Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in December 2010
December was an
important month for summing up the results of the presidential electoral
campaign that lasted for three months and ended on 19 December.
Informational actions were held all over Belarus on 10 December, the Universal Day of Human Rights. There were no incidents. About 15 out of 40 participants of a procession held by the civil initiative Citizen were detained but soon released without getting any charges.
The Belarusian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Center Viasna held a joint action, handing out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and leaflets against the death penalty in the center of Minsk.
9 out of 10 presidential candidates (knowing the position of the incumbent, Lukashenka, human rights defenders considered it as senseless to apply to him) were questioned what they would do as the first step on improving the situation of human rights in the country if they were elected president. The answers were published at the website, spring96.org. The presidential candidates were ready to hold reforms in this direction and abolish the death penalty.
On 10 December the Belarusian Human Rights House in exile in Vilnius, together with 11 European human rights and civil organizations, started collecting signatures under a petition calling Belarus to respect the fundamental human rights, through a special website, belarus-petition.org. In particular, the petition calls on the Belarusian authorities to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty or abolish it; to respect freedom of word, assembly and associations, mass media and conscience; to abolish Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code which envisages criminal punishment for activities on behalf of unregistered organizations. Belarusian human rights defenders, on their part, called people to support and impart the petition.
On 18 December representatives of seven human rights organizations of Belarus filed a special address with the Presidential Administration, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Committee (KGB), calling not to create a fearful atmosphere in the society during the electoral campaign and abstain from using violence towards participants of peaceful street actions. Human rights defenders also pointed that the authorities should urgently introduce democratic amendments to the electoral legislation which would make the electoral process more fair and transparent.
Human rights defenders also confirmed the legitimacy of the call of the alternative presidential candidates to gather on Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk at 8 p.m. on 19 December to protest against unequal conditions of campaigning and non-democratic nature of the electoral process. They reminded that the right to express one's opinion by means of assemblies, rallies and demonstrations is guaranteed to citizens of Belarus by the Constitution as well as by international agreements that were ratified by Belarus.
However, the week before the protest rally the state media and the heads of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and KGB warned about provocations, armed actions and terrorist acts that were allegedly prepared by the opposition and could be held during the 19 December action. On 15 December, speaking at a council on issues of the electoral campaign and securing the public order during this period, A.Lukashenka stated that 'the presidential election mustn't be overshadowed with any clashes' and added: 'If, God forbid, somebody crosses the Rubicon they mustn't even come close to, the reaction of the law machinery and the army must be adequate and harsh'.
Two presidential candidates, Uladzimir Niakliayeu and Andrei Sannikau, held a joint press-conference short before 19 December, after armored cars had been brought to Minsk at night. Niakliayeu said that alternative candidates would refuse from protesting if Kastrychnitskaya Square was occupied by armored cars. 'However, we will consider such actions as an armed military resistance to the will of the people. We will state about it and point at it,' he added.
On 19 December representatives of the civil campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections held a press-conference to voice the preliminary conclusions of the monitoring of the early voting and tell about the incidents that had been registered at polling stations. The monitoring coordinators Aleh Hulak and Valiantsin Stefanovich stated that there was some progress towards democratization, but in general the electoral process wasn't trustworthy. One of the positive moments was the absence of mass preventive detentions and arrests of representatives of the opposition during the electoral campaign (almost 30 activists were detained before the evening of 19 December – most of them were soon released without getting any charges, but some were left in custody as suspects in a criminal case). At the same time, an unclear procedure of the storage of ballots during the days of the early voting allowed electoral commissions to explain the law and act in different ways. 'The law also doesn't explain where members of election commissions must stay during the breaks in the voting and after its end. Meanwhile, according to Article 13 of the Electoral Code, observers have the right to observe the electoral process only during the voting, that's why they don't see what takes place during the breaks and after the end of the voting,' pointed the human rights defenders. Moreover, the tendency for an increased forcing to early voting was observed at state enterprises, especially in small towns, which is an evident use of the administrative resources. In some cases observers were warned or removed from polling stations. A part of the observers also reported about obstacles to observing home voting.
Despite the fact that the electoral campaign was held in more liberal conditions than the previous one, the post-election events, namely the evening of the Election Day, during which a violent dispersal of the peaceful protest action near the House of the Parliament in Nezalezhnastsi Square took place, crossed any previous progress in the relations between Belarus and the West (the European Union). The authorities returned to a violent persecution of opponents and trampling the sprouts of democracy in the Belarusian society. The repressive machine started working again after a two-year break. Hundreds of people got under its wheels. Detentions, searches, interrogations, beatings and administrative and criminal prosecution – all these things shocked the international community.
Short before the protest action, in the evening of 19 December, masked people assaulted a group of adherents of presidential candidate Uladzimir Niakliayeu. The offenders used noise grenades. They seized sound-amplifying equipment. Uladzimir Niakliayeu was severely beaten and taken to the ambulance hospital with a cranial trauma as a result.
At 8 p.m. at least 30,000 participants of the peaceful protest action proceeded from Kastrychnitskaya Square to Nezalezhnastsi Square. Presidential candidates took floor there. Unidentified persons, whose actions were condemned by the candidates, tried to break the entrance door of the House of the Parliament and smashed its windows. This let special task forces to use excessive force and violence during the dispersal of the peaceful rally. Demonstrators were hit in the head and in the face with truncheons and fists. Many of them were hospitalized. More than 600 people were detained and sentenced to arrest terms or fines under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code – violation of the rules of organizing and holding mass events.
Among the detainees there were presidential candidates R.Kastusiou, V.Rymasheuski, A.Sannikau, A.Statkevich, their electioneering agents, politicians, journalists, well-known public activists and Aleh Hulak, Chairperson of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and a coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections.
At 4 a.m. on 20 December the office of the Human Rights Center Viasna was raided by police who detained 10 human rights defenders and confiscated the system blocks of all computers, a video camera and a photo camera. In 3 hours all detainees were released. Another raid was held simultaneously at the office of the civil initiative Charter'97. The editor of charter97.org Natallia Radzina was detained. The detentions of opposition politicians continued during the whole night. The Chairperson of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka was detained at home. Uladzimir Niakliayeu was kidnapped from the resuscitation ward and his wife was closed in a nearby room. His fate was unclear till 27 December: it was said that he was kept at the investigative department of KGB, but lawyers were denied meetings with him, allegedly because of the absence of free meeting rooms.
Presidential candidate Yaraslau Ramanchuk spent several hours in the Presidential Administration on 20 December. After it he summonsed an urgent press-conference which was shot by the Belarusian TV and at which he read an address in which condemned the 'mass riot'.
A press-conference on the results of the campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections was held at 12 a.m. on 20 December. 'The most suitable definition for this election would be 'dirty election'', said human rights defender Valiantsin Stefanovich.
The internal minister Anatol Kuliashou stated on air of the First National TV Channel that organizers of the protest action would be punished under Article 293 of the Criminal Code which envisages up to 15 years of imprisonment.
At that time the Belarusian public already knew about detention of hundreds of people, some of whom were kept in police cars without food and water for more than one day. It was also known that there were women and girls among the beaten people. Human rights defenders and volunteers collected information about the detainees and kept their duty in courts so that the collected information could reach their relatives. All trials were closed. They were held without lawyers, cases were considered within several minutes and defendants were sentenced to arrest. Fines were given only to mothers whose children were under age, and to disabled persons. Moreover, some of the detainees were just occasional passers-by who had been detained outdoors after the end of the protest action. However, the courts didn't make any difference between them and demonstrators.
On 21 December the authorities called the official number of the detainees – 639, but it wasn't precise. If we take into account those who were released after the detention, those who were hospitalized or taken to the investigative isolator of KGB on criminal charges – it becomes over 700. The delinquents' isolation center couldn't house that many people, that's why a part of them were transferred to prison #8 in Zhodzina.
Tens of European organizations condemned the actions of the Belarusian authorities. On 20 December an open address to the President of Belarus calling to free hundreds of demonstrators, journalists and politicians who had been detained for a peaceful expression of their views, was signed by organizations of the Human Rights House Foundation. Similar addresses were entered by Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Freedom House, the President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek, the Governments of the US and the EU.
The Committee on International Control over the Situation with Human Rights in Belarus started working in Minsk. It was established by the coalition of NGOs of the OSCE countries on 27 December. The Committee consists of about 30 international organizations including:
International Youth Human Rights Movement (YHRM),
International Network of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly,
International Civil Initiative for OSCE (ICI OSCE),
Moscow Helsinki Group - MHG (Russia),
International Youth Resource Centre - IYRC (Ukraine),
Center for Civil Liberties - CCL (Ukraine),
Freedom, Legality and Rights in Europe (FLARE),
International Helsinki Association,
Network for Civil Society Cooperation in Eurasia Region (Eurasia IDEA network),
Public Movement Multinational Georgia (Georgia),
Kharkiv Regional Foundation Public Alternative (Ukraine),
Interregional Human Rights Protection Group - Voronezh/Chernozemie (Russia),
Komi Human Rights Commission Memorial (Russia),
All-Ukrainian youth NGO Foundation of Regional Initiatives (Ukraine)
Civil Defense Fund (Lithuania),
Project No Borders of the Social Action Center (Ukraine),
Human Rights Institute (Russia),
Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Russia),
Citizens against Corruption (Kyrgyzstan),
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland).
The Committee established a long-term International Observation Mission consisting of representatives of human rights organizations from different countries of the OSCE territory and international organizations, as well as of independent experts. Belarusian organizations weren't included in the Committee in order to secure its political neutrality.
1. Freedom of association
According to an appropriate statement by the Assembly of NGOs, the draft law On Non-profitable Organizations elaborated by the Ministry of Justice and the Center of Legislation and Legal Research didn't take into account the position of Belarusian NGOs. The civil sector was alerted by the fact that the text of the draft law, which was being finalized, wasn't presented for public discussion. 'The process of working out the Law On Non-profitable Organizations by the Ministry of Justice is similar to the organization of public hearings concerning the construction of the nuclear power plant in Astravets. The hearings were formal and the organizations which wanted to take part in them and had some important information on the matter, were pushed away,' commented Siarhei Matskevich, Head of the Working Group of the Assembly of NGOs. That's why the Assembly called on the responsible state organs to postpone the passing of the draft law to the Chamber of Representatives till holding a wide public discussion.
2. Politically motivated criminal cases
27-year-old engineer Ihar Alinevich was detained on 28 November in Moscow and put in the investigative isolator of KGB in Minsk the following day. The detention took place in unusual circumstances. According to his defense lawyer, Alinevich is charged with the involvement in the assault on the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Belarus on 30 August and an action near the General Staff which was held by anarchists a year ago. Earlier the detainee had refused his relation to these assaults. Bear in mind that a number of different episodes have been united in one case (the assaults on the Russian Embassy, the delinquents' isolation center in Akrestsin Street, the building of the Shangri-La casino, a branch of the Belarusbank, the House of Trade Unions, the General Staff and other incidents). Mikalai Dziadok, Aliaksandr Frantskevich and Maksim Vetkin are also kept in custody as suspects in this case.
On 18 December the Young Front activists Dzmitry Dashkevich, Dzianis Lazar and Eduard Lobau were detained preventively in Minsk. They were declared suspects in a criminal case under Article 339 of the Criminal Code, 'hooliganism'. On 28 December Dzianis Lazar was released and the suspicions against him were dropped. Dashkevich and Lobau, on the contrary, received official charges and were left in custody.
As of 31 December 2010, human rights defenders had the following information about the criminal case under Article 293, 'mass riot', instigated in connection with the protest action in Nezalezhnastsi Square: there were 29 figurants, 27 of whom were kept in the investigative isolator of KGB. Among them there were five presidential candidates: Aliaksei Mikhalevich, Uladzimir Niakliayeu, Vital Rymasheuski, Andrei Sannikau and Mikalai Statkevich. Two more presidential candidates, Ryhor Kastusiou and Dzmitry Uss, were suspects in the case and were released under written undertakings not to leave. Other detainees were electioneering agents and civil activists: Aliaksandr Arastovich, Aliaksandr Atroshchankau, Dzmitry Bandarenka, Andrei Dzmitryieu, Andrei Fedarkevich, Aliaksandr Fiaduta, Iryna Khalip, Aliaksandr Klaskouski, Uladzimir Kobets, Aleh Korban, Anatol Liabedzka, Mikita Likhavid, Uladzimir Loban, Siarhei Martsaleu, Dzmitry Novik, Nasta Palazhanka, Anatol Paulau, Natallia Radzina, Pavel Seviarynets, Siarhei Vazniak and two citizens of the Russian Federation – Artyom Breus and Ivan Gaponov.
Relatives of the arrested established the civil committee Release. Its main goal is the release of all people who are kept in the investigative department of KGB on suspicion in the involvement in the mass riot in Minsk. The committee includes wives, parents and children of the imprisoned candidates and their comrades. They addressed the authorities of the Russian Federation, the European Union and the United States with a call to do everything possible for the release of the new political prisoners.
According to information of human rights defenders, another criminal case has been instigated concerning the events of 19 December. It concerns the 'outrage of the state symbols', which manifested in the replacement of the official flag at the entrance of the KGB building with a national white-red-white flag.
3. Freedom of speech and the right to impart information
Subscription to state-owned media started in December. The ideological departments of the district executive committees held forced subscription to state-owned press. The heads of state enterprises, organizations and institutions and mailmen were ordered to provide a certain number of subscribers.
According to information of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, a famous Swedish photo correspondent Dean Cox was denied accreditation. Cox intended to cover the presidential election. When he asked whether he could visit Belarus as a tourist, the Belarusian Embassy answered he wouldn't be given a visa as they knew that he was a journalist. Dean Cox had come to Belarus during the presidential elections of 2006 and had no problems with receiving visa at that time.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists published the lists of journalists detained and/or injured during the protest action of 19 December. 15 journalists were arrested, five of them – within the framework of the criminal case (Aliaksandr Fiaduta, Iryna Khalip (a journalist with the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta), Natallia Radzina (the editor of charter97.org), Pavel Seviarynets (a member of the BAJ Council) and Siarhei Vazniak (the editor of the Tovarishch newspaper and a member of the BAJ Board)). 21 journalists were injured but not detained, including some foreign journalists: James Hill (the New York Times), Heinz Tesarek (a photo correspondent with the Austrian Internet edition news.at, Anton Kharchenko and Viktor Filyayev (TV channel Russia Today), Ilya Omelchenko and Dmitry Tarkhov (the shooting crew of the Russian TV channel Ren-TV), Olga Alenova (the Russian newspaper Kommersant).
4. Freedom of peaceful assemblies
The Minsk City Executive Committee banned a picket against violation of rights of Belarusain citizens by the Belarusian authorities. According to a picket organizer Tamara Siarhei, about 50 people from all parts of Belarus intended to take part in the action near the city hall on 6 December. The picket ban was signed by Deputy Chairperson of the Minsk City Executive Committee, Mikhail Tsitsiankou. The official explanation for the ban was that the picket would create obstacles to the movement of pedestrians, the traffic and the functioning of the economic subjects which were located nearby. T.Siarhei is of the opinion that the ban violates Article 35 of the Constitution and the Law On Mass Events. That's why the group of women addressed the General Procuracy in order to draw Tsitsiankou to legal account.
5. Persecution of political and civil activists
On 1 December a human rights defender from Maladechna Ales Kaputski, a long-term observer of the civil campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections, became redundant. The administration of the private enterprise where he worked didn't extend his labor contract without offering any explanations. A similar thing happened to Kaputski in 2008, during the parliamentary electoral campaign, in which he also participated as an election observer.
Dzmitry Dashkevich, leader of the Young Front, was detained in the evening of 8 December while driving his car. Road police guarded him to the Pershamaiski District Police Department of Minsk. Deputy Chairperson of the Young Front Nasta Palazhanka received an SMS-message from him. According to it, he was told that his name was absent in the electronic database of drivers and he must have forged his driver's license. Dashkevich was released after arrival of OSCE observers. However, his car was seized, allegedly for checking whether it wasn't stolen from someone. The following day the police detained Dashkevich once again, while he was driving the car of Palazhanka's father. There were some other members of the Young Front in the car. All of them were detained and guarded to the Kastrychnitski District Police Department, allegedly to check whether the car wasn't stolen. The activists were let go after giving explanations.
On 9 December Judge of the Krupti District Court Volha Foma found a well-known artist Ales Pushkin guilty of disorderly conduct and resistance to the police and sentenced him to 13 days of arrest. Pushkin had been detained on 8 December in his house in the town of Bobr (Krupki district) on false accusation in beating a man. Lawyer Pavel Sapelka and Pushkin's friends are convinced that the case against him was fabricated. His colleagues, members of the artistic association Pahonia at the Belarusian Union of Artists, adopted a statement saying that 'the actions of the law machinery concerning the arrest of the artist are aimed at clearing of the territory before the election. Being aware of the freedom-loving nature of the creator, who held artistic performances to protest against the false and pressurization of the authorities, their economic inaction, and first of all – turning a blind eye to the historical heritage, and hostility to the Belarusian language, they resorted to a provocation against him.'
On 17 December Kiryl Semianchuk, an activist of the electoral team of Uladzimir Niakliayeu, was detained at the railway station in Hrodna. The following day he was sentenced to six days of arrest. His wife wasn't provided with any information about his case. Niakliayeu's electioneering agent Aleh Kaliankou was detained in the morning of 19 December and sentenced to 3 days of arrest. As it was found later, the both of them were punished for holding a picket near Hrodna Agrarian University to protest against early voting.
On 18 December Yury Klimovich, head of the Homel regional headquarters of Vital Rymasheuski, was detained in Homel. Judge of the Tsentralny District Court of Homel Maryia Damnenka found him guilty of using obscene language on the basis of false testimonies and punished him with 15 days of imprisonment.
Dzmitry Rastayeu, a member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, correspondent with a state-owned newspaper Vecherniy Bobruysk, was proposed to retire on his own will (in connection with his journalist activities outside the newspaper). The journalist refused to do it and pointed that he retired ‘in connection with the change of important conditions of work'. Rastayeu started facing trouble at work after the founder of the newspaper, Valiantsin Sysoi, had been summoned to Mikhail Kavalevich, Deputy Chairperson on ideology of the Babruisk Town Executive Committee.
The previous month the author of a satirical clip about the presidential election Yauhen Shapchyts was dismissed from the Belarusian television. In December Pavel Bandzich (who played a collector of signatures) followed his fate – he was dismissed from International Ecological University named after Sakharov, where he worked as the head of the theatrical studio. Bandzich agreed to 'retire on his own will' because of the good relations he had with the university administration.
Aleh A., who had played the grandson in the clip, was expelled from the 5th year of the faculty of journalism of Belarusian State University.
6. Death penalty
On 6 December the UN Human Rights Committee registered a individual communication of Aleh Hryshkautsou who had been sentenced to death on 14 May 2010. Hryshkautsou complains about violation of his rights that are guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, first of all the right to fair trial. The communication also contains a request for taking measures of temporary defense and suspending the implementation of his sentence till an all-sided consideration of the case by the Human Rights Committee.
On 13 December A.Hryshkautsou addressed A.Lukashenka with a request to suspend the implementation of his sentence till the consideration of his case by the Committee. He had to resort to this measure because two previous death convicts, Vasil Yuzepchuk and Andrei Zhuk, had been executed though the competent state organs of Belarus had been informed that their cases had been pending at the UN Human Rights Committee.
7. Prison conditions
The issue of the prosthodontic treatment of political prisoner Mikalai Autukhovich remains unsolved. The prisoner continues losing weight. The administration of the prison where he is kept insists on the confession of guilt and taking part in amateur theatricals and considers his refusal as a violation of the prison rules. Autukhovich also said that various provocations were staged against him. Human rights defenders consider that the Department of Penalty Execution violates the rights of the unlawfully imprisoned person in this case.