Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in May 2010
In May, the legal proceedings on four
politically motivated criminal cases came to an end, two new death verdicts
were issued and several peaceful actions were dispersed, including actions of
activists of sexual minorities. As a result of a clash with police, youth
activist Zmitser Parmon got to hospital with a broken clavicle. Although
several civil activists were sentenced to arrests, the administrative
persecution in May was mainly confined to fines.
On 18-19 May Belarus was swung with a wave of searches and detentions of activists of the civil initiative Speak Truth! The leader of the campaign, poet Uladzimir Niakliayeu, the chief editor of the Tovarishch newspaper, Siarhei Vazniak, and an activist of the United Civil Party Andrei Dzmitryieu were kept in custody for three days.
The increase of repressions was connected to the approach of the presidential election campaign, a significant event in the socio-political life of the country.
In May, the Human Rights Center Viasna adopted five statements concerning revolting facts of human rights violations. One of them, a joint statement with the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, concerns the two new death verdicts that were issued in Belarus. Another one, co-adopted with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) on 27 May, evaluated the general situation in Belarus. The abnormal situation of human rights in the country started to deteriorate even further. Human rights defenders stated that repressions towards active groups of the civil society acquired a systemic character.
On 19 May Jerzy Buzek, Chairperson of the European Parliament, called on the Belarusian authorities to stop immediately all repression and intimidation of civil society groups and to get back on the way to democratization. He also stated that the local election of 25 April 2010 was disappointing and did not bring any visible progress both in terms of transparency and correspondence to democratic standards.
On 3 May the UN session concerning the procedure of the Universal Periodical Review opened in Geneva. The UN Human Rights Committee considered reports on the situation of human rights in a number of countries including Belarus. The discussion of the report of the Belarusian government was attended by Belarusian human rights defenders who prepared an alternative report on Belarus. On 14 May, recommendations for the improvement of human rights situation in Belarus were issued on the results of the UPR procedure towards Belarus. On 20 May, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) distributed a press release On the occasion of the Universal Periodic Review of Belarus, the issues of death penalty, freedom of speech, freedom of association and assembly as well as the prohibition of torture and the independence of the judiciary. FIDH, its member organization Human Rights Center Viasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee expressed a deep regret that the delegation did not make concrete commitments for their implementation.
Representatives of the official delegation stated that freedom of association could be freely pursued, that the civil society was benefiting from favorable conditions of work and that the media was independent. The human rights organizations called on the government of Belarus to take immediate steps to implement the recommendations it had accepted.
One of the positive moments was that acquittals were issued on two criminal cases concerning the alleged 'draft-dodging' by conscientious objectors who asked to be assigned to alternative civil service. On 4 May, the Minsk District Court acquitted Ivan Mikhailau, who had served almost three months of arrest for draft-dodging (he was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International). On 31 May, the Tsentralny District Court of Homel acquitted Jehovah's Witness Dzmitry Smyk who had been fined 3.5 million rubles (about $1,170) by the Tsentralny District Court of Homel. Human rights defenders considered these verdicts as a victory of the civil society of Belarus and the first step towards the introduction of the Law On Alternative Civilian Service.
At the end of May, international human rights organization Amnesty International published its yearly report on human rights violations worldwide. Belarus' entry reads: 'The government continued to hand down death sentences. Public events were banned and peaceful demonstrators were detained or ill-treated in police custody. The rights to freedom of association and expression were restricted. Inadequate measures were taken to counteract violence against women. State control over the media continued.' Belarusian human rights defenders called this report a serious indicator for the Belarusian authorities confirming the necessity of an urgent liberalization of the national legislation and putting the means of its implementation in line with international standards in the sphere of civil and political rights.
1. Death penalty
On 12 May human rights defenders addressed Prosecutor General and Chairperson of the Supreme Court with inquiries concerning the number of death sentences issued in 1990-2009.
This action was taken within the guidelines of the Human Rights Defenders Against Death Penalty campaign. As stated by Brest human rights defender Raman Kisliak, this information was necessary for human rights defenders to continue the campaign on informing the population about the use of the death penalty in Belarus.
On 14 May the Hrodna Region Court sentenced to death two citizens of Hrodna, Aleh Hryshkautsou (29 years old) and Andrei Burdyka (28 years old). They were found guilty of an especially violent murder of three persons, robbery with infliction of hard bodily injures, intentional damage to property and the abduction of a minor. On 17 May, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Center Viasna condemned the death verdicts. Their official statement was also upheld by Amnesty International. The human rights defenders underline that the verdicts were issued literally two days after the criticism that had been voiced during the session of the working group for the presentation of UPR concerning the use of the death penalty by Belarus.
Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Antonio Miloshski, Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and Movlud Chavusoglu, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, urged Belarus to abolish the death penalty immediately.
2. Politically motivated criminal persecution
On 6 May the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus issued a verdict on the criminal case of Mikhail Kazlou, Aliaksandr Laryn, Uladzimir Asipenka and Mikalai Autukhovich. The accused spent a considerable time in custody before the trial (more than 12 months). At the trial, Mikalai Autukhovich, Uladzimir Asipenka and Aliaksandr Laryn were acquitted of intentional destruction of property and preparation to a terrorist act. As it follows from the verdict, Mikalai Autukhovich, Uladzimir Asipenka and Aliaksandr Laryn were convicted under Article 295, part 3 of the Criminal Code – unlawful operations with firearms, ammunition and explosives, and Mikhail Kazlou – under Article 425 – inaction of a duty official, and got 5, 3, 3 and 2 years of imprisonment respectively. The investigation of this criminal case was closed from the very beginning. The lawyers of the accused were banned to disclose any information about the investigation under the threat of criminal responsibility. Nevertheless, the trial at the Supreme Court was open, which allowed representatives of the Belarusian and world community, mass media and human rights organizations watch its pace. The Human Rights Center Viasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee adopted a joint statement on the results of the trial. In this document, they demanded that General Prosecutor and Chairperson of the Supreme Court held a check-up of the legality and validity of the verdict issued, discharged the convicts and drew to legal account the duty officials who had committed gross violations of the criminal process legislation during the preliminary investigation. The UK Embassy in Belarus, representing the country holding the EU presidency, issued a statement on 10 May. The statement says that the proceedings in the case of Mikalai Autukhovich, Uladzimir Asipenka, and Mikhail Kazlou were defined by serious procedure violations. Taking into account the fact that Autukhovich had taken an active part in defending the rights of entrepreneurs and veterans of the war in Afghanistan, as well as his public anti-corruption statements, the criminal proceedings can be regarded as politically motivated.
On 14 May the Kastrychnitski District Court of Vitsebsk issued a verdict on the criminal case of Siarhei Kavalenka, a Vitsebsk activist of the Conservative-Christian Party Belarusian Popular Front – three years of personal restraint without direction to an open penitentiary institution. He was also sentenced to pay compensations to policemen Ivanou and Palityka (1 million rubles (about $335) to each) and Maksimau – 1,5 million rubles (about $503), 1,222,000 rubles (about $410) to the Harsviatlo enterprise, for allegedly damaged illumination on the New Year tree, and 62,000 rubles (about $21) – to Zelianbud. Siarhei Kavalenka was detained at about 1.p.m. on 7 January on Peramohi Square in Vitsebsk after hanging out a white-red-white flag on the top of 40-meter tall New Year tree. A criminal case was instigated under Article 339, ‘intentional actions that rudely violate the public order, express an evident disregard for the society and are accompanied with violence or threats of its use, destruction or anientisement of foreign property or are defined by an exceptional cynicism', and Article 363, part of the Criminal Code, ‘resistance to a policeman or another person guarding the public order'.
On 25 May the prison term of a participant of the Process of 14, Young Front activist Artsiom Dubski, came to an end. At his first press conference after release from jail, he stated he would continue his engagement in civil activities.
3. Persecution of civil and political activists
On 12 May the Leninski District Court of Minsk tried the democratic activists who had been detained by the police after an action of solidarity with political prisoners Uladzimir Autukhovich, Uladzimir Asipenka and Mikhail Kazlou near the Supreme Court. Well-known politician Aliaksandr Kazulin was tried by Judge Mikhail Khoma and was fined 700,000 rubles (about $234). Mikola Dzemidzenka, Ales Makayeu and Uladz Yaromenka were fined 525,000 rubles ($176) each.
On 19 May the case of Anton Azaranka, a Homel activist of the Young Front, was considered by an administrative commission. Azaranka was found guilty under Article 21.14 of the Code of Administrative Offences (CoAO), ‘violation of the rules of urban maintenance', and was sentenced to pay a fine of 600,000 rubles (about $200) for posting Young Front agitation. The commission ignored the fact that he admitted his guilt and asked to be punished with a minimal fine according to Article 6.5, paragraph 6 of CoAO.
On 20 May the Savetski District Court of Homel sentenced Kastus Zhukouski, an activist of the Party of the Belarusian Christian Democracy, to pay the maximum fine (1,750,000 rubles, about $583) for having insulted a policeman at an election precinct. Judge Valyshynenka refused to lead the trial in the Belarusian language and to request information about the number of Zhukouski's applications to police concerning violations of electoral legislation. According to the BCD press service, Judge didn't even leave the court hall to issue the verdict – he simply took the printed text of the verdict out of his table.
On 30 May evening a Mahiliou activist of the Young Front Dzmitry Zorka was detained by the police after the organization assembly in Minsk. The police examined his personal belongings saying they were looking for drugs. Having found the book Young Front Activists, they guarded him to the Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk where he was mugged and fingerprinted. Then the activist was released without receiving any charges. As a result, he missed his train to Mahiliou.
4. Freedom of speech and the right to impart information
On 6 May Valiantsina Kismiaroshkina, Judge of the Pershamaiski District Court of Vitsebsk, fined Viktar Ramniou, founder of the Vitebskiy Kuryer newspaper, 1, 050 000 rubles (about $353) for trafficking 53 copies of the newspaper that had been found in his car by the police. This wasn't the first fine he got fined for transporting newspapers.
On 7 May Brest human rights defenders Raman Kisliak and Andrei Sharenda were detained for handing out the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The action was dated to the 11th anniversary of abduction of Yury Zakharanka, a former Interior Minister and opposition politician. The detainees were guarded to the Maskouski District Police Department of Brest, where the printed production was confiscated from them. Then Kisliak and Sharenda were released without getting any charges. The human rights defenders appealed the police actions without any success.
On 20 May the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) made a statement to express its indignation at the new wave of repressions against freedom of speech in Belarus. The wave started on 18 May with another police raid at offices and private apartments of civil activists. '20 May marks the second day of the detention of our colleague, a member of the BAJ Council and the editor of Tovarishch newspaper Siarhei Vazniak. No charges have been brought against him, but he remains a suspect in a criminal case, initiated according to Article 250 of the Criminal Code on distribution of libelous information,' the BAJ statement goes. Two more civil activists, Uladzimir Niakliayeu and Andrei Dzmitryieu, were also detained. Moreover, several more BAJ members were searched and interrogated during a police raid on 18 May, namely Yury Aleinik, Yury Varonezhtsau, Larysa Nasanovich, Aliaksandr Ulitsionak and Aliaksandr Fiaduta. Their private computer equipment and information carriers were also confiscated. The Belarusian Association of Journalists considers the raid of 18 May to be entirely in the context of the previous actions of the authorities aimed at suppression of freedom of speech in Belarus. On 19 May 2010 Belarusian journalists, BAJ members Natallia Radzina, Sviatlana Kalinkina and Maryna Koktysh were once again summonsed by the police. Most of their professional equipment wasn't returned. According to BAJ, the real aim of the raids was to interfere with the free flow of information in the Belarusian society. ‘We call upon the Belarusian society and the international community to express their protest against violations of freedom of speech in Belarus', stated BAJ.
5. Freedom of peaceful assemblies
On 7 May a memorial picket dedicated to the 11th anniversary of the abduction of Yury Zakharanka, former Interior Minister and member of the United Civil Party, was held in Minsk. Civil activists lined up with portraits of Yu.Zakharanka in their hands, and then laid the portraits and flowers down to the porch of the house where he lived. The same day, the Kastrychnitski District Court of Minsk fined seven action participants under Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences, ‘violation of the order of organizing and holding mass events'. Zmitser Kavalhin was fined 350,000 rubles (about $117), Mikhail Mikulich and Aliaksandr Stsepanenka – 525,000 rubles (about $175) each, Raman Bahdanovich and Aleh Korban – 700,000 rubles (about $233) each, the UCP leader Anatol Liabedzka – 875,000 rubles (about $292) and Siarhei Kliuyeu – 1,050,000 rubles (about $350).
On 15 May police forcedly dispersed a peaceful procession of representatives of sexual minorities in Minsk, banned by the Minsk City Executive Committee several days before. The action participants intended to gather near the Belarusian State Philharmonic and proceed to the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences. As a result of the dispersal eight persons were detained including two citizens of Russia. Five of them subsequently got minimal fines under Article 23.34 of CoAO.
On 17 May Barysau human rights activists lodged an appeal with the Barysau district executive committee against administrative restrictions on freedom of peaceful assemblies imposed by the local authorities. Aleh Matskevich and Maryna Statkevich argued that the authorities violated the Belarusian Constitution, the Law On Mass Events and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by determining just one place for holding rallies – a remote stadium. The applicants stressed that the restrictions imposed by the authorities of the town with the population of 150,000 people run contrary to the very spirit of the Constitution, which proclaims citizens, their rights and freedoms and the guarantees for their implementation the supreme value and objective of society and the State. Therefore, they asked the Barysau TEC to deem the ruling concerning the aforementioned restrictions as unlawful, and determine other locations for mass events, that would be frequented and suitable for informing them by means of street actions.
On 27 May Belgian citizen Adrien Baudouin lodged a complaint with the Maskouski District Court of Minsk, appealing against illegal actions by the police on 17 May when he had been illegally detained together with other participants of an educational event – screening of a film. The youngster, indignant at the rude behavior of the law enforcement officers, asked the court to find their actions unlawful and oblige them to offer public apologies to him. Boduen also directed copies of his complaint to the Belgian Embassy in Moscow and the consulate in Belarus.
The Hrodna City Executive Committee groundlessly refused to authorize a picket for the protection of children's rights that was to be held by members of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union on 1 June, the International Children's Day. A similar refusal was received by human rights defenders in Homel. The official reason was that they didn't pay for serving of the action by police, medics and public utilities. Meanwhile, Anatol Paplauny and Leanid Sudalenka emphasize that determination of only one action site for a city with 500,000 inhabitants, as well as the practice when organizers are obliged to pay for services of the police, medics and public utilities, were contrary to the Constitutional guarantees of the right of peaceful assembly and the international undertakings of Belarus.
6. Torture and other kinds of inhuman treatment
On 27 May police violently dispersed a bicycle rally that was organized by activists of the BPF Youth in honor of a well-known Belarusian poet Maksim Bahdanovich. The action participants were beaten by policemen who were dressed in sportive clothes. Among the victims there were Franak Viachorka and Zmitser Parmon, to whom the police broke a clavicle while trying to snatch a white-red-white flag from him. As a result, Parmon was hospitalized and underwent a complex operation, during which he was implanted with a metal plate to hold the parts of the clavicle together.
7. Freedom of association
On 5 May the Supreme Court of Belarus declined a complaint of the Belarusian Assembly of NGOs against its non-registration by the Ministry of Justice. Meanwhile, according to political scientist Yury Chavusau who attended the trial, some of the Assembly's arguments were partially confessed by the court, while some others were rejected. It's worth noting that it was already the third registration denial to the Assembly of NGOs during the recent years.
On 26 May the Supreme Court of Belarus dismissed an appeal lodged by founders of the Belarusian branch of the Ukrainian-based International Helsinki Association for Human Rights against the denial of registration issued by the Justice Ministry. The denial was grounded on an arbitrary explanation of the Ukrainian legislation by the ministry (as far as the central governing organs of the association were located in Kyiv, Ukraine). The Supreme Court decided not to wait for an answer from the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice, though an appropriate inquiry was lodged by founders of the organization.
8. Politically motivated dismissals from work
On 6 May Uladzimir Shyla, the father of well-known Salihorsk activists Ivan and Illia Shylas and an active participant of opposition's street actions (including the events of 19-25 March 2006 in Minsk), was dismissed from work. The man was summoned to the office of his boss, who said that he had had a talk at the ‘appropriate organs' concerning Shyla's employment, and was told that he could either fire Shyla or get in trouble. The activist was employed by the state enterprise on 3 May. ‘I knew that such thing could happen, but didn't think that it would happen so quickly. This system is rotten to the core,' commented Uladzimir. Before the employment at the state enterprise, he worked at a private construction firm. Then he received a proposal from the state enterprise promising him a higher wage, and agreed to it.
Siarhei Salodkin was dismissed from the position of teacher of the Belarusian language in the secondary school in the village of Koptsi (the Vitsebsk district). According to Salodkin, he was warned about the dismissal more than a month ago: he was summoned to the education department and told that his labor contract wouldn't be extended because of the ineffectiveness of his work. It happened two days after the local election, the preparation to which was criticized by the teacher in his article Political Pathology. One of the characters of the article was the head of the education department who also headed the district election commission during the election. The teacher was often hinted at school and at the district education department that his newspaper was considered as oppositional. Another reason that could influence his dismissal was the reluctance of Siarhei Salodkin to join the official teachers' trade union.
Leanid Haishun, a member of the Free Trade Union of Belarus (FTUB) was dismissed from the Babruisk Tractor Aggregates Plant due to the expiry of the labor contract. Trade union activists are sure that the real reason for the dismissal was his membership in the trade union and an active civil position (Haishun used to defend workers' rights). As far as the dismissal violated provisions of the collective agreement, FTUB prepared a legal claim concerning the reinstatement of its activist at work.
On 31 May Mazyr human rights defender Uladzimir Tseliapun, Chairperson of the technical department of the Belaruskabel Open Stock Company, received a notice about his dismissal due to the expiry of the labor contract on 30 June. He didn't receive any official explanations from the director of the enterprise. U. Tseliapun is a well-known democratic activist. He ran for the Homel Region and the Mazyr District Councils during the last local election. However, like the overwhelming majority of democratic candidates, he didn't manage to get to echelons of power. He started working at Belaruskabel back in 1976, right after army.
9. Freedom of conscience
The conflict between the Protestant Chuch New Life and the Minsk authorities continued. Meanwhile, the exaction of the 250 million rubles of compensation for the alleged damage to the environment inflicted by the church was delayed in connection with the reception by the Supreme Court of Belarus of the church's complaint against the verdict of the Maskouski District Court of Minsk of 25 February.