Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in November 2010
The stage of
collecting signatures in support of the nomination of candidates for President
of the Republic of Belarus ended in November. On 18 November the Central
Election Commission held a sitting to register candidates. The electoral teams
of 11 out of 17 pretenders for candidate stated they had passed to election
commissions more than 100,000 signatures in their support. 6 pretenders decided
to withdraw from the election. Uladzimir Pravalski wasn't registered as a
candidate for President because, according to the CEC, he had passed only 118
valid signatures in support of his candidacy.
The Central Election Commission made remarks to nine of the registered candidates (Ryhor Kastusiou, Aliaksei Mikhalevich, Uladzimir Niakliayeu, Yaraslau Ramanchuk, Vital Rymasheuski, Andrei Sannikau, Mikalai Statkevich, Dzmitry Uss and Viktar Tsiareshchanka) concerning violations during the collection of signatures and incorrect information about their income and assets. Only the incumbent President, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, was registered as a candidate without getting any remarks. According to the official information, his electoral team had passed to election commissions 1,100,000 signatures.
On 19 November organizers of the civil campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections held a press-conference to sum up the results of this stage of the election. Though the general conditions for campaigning were more favorable, observers still registered many violations of the electoral legislation. In particular, the teams of alternative candidates didn't have such privileges as that of A.Lukashenka. Administrative resources were widely used for collecting signatures in his support. At the same time, activists of the electoral teams of all other candidates weren't allowed to collect signatures in student dormitories, state enterprises and institutions. The Central Election Commission also ignored the fact that in a number of cases signatures in support of Lukashenka were collected by people who weren't members of his electoral team.
What concerns the registration of candidates – it took place without considerable restrictions of the right to be elected. At the same time, the closeness of the procedure of verification of signatures gives grounds to suspect the election commissions in manipulations and consider its results as determined by political reasons rather than by norms of the electoral legislation. According to information of observers, some of the electoral teams might not have collected the necessary number of signatures (100,000), but their candidates were registered by the Central Election Commission.
Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Ales Bialiatski submitted an official address to Prosecutor General of Belarus, Ryhor Vasilevich, and the Presidential Administration concerning the pressurization of citizens who represent the anarchist and anti-fascist movement in the country. He attached to his address an official FIDH statement concerning these facts and called on the Belarusian authorities to stop the unlawful actions and abstain from violating human rights during the investigation of the criminal cases brought against the aforementioned activists.
On 30 November the US Ministry of Finances again extended the term of easing the sanctions against two Belarusian enterprises belonging to the Belnaftakhim concern – Lakafarba and Polatsk-Shklovalakno. According to this ruling, the sanctions that were introduced in November 2007 because of violations of human rights in Belarus were suspended till 31 May 2011. On 5 September the Ministry of Finances eased the sanctions on 5 September 2008 and has extended its decision since then.
1. Freedom of associations
On 10 November the verdict of the Minsk City Economic Court concerning the dissolution of the educational institution Movement Forward (the organizer of the Speak Truth! civil campaign, headed by presidential candidate Uladzimir Niakliayeu) came into force. The cassation instance of the court turned down the appeal of representatives of Speak Truth! against the verdict concerning its dissolution. The official reason for the dissolution of Movement Forward was invalidity of the rent agreement and, consequently, the absence of a legal address (which is a necessary attribute of an officially registered organization).
On 16 November the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus dismissed an appeal of the human rights organization Brest Spring against the registration denial. The official reason for the denial was that ‘at the time when the decision was taking the factual address of one of the founders differed from the address that was standing in the database of the Ministry of Internal Affairs'.
2. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 4 November a Minsk resident Maksim Vetkin was detained and put in a pre-trial prison. Later he was charged with the assault on the Embassy of the Russian Federation on 30 August and the assault on the building of Belarusbank in the night of 30 April-1 May. M.Vetkin confessed his involvement in the both attacks. However, his friends believe that he was pressured into doing it. M.Vetkin became the third accused in the case of hooligan assaults that had been committed throughout the year in different places of Minsk, Babruisk and Salihorsk. All such episodes were united in one case, brought under Article 339, part 2 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism). Other figurants of this case are Mikalai Dziadok and Aliaksandr Frantskevich who have been kept in custody since September. On 10 November it became known that the term of investigation was extended to six months and the term of their detention was prolonged as well.
On 16 November the Students' Self-government of the European Humanities University (EHU) declared the beginning of an indefinite action in support of Mikalai Dziadok due to regular violations of the criminal-process norms during the investigation into his case. At first, the self-government intended to collect several hundred letters of solidarity and send them to the prisoner. In its address to the Belarusian law-enforcement agencies the EHU Students' Self-government demanded to either release Dziadok because of the absence of corpus delicti in his actions or to hold an open and fair trial. The students also called all people who are concerned with this case to join the solidarity campaign and write letters to Mikalai Dziadok.
On 5 November, 3 months and 4 days before the end of his prison term, political prisoner Uladzimir Asipenka (one of the three figurants of the ‘case of entrepreneurs') was granted parole.
The criminal case against independent journalists Sviatlana Kalinkina, Iryna Khalip, Maryna Koktysh and Natallia Radzina was passed to the procuracy. According to Aliaksandr Puseu, a senior investigator of the Homel City Police Department, the case against them had been suspended according to Article 246, part 1, point 1 of the Criminal-Process Code and put in the archive. However, about a month ago it was reclaimed by the Minsk City Procuracy. The computer equipment that has been confiscated from the journalists is still kept in the special repository of material evidence and no decision about its return has been taken so far. ‘I should remind that the Minsk City Procuracy has also brought another criminal case because of the commentaries given by its readers. This situation clearly demonstrates the nature of the present electoral campaign – it can be called non-free and non-democratic already,' commented a coordinator of Charter'97 Natallia Radzina.
On 18 November the Hrodna City Procuracy issued an official warning to a Deputy Chairperson of the Young Front Ales Kirkevich for violation of Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code (actions on behalf of an unregistered organization). The formal reason for the warning was an application written by mother of an activist of the Hrodna Young Front branch under pressure of secret services.
On 30 November the Minsk City Court turned down the appeal of M.Bashura, an activist of the civil initiative Speak Truth!, against a verdict of the Minsk City Court of 19 October, as well as the protest of the procuracy against this verdict. According to M.Bashura, the trial was held rather quickly and was accompanied with violations of the legal procedure.
3. Persecution of civil and political activists
Belarusian guards started paying a special attention to representatives of the opposition who crossed the border.
For instance, On 2 November customs officers conducted a repeated examination of four Mahiliou activists of Speak Truth! who were returning home by train Kyiv-St.Peterburg. The repeated examination was held in the train when it arrived to Homel. Before this, the activists passed through the customs control at the frontier point Tsiarukha.
On 4 November human rights defenders Uladzimir Khilmanovich and Uladzimir Sazonau were detained for two hours at the railway station of Hrodna on arrival from Poland.
On 6 November a Young Front activist Valiantsin Labachou was kept at the police station for more than 4 hours. He was detained by people in mufti near a gym that was opened by A.Lukashenka. Police examined his belongings and found air balloons and white-red-white flags.
On 7 November in Salihorsk the police detained the Young Front activists Andrei Tychyna and Ivan Shyla for unrolling a poster ‘7 November is the day of commemoration of victims of political repressions' near the monument to Lenin, where the authorities intended to lay down flowers to mark the anniversary of the October revolution. Police drew on reports for violation of Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences (organization of unauthorized picketing) by the detainees. According to A.Tychyna, the Young Front activists took part in the official action, not in an unauthorized picket, though their views differed from convictions of other participants.
On 11 November the Salihorsk activist of the Young Front and Speak Truth! Andrei Tychyna was directed for examination at the psychiatric hospital Navinki in Minsk. Tychyna had been detained at a street action on 7 November and guarded to the local military enlistment office. The activist denied evading from the army draft and stated that these actions of the authorities and the military enlistment office were connected to his participation in the electoral campaign of Niakliayeu.
A 24-year-old activist of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Andrei Kotau was detained in the Pershamaiski district of Minsk in the night of 12 November for posting stickers with the slogan ‘Retire!' Police drew up a violation report under Article 21.14 of the Code of Administrative Violations (violation of the rules of urban maintenance), after which the activist was released. The action Retire!, announced by the Belarusian Christian Democracy and the Young Front, was held on 24 November on the Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk.
On 16 November a Young Front activist Eduard Lobau was detained in Minsk for handing out informational materials of the civil campaign Retire! and leaflets with calls to come to the Kastrychnitskaya Square on 24 November. A report under Article 23.34 (violation of the rules of holding mass events) was drawn up on him.
On 22 November members of the Conservative-Christian Party Yan Dziarzhautsau and Barys Khamaida were detained in Vitsebsk for holding an unauthorized picket with calls to boycott the presidential election. They came to the center of the city with posters ‘Only Boycott' and ‘Participation in the electoral farce is treason'. Alena Tsyhankova, Judge of the Chyhunachny District Court of Vitsebsk, punished Yan Dziarzhautsau with a fine of 350,000 rubles (about $117) and Barys Khamaida – with 5 days of arrest (as he had been repeatedly detained for violating Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences). However, Khamaida spent just one day in jail, as the regional procuracy appealed the court verdict. The Vitsebsk Region Court, in its turn, found the punishment to Khamaida inappropriate. As it is stated in the court verdict, the court was ‘guided by the principles of humanism and justice', that's why five days of arrest were replaced with one day, taking into account that Khamaida was a pensioner.
On 24 November the Maskouski District Administrative Commission of Minsk fined Eduard Lobau 105,000 rubles ($35) for posting stickers at notice boards near multi-stored houses on 9 October in Babruisk. According to the ruling of the commission, this is a violation of Article 21.14, part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences. The activist considers the fine completely groundless, as notice boards are put for posting ads on them.
Yauhen Shapchyts (the author of the video clip calling Belarusians to hide the passports of their grandparents on the Election Day so that they wouldn't vote for Lukashenka) and one of the main characters, Pavel Bandzich, were dismissed from work. Their bosses told the guys to write applications for breaking the labor contracts on mutual agreement of the sides. The correspondent student of the Academy of Art Shapchyts worked as a video editor at the Belarusian TV and Radio Company, and P.Bandzich headed the theatric studio of the International Ecological University named after Andrey Sakharov.
The video was uploaded to YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36jGq6EeYkk) on 8 November. It became inaccessible after almost 30,000 people watched it. The YouTube administration removed it for a short time because of ‘unacceptable content'. Later the clip was put on again and is still accessible on YouTube. The pressurization of its producers served as an additional promotion, which lead to a considerable growth of the number of spectators.
The administration of the private enterprise where a Maladechna human rights defender Ales Kaputski, a long-term observer of the civil campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections, worked, refused to extend his labor contract without offering any explanations. The contract expired on 1 December, after which Kaputski became unemployed. A similar thing had happened to him in 2008, in the beginning of the parliamentary electoral campaign, during which he coordinated long-term election observation in his region.
4. Freedom of word and the right to impart information
On 12 November a minibus that transported the circulation of a fresh issue of a socio-political private newspaper Novy Chas was blocked by a car of road police and two ordinary cars at the Minsk bus terminal Uskhodni. The road police took the documents away and ordered the driver to drive to the Leninski District Police Department of Minsk. However, when they got there, a man in plain clothes came up to the policemen and told them to release the distributors of the newspaper.
On 30 November the Kastrychnitski Distict Court of Vitsebsk sentenced Siarhei Kandakou to pay a fine of 700,000 rubles (about $233) for distributing a private newspaper Vitebskiy Kuryer which obtained an official registration in the Russian Federation after the deprival of registration in Belarus and is printed in the Russian town of Smolensk. Moreover, the newspaper doesn't have a license for sale on the territory of Belarus and is not included in the subscription catalog.
On 24 November the Krychau District Court turned down the lawsuit of the editor of the private newspaper Volny Horad Uladzimir Kudrautsau claiming 5 million rubles (about $1,666) in moral damages from the district police. The reason for the lawsuit was the confiscation of the circulation of three issues of the newspaper which contained the article NTV Destroyed President's reputation, where Pavel Sharamet commented on Godfather – a scandalous documentary about A.Lukashenka. Judge Antanina Kachanava considered that the pretensions of the journalists to the police were groundless. The court verdict was appealed at higher court instances.
The Ministry of Trade issued a warning to a private socio-political newspaper Inform-progulka (issued in the town of Luninets) for publishing several ads of the independent TV channel BelSat without ‘specifying the name and the reference number of the foreign advertiser', which was considered as a violation of Article 10, point 4 of the Law On Advertisement. A representative of the editorial board was also summonsed to the ministry for being brought to the administrative responsibility for violation of this article.
5. Freedom to peaceful assemblies
The Minsk City Executive Committee prohibited a youth coalition New Generation to hold a picket in Nezalezhnastsi Square on 7 November, during which the organizers intended to collect signatures for renaming the metro station Lenin Square into Nezalezhnastsi Square. The official reason for the denial was the legal prohibition to hold pickets less than 200 meters away from tube stations. As a result, the activists decided not to hold a picket. Instead, they dispersed on the territory from St. Symon and Alena Church to the building of the railway station and collected signatures individually. The action ended without any detentions, but officers of the Maskouski District Police Department of Minsk put down the passport data of some of its participants.
At the end of November the Homel human rights defenders Anatol Paplauny and Leanid Sudalenka applied to the city authorities to get permission for holding a picket on 10 December, the Human Rights Day in order to inform the population about the right not to vote early. The Homel City Executive Committee didn't authorize the action, allegedly because the organizers hadn't paid for services of the police, the medics and the public utilities and had determined the Paustannia Square as the action site. Bear in mind that the Homel authorities had determined just one place for opposition's actions in Homel – the ground near the Culture House of the Belarusian Society of the Deaf.
6. Death Penalty
The Brest resident Sniazhana Neudakh received answers from the Presidential Administration and the National Center of Legislation and Legal Research of the Republic of Belarus to her address of 28 November in which she asked them to inform the mother of the executed death convict Andrei Zhuk about the place of his burial. The letter from the Presidential Administration tells that her proposal about introducing amendments to the Criminal-Executive Code is considered by the National Center of Legislation and Legal Research. The other answer informs Sniazhana that the proposal will be considered by the working group of the center within the guidelines of preparation of the draft law of the Republic of Belarus On introducing changes and amendments to the Criminal-Executive Code of Belarus, the elaboration of which is provided by the plan of preparation of draft laws for 2011.
On 30 Novembers activists of the campaign Human Rights Defenders Against The Death Penalty held a symbolic action Cities For Life – Cities Against The Death Penalty in Minsk. In the evening they lit tens of candles near the St. Symon and Alena Church opposite the House of the Government.
7. Electoral rights
The Belarusian courts didn't grant any out of 85 complaints concerning the non-inclusion of 413 people in precinct election commissions. The courts turned the complaints down ignoring all arguments about a discriminative approach of executive committees to candidacies of representatives of opposition political parties. The courts explained their rulings by stating that the formal procedures of the establishment of PECs were implemented.
A Mazyr human rights defender Uladzimir Tseliapun received an answer from the Central Election Commission to an application in which he questioned the legality of the ruling of the Mazyr District Executive Committee concerning the establishment of a ‘working group' that had actually formed the PECs of the Mazyr district. The CEC Chairperson Lidziya Yarmoshyna confessed that not all provisions of the document corresponded to the electoral legislation, but pointed that the observer had no legal powers to observe actions of the ‘working group'.
On 26 November 13 Mahiliou democratic activists including electioneering agents of presidential candidates Ryhor Kastusiou, Aliaksei Mikhalevich, Uladzimir Niakliayeu, Yaraslau Ramanchuk, Vital Rymasheuski, Andrei Sannikau and Dzmitry Uss and human rights defenders Barys Bukhel and Siarhei Famin applied to the Leninski District Court of Mahiliou with the demand to oblige the Leninski District Election Commission to increase the number of places for canvassing. The Chairperson of the court Halina Kuzhaleva refused to bring a civil case because the consideration of such appeals was allegedly beyond the powers of the court.
8. Prison conditions
On 24 November the Human Rights Center Viasna issued a public statement to express its concern with the situation of a member of the United Civil Party, entrepreneur Andrei Bandarenka who is serving a prison term in Babruisk. As it is said in the statement, the administration of the Babruisk penal colony repeatedly pressurized Bandarenka and even threatened him with an ‘occasional death'. It means that cruel, inhuman and degrading kinds of treatment equaled to torture were used towards him. Human rights defenders don't rule out the political implication of his persecution and demand that he should be provided with the proper conditions.