Weekly review of post-election situation in Belarus (23-29 May)
Minsk courts pronounced 7 more verdicts in the mass riot criminal case: former presidential candidates Mikalai Statkevich and Dzmitry Us were sentenced to 6 and 5.5 years of imprisonment respectively, Aliaksandr Klaskouski – 5 years, Artsiom Hrybkou – 4 years. Andrei Pazniak was released in the courtroom after he was sentenced to 2 years of compulsory labour without direction to a penal colony. Radio Racyja board chair Yauhen Wapa was not allowed entering Belarus and his visa was cancelled without any explanations. Minsk police detained 7 participants, including 4 human rights defenders, of a round table meeting on the issues of reforming Belarusian Internal Affairs system. President Lukashenka called upon officials to close down the media “engaged in creating panic” in consumer and currency markets.
Politically motivated criminal cases
On 26 May, Judge Liudmila Hrachova of Minsk Leninski District Court pronounced sentences to 2 former presidential candidate and 5 more participants of the 19 December 2010 post-election protest. Mikalai Statkevich was sentenced to 6 years of imprisonment, Dzmitry Us – 5.5. years, former police officer Aliaksandr Klaskouski – 5 years, Dzmitry Bulanau – 3 years, Aliaksandr Kviatkevich – 3.5 years, Artsiom Hrybkou – 4 years . Andrei Pazniak was released in the courtroom, having been sentenced to 2 years of probation.
Belarusian courts have held 13 trials in the Square events, convicting 43 persons, with 30 convicts receiving various terms in prison. Both Belarusian and international human rights defenders consider the convicts prisoners of conscience and demand their immediate release. Thomas Hamarberg, the CE Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the harassment of Belarusian opposition, saying that Belarus does not meet the requirements for joining the Council of Europe.
Violations of freedom of speech
On 23 May, Belarusian border troops cancelled the visa of Yahen Wapa, chair of Radio Racyja board and editor-in-chief of the “Niva” Belarusian minority weekly. Following the incident, the Polish MFA and Radio Racyja board released statements, saying the ban was a restriction on the citizens’ right to access to independent information, while Belarus faces new economic challenges and continues to repress opposition activists. “Reporters Without Borders” expressed its concern over the harassment of Mr. Wapa by the Belarusian authorities.
On 24 May, the criminal case against Andrzej Poczobut, reporter of the Polish “Gazeta Wyborcza” and activist of the Union of Poles, was submitted to Hrodna Leninski District Court. The trial will be conducted by Judge Vital Liatsko. The date of the first hearing is yet unknown. The journalist is still in custody. Chief editors of over 40 leading Polish media released a statement, expressing their protest at the illegal detention of Mr. Poczobut.
On 27 May, Hordna police detained two independent journalists Yan Roman and Andrei Fralou as they were interviewing Andrzej Poczobut’s wife Aksana outside the city’s prosecutor’s office. They were forced to provide written explanations and released, having been warned of possible prosecution for shooting outside high-security buildings.
On 27 May, at a government meeting, President Lukashenka ordered to put an end to the activities of a number of foreign media, including several Russian ones, saying the journalists contributed to the provocation of currency crisis.
Ruslan Reviaka, reporter of the “Intex-Press” independent newspaper, was not allowed attending a meeting of Baranavichy town council, due to its secret procedure.
Harassment of human rights defenders
On 24 May, the central office of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee was visited by tax inspectors set to attach the NGO’s property. The conflict between Minsk tax department and BHC has been underway for 5 years already.
On 28 May, the Belarusian Popular Front’s central office was to host a round table discussion on the reforms of the Interior Ministry. However, the event was stopped by Minsk police, who detained 7 human rights defenders and experts: Ukrainian human rights official Vadim Pivovarov, representative of the Polish Helsinki Foundation Olga Salomatova, Ukrainian human rights defenders Oleh Martynenko and Alla Blahaya, chair of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak, journalist Liudmila Isakava and former labour minister Aliaksandr Sasnou. The detainees were warned of possible prosecution for violating the mass events legislation and released without charges.
Brest human rights defender Raman Kisliak was unable to prosecute local policeman, who reportedly used violence while forcing the activist to undergo fingerprinting examination. Mr. Kisliak’s complaint was dismissed by Brest regional prosecutor’s office, who argued that no use of physical force was reported by the witnesses of the incident, ignoring the results of the medical examination.
Detentions and administrative penalties
On 26 May, Minsk police detained Siarhei Lukanin, lawyer of the “New Life” Protestant church, as he was reading the Bible. Mr. Lukanin was charged with holding an unauthorized meeting.
On 26 May, Minsk police twice detained activist of “European Belarus” Andrei Molchan. The activist was handcuffed to a radiator and forced to tell the whereabouts of his party fellow Aliaksandr Valantsevich. His mobile phone and passport were seized. On the same day, two more activists – Andrei Bazhyn and Danila Hancharou – were detained by the police.
Minsk police detained Artsiom Sharkou, organizer of a campaign against another rise in petrol prices.
Internet users gathered BYR 1,300,000 for Minsk resident Aleh Kudrachou, earlier fined BYR 700,000 for resisting arrest after he tried to support a free-rider.
Dzmitry Bandarenka, election agent of former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau, sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment, is in need of surgery.
On 29 May, the Young Front deputy chair Mikola Dezmidzenka was released, after serving 15 days of arrest. The activist was on hunger strike for the whole term. However, he was denied medical aid by the detention center administration.
Restrictions on freedom of association
The chief department of justice of Mahiliou regional executive committee denied registration to the public association “Mahiliou Center for Strategic Development Impulse”.
On 27 May, Baranavichy activists held a picket of protest at the denial of state registration to the Ukrainian minority NGO “Kobzar”.
Restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly
On 27 May, some 70 activists held a bicycle march. The events was stopped by the police, who detained 15 participants.