registration documents contained false information about the service record of a Homel journalist Tatsiana Bublikava (the chief editor), and her qualification didn't correspond to requirements of the reference book Positions of Workers of Periodicals. Piatro Kuzniatsou, manager of the Unitarian enterprise Drukavanaye Slova, said: 'The refusal to register the edition with the state means a ban on the profession of journalist. People cannot get 5 years of service record as editors if they aren't allowed to head newspapers.'
On 18 April the General Assembly of the European Federation of Journalists adopted an urgent resolution on freedom of the press in Belarus. The European journalist community expressed solidarity with its Belarusian colleagues and called on the Belarusian authorities to stop the discrimination of private media, give them full access to information and put the national legislation in line with international standards.
On 22 April the Belarusian Association of Journalists received an answer from the Homel Region Procuracy to an inquiry concerning a series of searches and interrogations of journalists. The answer of the deputy prosecutor runs that no violations were found in the investigation of the criminal case concerning libel in the internet against Ivan Korzh, former Chairperson of the Homel Region KGB Department, that's why there were no grounds for prosecutorial reaction. Bear in mind that in the beginning of March the BAJ had addressed Prosecutor General Ryhor Vasilevich with an open letter where it was stated that such actions were a rude crackdown on freedom of word. The General Procuracy forwarded the letter to the Homel Region Procuracy for consideration on its merits. As a result, the letter got to Prosecutor Valiantsin Shayeu, who had sanctioned some of the aforementioned searches in journalists' apartments.
On 19 April Judge of the Beshankovichy District Court Volha Belavus found Heorhi Stankevich, a member of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party running for the Beshankovichy District Council, guilty under Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code, 'violation of the Law On press and other mass media and fined him 700,000 rubles ($236) for distribution of the self-published newspaper Kryvinka. Bear in mind that Mr.Stankevich issued and distributed the newspaper for five years and hadn't received any punishments for it before the election campaign.
4. Politically motivated criminal persecution
On 2 April officers of the Pershamaiski District Police Department of Minsk interrogated Ruslan Matsveyeu as a witness within the frames of a criminal case concerning political graffiti. At first, investigator Smirnou asked the youngster about his participation in youth organizations and then – what he had been doing at night of 11-12 March, when political graffiti had been made on the fence and the walls of the Pershamaiski District Court of Minsk. The investigation took Matsveyeu's fingerprints, saliva sample for DNA analysis and proposed him to undergo examination by polygraph.
On 16 April, coordinator of the For Freedom movement in the Hrodna region Ales Zarembiuk was detained at an exit from the town of Ashmiany. At the same time, his apartment and the apartment of his parents were searched within the frames of the criminal case that had been instigated against him on charges in defraud (he had allegedly borrowed some money and didn't return it). Ales Zarembiuk stated that all these actions were connected to his participation in the local council election. Prior to this, he had to visit the local KGB department, whose officers tried to accuse him of unlawful trade of foreign visas. Before this, they spoke of pushing drugs and rape.
The trials of the criminal cases instigated for alleged evasion from military service continued in April. The Minsk District Court considered the case of Ivan Mikhailau, believer of the community of Messianic Jews New Testament, who refused to serve in the army for religious reasons. At the court sitting of 28 April, Prosecutor Pastukhova stated that Mikhailau violated Article 435 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus and demanded to fine him 7 million rubles (about $2,360). Bear in mind that I.Mikhailau had been sentenced to three months of arrest on this very article and had served almost the whole term of the arrest before his release resulting from the abolishment of the verdict by the cassation instance. Amnesty International declared Mikhailau prisoner of conscience.
On 26 April the Tsentralny District Court of Homel considered the criminal case against Yauhen Yakavenka, a member of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party. The court listened to explanations on the merits of the issued charges. The court ignored the fact that Yakavenka had been already acquitted of the same charges within the limits of an administrative case, and paid no attention to the defendant's repeated demands to be assigned to alternative civilian service. The motion of Yakavenka's counsel about summoning additional witnesses was declined. The next court sitting was appointed on 12 May.
At the end of April, the General Procuracy instigated a criminal case concerning commentaries to the article about veterans of the war in Afghanistan that had been reprinted by the Charter'97 website from Sovetskaya Belorussiya, the mouthpiece of the Presidential Administration. In this article, a Vaukavysk entrepreneur, veteran of the war in Afghanistan Mikalai Autukhovich was denigrated by a representative of the official organization of veterans of the war in Afghanistan. More than 100 commentaries condemning the author of the article appeared at www.charter97.org as a result. Nevertheless, the case included only two veterans of the war in Afghanistan, Aleh Vouchak and Aliaksandr Kamarouski, who are well-known for their democratic views and active civil position.
5. Freedom of association
On 22 April the Supreme Court of Belarus
started consideration of the complaint of founders of the Belarusian Assembly
of NGOs concerning the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register it with
the state. The sides and members of the public took the floor. Representatives
of the ministry merely repeated their argument that associations could consist
only of organizations having a common subject of activities. ‘However, it
contradicts to the existing practice of registration of associations in
Belarus', stated lawyer Yury Chavusau. ‘This argument is evidently unlawful, as
it deprives the Assembly of any opportunity to obtain the state registration'.
The next court sitting was scheduled for 4 May. Ihar Milto, Judge of the
Supreme Court, asked the ministry to pass him the registration documents of the
6. Activities of security services
On 7 April Maryna Yauseichyk, a student of the faculty of journalism of Belarusian State University, received a telephone call from a man who introduced himself as KGB officer Zmitser. He insisted on her coming to the KGB department for a talk the following day. When she tried to object, he said that he needed to question her concerning the explosion that had taken place in Minsk on 4 July 2008.
He phoned again in the morning on 8 April and asked whether she would come to the meeting. Maryna didn't know how to behave in such a situation and agreed to meet with him. The talk lasted for three hours. The KGB officer eventually took out his laptop and showed her a video from the congress of the World Association of Belarusians Baćkaŭščyna where she could be seen. Then he proposed to help Maryna in solving the possible problems arising from this fact in exchange for her collaboration. Being under such psychological pressure, she signed the paper. ‘At the same time, I understood that I don't want and will not cooperate with them and all I needed was to be in time for the bus and to forget about this unpleasant meeting as soon as possible,' she said.
On 23 April Yury Karmanau, a Belarusian correspondent with the Associated Press information agency, received a telephone call from a man who introduced himself as KGB officer Aleh Anatoliievich. The KGB officer invited him for a conversation concerning his recent visit to Kyrgyzstan. Karmanau had been in Kyrgyzstan on a mission of the Moscow editorial board of the Associated Press on 8-19 April, elucidating the coup d'etat there. The journalist refused to come to any ‘conversations' without an official writ.