Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in January 2012
In January the human rights situation in Belarus remained critical. 15 prisoners convicted for their political and social activities remained behind bars. The appellate court left in force the verdict to the head of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Ales Bialiatski. It became known that torture and ill-treatment were used towards another political prisoner, former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau, with the aim to make him apply to the head of the state for pardon. As a result, he filed such a petition. Political prisoners Mikalai Autukhovich and Mikalai Statkevich were tried for alleged violations of the prison regime. As a result, the conditions of their imprisonment were toughened.
Administrative harassment, arrests and fines were used against social and political activists. Human rights defender Aleh Volchak and journalist Aliaksandr Barazenka were sentenced to arrest. Meanwhile, the latter was detained while performing his professional duties.
A further restriction of rights to peaceful assembly, association and speech was observed. The Belarusian Christian Democracy Party received the fourth registration denial. Mahiliou Human Rights Center faced the danger of termination. Local executive organs continued banning peaceful street actions on trumped-up grounds all over the country. The possibilities of expression and dissemination of information remained restricted. Cases of Internet censorship were registered, as well as detention and punishment of those who spread editions with alternative information.
Politically motivated criminal prosecution
On 12 January Shklou District Court toughened the prison regime for Mikalai Statkevich for the next three years, allegedly for violations of the prison rules. In December Mikalai Statkevich was placed to a penal cell as some “unregistered” handkerchiefs were found among his belongings. Then he was punished thrice more for the absence of an individual nameplate during his stay in the penal cell. The real reason for such pressurization is his refusal to write a pardon petition for A. Lukashenka. After the trial Mr. Statkevich was immediately transferred from the penal colony in Shklou to Mahiliou prison and placed in a penal cell, allegedly for some violations he had committed during his stay in the colony. Bear in mind that in May 2011 Mikalai Statkevich was sentenced to 6 years in high-security prison for participation in the protest rally against the rigged election on 19 December 2010.
On 17 January Mikalai Autukhovich was tried in penal colony #5 in Ivatsevichy. As a result, the prisoner was found guilty of malignant violation of the prison regime. Ivatsevichy District Court ruled that Autukhovich was to spend the rest of his sentence, 2 years and 3 months, in prison cell. Bear in mind that in May 2010 Mr. Autukhovich had been sentenced to 5 years and 2 months in high-security prison for transportation and storage of five fire-cartridges for a hunting rifle. At the end of the month Autukhovich was transferred to prison #1 in Hrodna.
24 January the investigations in the criminal case of a member of the
Conservative-Christian Party Belarusian Popular Front Siarhei
Kavalenka, charged under article 415 "Evasion of punishment",
came to an end. The matter is that in May 2010 Siarhei Kavalenka had
been sentenced to three years of personal restraint without direction
to an open penitentiary institution under Part 1, Article 339 of the
Criminal Code (intentional actions grossly violating public order)
and Part 2 of Article 363 (resistance to law enforcement officials in
the performance of official duties) for hanging out a white-red-white
flag on the top of the main New Year Tree in Vitsebsk. The “evasion
case” will be considered by Alena Zhuk, Judge of Pershamaiski
District Court of Vitsebsk. Siarhei Kavalenka had been keeping a
hunger-strike of protest in the remand prison since 19 December 2011
and had been subject to forced feeding since mid-January.
On 31 January it became known that the Supreme Court of Belarus upheld the verdict to the co-head of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party Pavel Seviarynets – three years of personal restraint for participation in the peaceful rally against the rigged presidential election on 19 December 2010.
On 31 January the Human Rights Center “Viasna” published a list of political prisoners in Belarus. According to this list, there were 15 political prisoners: Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Autukhovich, Dzmitry Bandarenka, Ales Bialiatski, Zmitser Dashkevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Aliaksandr Frantskevich, Siarhei Kavalenka, Eduard Lobau, Artsiom Prakapenka, Andrei Sannikau, Pavel Seviarynets, Mikalai Statkevich, Pavel Syramalotau and Yauhen Vaskovich. As it was stated in the list, though offenses were really committed by Prakapenka, Syramalotau and Vaskovich, the qualification of their actions is unfair and the imposed penalty is disproportionately severe.
Harassment and pressurization of human rights activists and organizations
On 24 January Minsk City Court upheld the verdict to the head of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Ales Bialiatski who had been sentenced to 4.5 years in high-security prison with confiscation of property for "concealment of income on a large scale "(Article 243, Part 2, Criminal Code). The verdict of the Judicial Board was announced by Judge Uladzimir Stsiapurka, the prosecution was represented by Kiryl Chubkavets.
Only two out of the eight motions entered by Bialiatski's lawyer were granted: the attachment of the receipt concerning the transfer of the compensation of the whole sum of the damage allegedly inflicted to the state by A. Bialiatski to the state (757,526,717 Belarusian rubles, about 70,000 Euros) and documents about the purchase of property by Bialiatski. One of the declined motions was the lawyer's proposal to make a court inquiry to the organizations which had transferred finances to Bialiatski's accounts, with the aim to find about the purposes of the transfers and the use of the money. This circumstance, as well as paying no attention to the compensation for the sum of the damage stated by the court of the first instance, eloquently demonstrated the political motivation of the court verdict and the prosecution of Ales Bialiatski.
The family of the human rights defender expressed a deep gratitude to the people who helped in raising funds which were transferred to the court account several days before the trial as compensation of the alleged damage inflicted to the state by Ales Bialiatski.
Minsk branch of the HRC "Viasna" faced the threat of losing its office, which was officially Ales Bialiatski's property and was to be confiscated according to the court verdict.
Statements of protest in the case of Ales Bialiatski were made by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (which declared the conviction of Ales Bialiatski to be prosecution for human rights legal advocacy), the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, the OSCE chairman Ayman Gilmour, the French Foreign Ministry, the Human Rights House Network (70 NGOs from 15 countries) and others.
Bear in mind that the criminal case against Ales Bialiatski was based on information provided to the Belarusian authorities by the Ministry of Justice of Lithuania and the Prosecutor General of Poland concerning the bank accounts opened in these countries by Ales Bialiatski in order to receive financing for activities of the HRC "Viasna". Belarusian authorities considered the money on the accounts as his personal income and accused him of concealing assets.
The Lithuanian Ministry of Justice also presented to the Belarusian authorities information about the funds on the account of the vice-head of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Valiantsin Stefanovich. On 16 December 2011 Partyzanski District Court of Minsk court issued a decision on exaction of 54,357,370 Belarusian rubles as income tax and 2,717,870 rubles as the court fee. On 19 January 2012 Mr. Stefanovich filed an appeal against the verdict to Minsk City Court.
On 26 January it became known that Mahiliou Human Rights Center could cease to exist as the local authorities were creating unbearable financial conditions for it. In particular, they imposed arbitrary standards, according to which the governing bodies consisting of at least three people need at least 18 square meters of office space for their work. The office rent proposed by the authorities (without public utilities fees) is about 2 million rubles (about $240). Other offices, proposed by the authorities, have even larger space. The head of Mahiliou Human Rights Center Uladzimir Krauchanka states that the authorities didn't succeed in stopping the center's activities by any other means. Mahiliou Human Rights Center was the only human rights organization officially registered with the state in Mahiliou.
On 30 January the head of the human rights organization "Legal Assistance to Population" Aleh Volchak was sentenced to four days of administrative arrest by Judge of Tsentralny District Court of Minsk Yakunchykhin on charges of using foul language on the street (Article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, "disorderly conduct"). Aleh Volchak, who denied the use of foul language, was convicted on the basis of testimony given by the deputy head of Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk, Anton Shakhlai. Mr. Volchak was detained on 27 January and spent three days in the delinquents' isolation center in Akrestsin Street before the trial. The arrest of Aleh Volchak was aimed at sanctioning his human rights activities. In particular, several days before the trial he spread his report on the trial of Ales Bialiatski and conclusions concerning the trial of the persons who were sentenced to death on charges of committing a terrorist act in Minsk.
and cruel treatment, poor conditions of detention
On 10 January Brest Region Procusecutor's Office refused to instigate criminal case on abuse of Mikalai Autukhovich, noting that no evidence of systemic humiliation of his personal dignity or forcing to suicide by the colony administration was found during the inspection. The application for the instigation of the criminal case was filed by Autukhovich's former lawyer, Pavel Sapelka, after receiving information that Autukhovich, driven to desperation by the lawlessness of the colony's administration, cut his veins. The investigation cast doubt concerning the explanations given by Mikalai Autukhovich during a questioning: "Autukhovich explained that on 11 December 2011 he, using a disposable blade, really made lacerations on the forearms of both hands, but this was due to the fact that the prison authorities allegedly engaged in the concealment of beating of prisoners by the head of economical unit #13, Uladzimir Prakapovich. However, Autukhovich didn't tell the concrete circumstances of the beating and concrete surnames of the beaten.” It was also stated that other prisoners and Prakapovich didn't confirm the use of violence. The investigation suggested that the "cutting of forearms by Autukhovich was not a suicide attempt," and this fact "was an act of self-harm in connection with a protest with requirements established by order of punishment imposed on the administration of the correctional institution on prisoners."
On 25 January the wife of political prisoner and former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau Iryna Khalip convened an emergency press conference. This happened the day after meeting with her husband, from whom in the past three months there was no information: lawyers and relatives were not allowed to visit him and received no letters. According to I. Khalip, the political prisoner looked as if passed through the Stalinist camps. A. Sannikau told his wife that he had signed a petition for pardon in the name of Aliaksandr Lukashenka back in December 2010. According to Iryna, the petition was "knocked out" from the prisoner by real torture and threats against the family. "Andrei could not talk about what happened to him during the last three months. He was only able to say: "My imprisonment ended in September. Then came the torture." Bear in mind that in September the prisoner was transferred from Navapolatsk colony to Vitsebsk colony, then – to Mahiliou colony, and then – to “Vitsba-3” colony. Three hours after the press-conference the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that Sannikau had filed the petition for clemency on 23 December (the day of Lukashenka's press-conference at which he alleged knowing nothing about the petition), and it got to the Department of Citizenship and Pardons of the Presidential Administration only a month later, on 23 January 2012, together with other documents.
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" issued a statement of protest against the torture, threats, blackmail and other unacceptable methods of pressure and influence on political prisoners. On 30 January the Belarusian Helsinki Committee addressed the Office Prosecutor General to verify the information on torture of Andrei Sannikau, voiced by the wife of the former presidential candidate, and take necessary measures. Sannikau's companions submitted information about the torture of the prisoner to the UN Committee against Torture for the immediate response of the international body.
On 27 January it became known that political prisoners Mikalai Dziadok and Aliaksandr Frantskevich were deprived of short-term meetings with their families as a disciplinary penalty.
According to Mikalai's father, Aliaksandr Dziadok, he was punished in such a way for holding his hands in his pockets, which was considered as a challenge to the prison administration. He was also deprived of the right to use the prison shop and receive parcels.
Aliaksandr Frantskevich's mother believes that the disciplinary penalty was issued to her son to deprive him of the opportunity to apply for softening of the penalty in March. The prisoner had no admonitions before this.
On 30 January the prison regime was toughened for political prisoner Dzmitry Bandarenka, kept in penal colony #15 in Mahiliou: it is forbidden for him to use the crutch on which he relied when walking. "He is not allowed to wear the soft comfortable shoes which I passed to him,” said the wife of the politician. “Now he will have to bend over to put the tight prison shoes on. It is forbidden to him to lie down during the day – he must go out and stand in line during the morning check-ups. He was also prescribed to do some light kinds of work.” Dzmitry Bandarenka had been sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment. His chronic illnesses exacerbated immediately after his arrest in December 2010. In July 2011 he underwent spinal surgery in clinical hospital #5 of Minsk.
On 27 January the Prosecutor General of Belarus Aliaksandr Kaniuk stated that one of the persons sentenced to death for committing a terrorist act in the Minsk Metro in April 2011 – 25-year-old Dzmitry Kanavalaiu, declared the death verdict legitimate and refused to file a petition for clemency. According to the Prosecutor General, Kanavalau had stated it back on 19 December 2011 to members of the special commission. According to Prosecutor General, Kanavalau was twice reminded about the opportunity to file such a petition, but refused to use this right. Another figurant of the case, Uladzislau Kavaliou, who was also sentenced to death, filed a petition for clemency on 7 December 2011.
On 30 January the EU MEPs from Laima Andrykeyne (Lithuania) and Eduard Kukan, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, came up with the demand to abolish the death penalty to Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavaliou, and introduce a moratorium on executions in Belarus. According to the MEPs, the court did not prove the guilt of Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavaliou. Andrykeyne and Kukan made their statement after a meeting with Liubou Kavaliova, the mother of one of the death convicts, in the European Parliament in Brussels.
Administrative prosecution of
social and political activists
On 2 January, Maskouski District Court of Minsk fined civil activists Viktoryia Rymashkevich and Anastasiya Shuleika. The girls had been detained on 31 December, while meeting the people who had been released after serving arrest for participation in a peaceful rally on 19 December 2011, marking the anniversary of the protests against the rigging of the presidential election. They were kept in a remand prison before the trial. Rymashkevich's case was considered by Judge Sviatlana Bandarenka, Shuleika's case – by Judge Viktar Kozak.
On 2 January, Maskouski District Court sentenced to 7 days of arrest activist of the campaign "Speak the Truth," Pavel Vinahradau who had been arrested on 30 December at Maskouski District Police Department where he was summoned for a “talk”.
Kastrychnitski District Court of Minsk considered an administrative case against activist of the "Student Council" Ales Krot who was arrested on the morning of 31 December on charges of “disorderly conduct”, Article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. The trial was postponed.
On 5 January activist of the Movement "For Freedom" Ian Melnikau was arrested by police. Leninski District Court of Minsk sentenced him to 15 days of arrest under Article 17.1 and violation of rules of urban maintenance (Article 21.14 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). The activist was arrested for distributing leaflets of the campaign no "Fear not!" in the metro.
On 5 January Siarhei Bandarenka, Judge of Pershamaiski District Court of Minsk, having considered the documents filed by the head of Pershamaiski District Police Department of Minsk, established a preventive supervision for 12 months over former Vasil Parfiankou, as the former political prisoner "did not mend his ways” after having been pardoned by Presidential decree and released from penal colony #8 where he was to have served 4 years for participation in the peaceful post-election protests of 19 December 2010. As a result, Mr. Parfiankou was put on a “prophylaxis register” of Pershamaiski District Police Department of Minsk.
On 8 January activist of the "European Belarus" Mikita Kavalenka unfurled white-red-white flags and portraits of political prisoners near the Minsk KGB office. The action lasted less than a minute. Some people in civvies went out of the building and detained him. On 9 January Mikita Kavalenka was sentenced to 15 days of arrest by Judge of Tsentralny District Court of Minsk Khadanovich for participation in unauthorized mass action (Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). Journalist Aliaksandr Barazenka, who was videoing the action, was detained together with Mikita Kavalenka.
On 11 January Alena Tsalkova, Judge of the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk, took the decision to terminate the administrative proceedings against Uladzimir Niapomnyashchykh for "foul language" (Article 17.1 of the CAO) due to lack of evidence of his guilt. The police witnesses could not prove that the activist of the United Civil Party and the Movement "For Freedom", retired police officer, really used obscene language in public. It was the first time when such charges weren't “proved” at court. Bear in mind that the activist had been detained by the police on 7 October 2011, on the eve of the People's Assembly, for posting leaflets with invitations to this event.
On 12 January the administrative trial of Siarhei Kavalenka ended at Pershamaiski District Court of Vitsebsk. The defendant was found guilty of “disorderly conduct”. Judge Volha Ivanova fined him 140,000 rubles (about $17) for the alleged use of obscene language towards officers of the Inspection of Corrections. At the time of the penalty Siarhei Kavalenka has been kept in the remand prison for more than three weeks on charges under Article 415 of the Criminal Code, "evasion of punishment”.
On 17 January H.Hunou, Judge of Minsk Region Court, upheld the verdict to Mikalai Illiushonak. On 12 December 2011 the activist had been fined 425,000 rubles (about $51) for the organization of an unauthorized mass event which allegedly manifested in collecting signatures in support of the People's Assembly.
On 27 January Vitsebsk resident Pyotr Ivanov, a Russian citizen, representative of the party "United Russia" and activist of the campaign "Speak the Truth" was fined 70,000 rubles (about $ 8) for allegedly using obscene language. In fact, he had been detained on 6 January for handing out leaflets calling for solidarity with Siarhei Kavalenka.
Restrictions on freedom of speech
On 6 January Salihorsk users of services of the mobile operator “BelCel”(trade mark DIALLOG ™) stated about illegal blocking of independent websites by this provider. They applied to the tech support department, whose workers admitted the blockade and promised to remove it. However, it was done only after threats of legal action, because the according to the Belarusian legislation web content for private individuals can be filtered only on their request, whereas unauthorized blocking of websites is illegal.
6 January the editor and publisher of the samizdat newspaper
"Kryvinka" Heorhi Stankevich was fined 1,400,000 rubles
(about $168) for the violation of the order of distribution of
publications. The verdict was issued by Judge Volha Belavus. Heorhi
Stankevich had been detained on 5 November 2011. The trial lasted for
more than 2 months. The judge had to return the initial police report
for revision due to some mistakes, which delayed the court hearings.
The administrative case against Mr. Stankevich was initiated on the
basis of an anonymous complaint about the alleged unlawful
distribution of “Kryvinka”: two housewives allegedly found the
newspaper in their post-boxes and were very indignant at it.
On 9 January Aliaksandr Barazenka, the journalist who filmed the 8 January action near Minsk KGB Department, was sentenced to 11 days of arrest under Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offenses by Ivan Maiseichyk, Judge of Tsentralny District Court of Minsk. The verdict was issued despite the fact that Mr. Barazenka was implementing his professional duty as a journalist.
In the night of 13-14 January the road police detained a car with the circulation of the private edition “Vitebskiy Kuryer” not far from Vitsebsk. 10,000 copies of the newspaper were taken for examination. The issue contained the article "Six facts in the case of Ales Bialiatski which aren't publicized by Belarusian TV and "Sovetskaya Belorussiya"”. The newspaper is registered as a Russian edition and is printed in Smolensk, but distributed in Vitsebsk.
On 17 January the organizers of the conference "Business Internet" in Homel yielded to the pressure of the local authorities and banned the founder of the most popular Homel news site, odsgomel.org, Piotr Kuzniatsou, from taking part in the event. At first he was invited to read his report "Growth in demand for local news on the example of the Homel region”. However, a few days before the event the organizers told Piotr Kuzniatsou they had to cancel the invitation due to the pressure of the authorities.
On 30 January the Hrodna reporter of Radio “Racyja” Hrazhyna Shalkevich was summoned to Hrodna Regional KGB Department. She was asked mostly about last year's "silent protest" campaign, during one of which she had been arrested and fined as a participant. She was also warned about the possible punishment for working with a foreign media without accreditation, and for discredit of the Republic of Belarus and insult of the president.
Restrictions on freedom of
On 12 January Siarhei Shytsikau, Judge of Tsentralny District of Homel, dismissed the appeal of Homel human rights defenders Anatol Paplauny and Leanid Sudalenka against the refusal of Mahiliou City Executive Committee to authorize the picket they intended to hold on Paustanne Square on 10 December 2011, the Human Rights Day.
On 13 January, Salihorsk Executive Committee refused to authorize a rally in support of Christian values. The official reason for the refusal is that the application didn't meet the requirements of Article 2 of the Law “On Mass Events” and the grounding for the refusal was ruling #3817, adopted by Salihorsk City Executive Committee on 30 December 2011. It wasn't explained which requirements of the law were violated by the application. Several days after it, Salihorsk authorities also banned the picket and rally which were to have been held on 21 and 22 January at the “Budaunik” stadium. The aim of the actions was to demand introduction of amendments to the Electoral Code and holding of free Parliamentary election in 2012. The reason was that a skating rink was being made at the stadium. On 18 January two more public events were banned: a picket in support of political prisoners and meeting to discuss the implementation of decisions of the fourth All-Belarusian Assembly.
On 18 January graduates of the "Educational course on human rights," summed up the results of the perpetual campaign "Not a day without application in defense of Bialiatski", launched in September 2011 after the arrest of the human rights activist. At that time, Minsk City Executive Committee received 60 applications for the holding of pickets in public places around Minsk. Despite the fact that applications were prepared in accordance with the law, all the pickets were prohibited. The official reasons were standard: holding of other planned events, impossibility to determine the precise place of the action, “the picketing would interfere with the movement of pedestrians and vehicles”, etc. 14 of the received refusals were appealed at Maskouski District Court of Minsk. None of the appeals were granted.
On 19 January, Slonim District Court considered the appeal of the leader of the local branch of the Belarusian Popular Front Ivan Sheha against actions of Slonim District Executive Committee which had consistently banned all actions of solidarity with human rights activist Aliaksandr Bialiatski. Judge Natallia Radzionik dismissed the appeal, arguing that the executive committee was right in all cases.
activists of the Belarusian Leftist Party “Fair World” weren’t
allowed to hold a picket against the impoverishment of the population
on 27 January. According to the authorities, a mass sports event was
to be held at the only authorized place for mass actions, “Khimik”
stadium, that day. A similar picket in Orsha was banned as the
applicants didn’t mention the place of their work. Orsha City
Executive Committee ignored the fact that all of them were
Representatives of Brest branch of "Fair World" had to refuse from holding a rally against the impoverishment of the population on 28 January. The rally was approved by the city authorities provided that the organizers would present the service agreements with the police, medics and public utilities. However, it proved to be impossible to conclude all these agreements for a few days before the action. In addition, members of the party found the idea of paying for exercising the right to peaceful assembly and decided to appeal this provision at court. At the same time, two one-man pickets, appointed on 28 January, were banned in Brest. The authorities of Pinsk and Baranavichy also banned anti-impoverishment pickets on that day.
Situation of freedom of association
On 18 January the civil initiatives “Right to Faith” and “Stop 193.1!" stated the intention to find the state organ which is competent to initiate the repeal of section 193.1 of the Criminal Code, which penalizes actions on behalf of unregistered organizations. The activists sent the appropriate letters to the House of Representatives, the Soviet of the Republic, Presidential Administration, the Soviet of Ministers, the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Belarus, as well as to the KGB and other state institutions of the Republic of Belarus.
On 19 January the minister of Justice of Belarus Aleh Slizheuski told journalists that the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party was denied registration. According to him, there were a number of violations in the registration documents, including documents of the constituent assembly and the lists of the party members. At the same time, on 11 January the BCD leaders received a letter from the Ministry of Justice, dated 6 January, with information about the one-month suspension of the registration process due to the necessity of additional verification of the filed documents. On 13 January BCD Executive Secretary Dzianis Sadouski told journalists about the unprecedented pressurization of founders of the BCD party in the regions and the capital of Belarus. According to him, recently there have been registered more than 20 cases of persecution of those who upheld the creation of the party. Bear in mind that the latest constituent assembly of the party was held on 17 December 2011 in Minsk.
On 23 January experts of the Assembly of NGOs and the Center for Legal Transformation presented the monitoring of the legal status of NGOs and the freedom of association in Belarus for 2011. Lawyer of the Executive Bureau of the Assembly of NGOs Yury Chavusau and Director of the Center for Legal Transformation Volha Smalianka noted the deterioration of the legislative conditions for the existence of non-profit organizations in the country. No significant positive changes were registered at the level of law-enforcement practice. The negative tendencies persisted and even increased in a number of cases.