Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in January 2013
The first month of 2013 brought no changes in the human rights situation. Twelve political prisoners were still held in jail, the investigation of the cases concerning the disappearance of political opponents of Lukashenka in 1999 (Yu. Zakharanka, V. Hanchar and A. Krasouski) was again extended by three months, persecution and pressure on civil society and political activists, human rights defenders and independent media continued.
An important event for understanding the position of the authorities on the most acute issues related to human rights, especially the fate of political prisoners, was a press conference of Lukashenka for the Belarusian and foreign mass media. Being asked, “When will the political prisoners Autukhovich, Bialiatski and Dashkevich be released, as well as your opponent at the presidential election, Mikalai Statkevich?” he answered, “Yes, they can be. You can read in “Sovetskaya Belorussiya” what needs to be done for it. They will be released after serving their terms. They can be also released earlier – read the law. I have no opponents in prisons. Statkevich is not a rival for me...” What concerns the imprisoned head of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Ales Bialiatski, A. Lukashenka pretended not knowing where he was. “Has he been released already or is he still in jail?” he asked rhetorically.
Evidently speculative were Lukashenka’s statements concerning journalist Iryna Khalip, wife of the former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau, sentenced to two years of imprisonment with a two-year determent. Her husband asked for political asylum in the UK shortly after his release from prison. Being asked why she could not go abroad to visit her husband, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said in his characteristic manner, “It was Iryna who refused to go – she understands that here she is a martyr, and no one would need her if she went, like her husband. Contact the Prosecutor General for more information.” After the press conference, control over Iryna Khalip increased.
Despite the clear desire of Lukashenka to mask the painfulness of the problem of political prisoners, his statements once again confirmed that their fate is under the control of the state authorities and the issue of their release was under his personal control. During the press conference, Lukashenka spoke about the EU claims to the official Minsk. In his opinion, it was no use making a list of political prisoners by the West. “Well, but you also included bandits and hooligans there!” stated Lukashenka. He proposed that all issues be solved at a round table, noting that the normalization of relations was necessary only for him, not his opponents in Minsk.
In January, the Belarusian authorities continued their attempts to normalize relations with the Western countries, which is witnessed by the numerous meetings of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Uladzimir Makei, with the heads of diplomatic missions of the EU Member States, the Vatican, the US and Switzerland as well as a delegation of the Council of Europe led by the Director of the Private Office of the CE Secretary General Secretary Bjørn Berge, who arrived in Minsk on 14-15 January. Immediately after the meeting with the delegation of the Council of Europe, the former presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich, who is serving a prison sentence in Mahiliou, was again asked to write a petition for clemency in the name of Lukashenka. The previous proposal was made to Mr. Statkevich six months before this.
Political prisoners, criminal prosecution of civil society activists
As it became known on 2 January, Vasil Parfinakou hadn’t been allowed to phone home since August 2012, when he had been put in the detention facility in Baranavichy. The arrest term of Vasil Parfinakou ended on February 9, 2013.
On 3 January the counsel was again not allowed to meet the civil society activist Andrei Haidukou, accused of espionage. Mr. Haidukou had been transferred to the KGB remand prison in Minsk from the Vitsebsk remand prison at the end of 2012. It was the third attempt of the counsel to meet with his client, rejected under the pretext that there were no “free rooms for meetings”. It should be stressed that, according to the Code of Criminal Procedure of Belarus, counsels have the right of confidential meetings with their clients without any limitations. The repeated cases of non-admission of the counsel to the KGB remand prison gave rise to the fears that the prisoner might be subjected to torture. On this occasion, the initiative “Human Rights Activists against Torture” submitted a special appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur. The authors of the appeal ask the Special Rapporteur to demand explanations from the Belarusian authorities concerning non-admission of the counsel to Andrei Haidukou and recommend them ensure free and unimpeded access of the lawyer to his client.
On 9 January, Tatsiana Frantskevich reported about exacerbation of the stomach illnesses of her son, political prisoner Aliaksandr Frantskevich. On the New Year eve he spent ten days in the penal cell (all in all, in 2012 he spent there about one month). The mother worried about the health of her son, who has only one kidney, and prepared a parcel with medicines for him.
As it became known on 11 January, political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok was allowed just one meeting and one parcel a year. He was deprived of the additional number of parcels and meetings due to the transfer to the cell-type prison facility for alleged repeated violation of the prison rules in the Shklou penal colony.
On 1 January, political prisoner Eduard Lobau phoned his mother Maryna Lobava and said that he could be punished with the deprivation of a short meeting, which was scheduled for February.
At a press conference held on 15 January, Aliaksandr Lukashenka stated that Iryna Khalip refused to go abroad though she was given such an opportunity. On 24 January, Deputy Prosecutor General Aliaksei Stuk pointed that the sentence to I. Khalip did not contain a direct prohibition on foreign travels: “There are no obstacles to her going abroad based on the verdict. For this, she needs to apply to the agency which is responsible for the sentence implementation – the penal inspection of the Partyzanski District Police Department of Minsk, which conducts a preventive surveillance over her. She needed to file an application, which would be considered by the head of the inspection, who will then take a decision on it.” Iryna Khalip gave the following commentary to these statements: “Stuk forgot to mention the main thing – there is a law about leaving Belarus, according to which all persons on probation or a suspended sentence are automatically entered in the list of persons prohibited from leaving the country. This is not mentioned in the sentence, because it is a separate legal norm. That’s why all talks that I am free are nonsense.” On 28 January, during a visit to the penal inspection (where she had to come to register every week), Iryna Khalip filed a request to be allowed to leave Belarus: “I request permission to leave for a week for the UK for a meeting with my husband and for one week to the Russian Federation to participate in the editorial activities of “Novaya Gazeta”, a member of whose editorial staff I am.”
As it became known on 16 January, Mikalai Statkevich was again demanded to write a petition for clemency. He stated it in a letter to his wife, Maryna Adamovich, and wrote that the proposal was formulated in the following way: “Stop playing cops and criminals, get released and go to the sea”.
On 26 January, reports appeared of a disease that affected political prisoner Dzmitry Dashkevich, held in the Hrodna prion. "The medics diagnosed Zmitser with inflammation of the central nerve," said his wife Anastasiya Dashkevich. According to her, he couldn't move normally due to bouts of the disease and the prison medics had to give him injections of painkillers. "However, it just removes the symptoms and he will need a regular medical aid," noted Anastasiya Dashkevich.
The death penalty
On 26 January, Liubou Kavaliova, the mother of the executed death convict Uladzislau Kavaliou, was informed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that till 3 July they would be waiting for a reply of the Belarusian authorities on measures taken to implement the decision of the UN Human Rights Committee on the case of her son. According to the appropriate ruling of the Human Rights Committee, Belarus must recognize that the right to life and defense, the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial and the right to judicial review were violated with regard to Uladzislau Kavaliou.
On 4 January, the United Civil Party reported about the preparation of an appeal to the Prosecutor General concerning the disappearances of the political opponents of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Viktar Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka. According to the UCP leader Anatol Liabedzka, the party was going to use the case of Sergei Magnitsky, the auditor of the investment fund "Hermitage Capital Management" (who died in a remand prison in Russia, which resulted in the introduction of visa restrictions against the Russian officials who were involved in his death). A. Liabedzka stated that the UCP had the intention to draw public attention to the cases of the missing politicians, as far as the time limitation was to expire in 2014, after which the cases could be dropped. The UCP expressed an intention to file a detailed application to the Prosecutor General and demand answers on all questions concerning the disappearances, which had been asked back in 1999-2000 in connection with the disappearance of Lukashenka's opponents.
Torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment
The complaint of the student Maya Abromchyk, who had suffered from the violent actions of the riot police during the dispersal of the peaceful protest action on Nezalezhsnats Square in Minsk in the aftermath of the presidential election of December 19, 2010, was registered by the UN Human Rights Committee. The registration number is 2228/2012. The Belarusian courts did not want to punish the people who were guilty of inflicting a hard fracture of Maya’s leg, though their names could be seen in the detention report. The recovery took a year, Maya had three surgeries. In April 2011, the prosecutor of the Maskouski district of Minsk informed Maya Abromchyk that a criminal case had been opened on her complaint under Article 155 of the Criminal Code (infliction of hard bodily injuries by negligence) against an unidentified person. However, the police were not defendants in that case, though the results of the forensic examination held on request of the Prosecutor's Office stated that the injuries could have been inflicted by something like a police baton.
On 14 January, a security guard of a Minsk parking lot Vasil Sarochyk appealed the ruling about the cessation of the criminal investigation against the officers of the Leninski District Police Department of Minsk who, according to him, were involved in his beating. The appeal contains the conclusion of the lawyers of "Platform Innovation", according to which "the prosecution did not take all statutory measures for comprehensive, complete and objective investigation of the facts of the criminal case, as a result of which there was made a groundless conclusion about the absence of corpus delicti in the actions of the officers of the Leninski DPD of Minsk". The appeal was filed in connection with the dismissal of the criminal case concerning the beating of Sarochyk by the officers of the Leninski DPD at the end of December 2012. The beating took place on 14 November. According to Mr. Sarochyk, two policemen, one of them dressed in mufti, came to the checkpoint of the parking lot. Without showing their documents or introducing themselves, they told him to come to the Leninski DPD. Mr. Sarochyk spent about an hour at the duty department, after which he was taken for an interrogation. As it was found later, the interrogation was conducted by detective Zh. Bahdanouskaya. According to Mr. Sarochyk, she put his hands in hand-cuffs and then started beating him, demanding to admit to stealing gravestones that were stored in the parking lot, as well as diesel and batteries from cars. In addition, the guard was tortured to confess that he had repeatedly robbed stalls in the market "Svelta". A. Lukashenka commented on this situation during a press conference on 15 January in the following way: "It made me excited. I ordered Piatkevich (Natallia Piatkevich, assistant to the President) to see to the case, and was informed on the same day that a woman had allegedly beaten him up... Frankly speaking, if a woman has beaten a man – I immediately lost interest in the subject. But you see – you have raised that question. The Prosecutor General will now have to do it. However, I know that there was nothing of the kind. You mustn't blow up such things and reproach our police. It was not the way you present it, and the prosecutor will show and prove it to you."
Politically motivated restrictions on freedom of movement
On 21 January, the Maskouski District Court of Minsk dismissed the claim of the lawyer of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Hary Pahaniaila to public authorities. Mr. Pahaniaila asked the court to exact 3 million rubles in his favor as a compensation for the moral damage to him due to improper inclusion in the list of foreign travel restrictions, and 300,000 rubles as a compensation of the court fee. The case was considered in presence of representatives of the defendants – the Ministry of Finances, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior. H. Pahaniaila was banned from leaving the country on the grounds that he had allegedly been a debtor or a concerned party related to a debtor in a bankruptcy case. It took him three months to get removed from the list.
Persecution of human rights defenders and organizations
On 5 January, the Leninski District Court of Hrodna considered the administrative cases against the Hrodna human rights defenders Uladzimir Khilmanovich, Viktar Sazonau and Raman Yurhel who had been photographed with portraits of the imprisoned human rights defender Ales Bialiatski and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 2012. The Hrodna police considered this media fact to be an "unauthorized picket". All three cases were considered at one trial, conducted by Judge Vital Liatsko. The hearing lasted for about 2.5 hours. No evidence against the human rights defenders was given, no witnesses were found, all the charges were based solely on the reports and speculations of the police. In the end, Judge Vital Liatsko sentenced each of the defendants to a fine of 1.5 million rubles.
Pressurization of civil society and political activists by security services
On 14 January, an activist of the "European Belarus" Yuliya Stsiapanava was attacked by unidentified men in plain clothes near the entrance of her house in Minsk at about 1 a.m., while walking home from a bus stop. The offenders used foul language, threw the girl down in the snow and cut her hair. Yuliya Stsiapanava reported having received anonymous threats for two weeks before the attack. She links the attack to her activities aimed at the assistance to political prisoners and the repressed. On 17 January, Yu. Stsiapanava underwent a forensic examination, as far as the offenders not only cut off her hair, but also broke her lip. She also applied to the Frunzenski District Police Department requesting to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Administrative prosecution of civil society and political activists, arbitrary detention
On 10 January, the Kastrychnitski District Court of Minsk sentenced an activist of the campaign "Tell the Truth" Sviatlana Volkava to five days of arrest. Two more activists of the campaign, Yury Fabisheuski and Aliaksei Marozau, were sentenced to ten days of arrest. Sviatlana was detained after leaving Fabisheuski's apartment at 7 p.m. on 9 January. The guys were detained in the apartment 90 minutes later. The reason for the detention was the distribution of leaflets about the Civil Agreement.
On 15 January, the judge of the Pershamaiski District Court of Minsk Yury Harbatouski sentenced an activist of the civil campaign "European Belarus", Uladzimir Lemesh, to a fine of 3 million rubles on charges of disobeying police. According to the young man, in the evening of 14 January he had planned a number of important meetings related to an exhibition dedicated to letters of political prisoners. At about 4 p.m., he was detained in the Minsk metro by men in plain clothes. They had shown their police IDs, when he started calling for help. U. Lemesh was guarded to the Pershamaiski DPD and kept there till morning. He managed to phone his relatives in Salihorsk and inform them about his detention and whereabouts.
On 22 January, Anatol Liabedzka received by mail with a notification about a fine of 300,000 rubles, issued to him on 15 January by Judge of the Savetski District Court Dzmitry Paulichenka for "unauthorized picketing". The trial was held in Liabedzka's absence, he wasn't summoned to it. The judge considered as "unauthorized picketing" the distribution of leaflets "The tough stance of the United Civil Party and its adherents on privatization of the state property. They stole the elections to sell the country", conducted by UCP members near the Kamarouski market on December 19, 2012.
On 24 January, a "Young Front" activist Uladzimir Yaromenak came to the Pershamaiski DPD of Minsk to get registered. He is required to do so every Thursday by the rules of preventive supervision. At the DPD the activist was presented a court ruling according to which he was sentenced to 12 days of arrest for violation of these rules. U. Yaromenak told it to his comrades who came there and passed him the things he would need while serving the arrest in the detention center in Akrestsin Street.
On 24 January, a Navapolatsk activist Yauhen Parchynski was fined 500,000 rubles for holding an unauthorized mass event. In fact, he was just photographed with a portrait of the imprisoned head of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Ales Bialiatski. The trial was conducted by Chairman of the Navapolatsk City Court Piotr Liauchonak, who decided that by such actions the defendant violated the Law "On Mass Events". The photos taken on the stairs of the Navapolatsk City Court were considered as evidence of the violation.
On 29 January, the Navapolatsk City Court found Siarhei Malashonak, an activist of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Party, guilty of holding an unauthorized action. The judge Zoya Balabolava sentenced him to a fine of 2.5 million rubles for being photographed with portraits of Ales Bialiatski, together with Yauhen Parchynski, at the entrance of the Navapolatsk City Court. Mr. Malashonak was also photographed at the entrance of the Navapolatsk City Police Department.
Restrictions on freedom of speech and the right to impart information, persecution of journalists
On 11 January, the Brest Regional Prosecutor's Office issued a warning to a UCP activist Alina Litvinchuk for work with foreign media without accreditation. "I was warned about the inadmissibility of cooperation with foreign media without accreditation. They said they allegedly found some articles at Radio "Racyja" which had been allegedly written by me. I answered that I didn't work for any foreign media and asked them to show evidence that I was the author of those articles," said A. Litvinchuk. "However, they showed me just some printouts from the Internet and said that my authorship had been proven by a prosecutorial examination. However, I wasn't familiarized with any documents concerning this examination."
On 11 January, the national enterprise "Belposhta" (“Belarusian Post”) answered a collective request of more than 300 citizens of the Slonim district to create for the private socio-political edition "Hazeta Slonimskaya" equal conditions with state-owned newspapers by including it in the state distribution network. The answer was signed by the deputy director general for maintenance, Alena Skrypchyk. There she stated: "Your collective address filed to the national unitary enterprise of postal communications "Belposhta", and also received from the secretariat of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus concerning the inclusion of the newspaper "Hazeta Slonimskaya" in the subscription catalog, has been considered. I can tell the following about its results: Article 391 of the Civil Code of the Republic of Belarus (further referred to as CC) establishes that physical and legal bodies are free in the conclusion of agreements. According to part 3 of Article 2 of the CC, participants of civil legal relations acquire and realize their civil rights on their own will and in their own interests. They are free in the determination of their rights and duties on the basis of agreements and the establishment of any conditions of agreements, provided they don't contradict the law. On the basis of point 1 of Article 17 of the Law No. 427-3 of the Republic of Belarus "On Mass Media" of July 17, 2008, distribution of mass media is conducted in conformity with the legislation of the Republic of Belarus by the legal body which implements the functions of the editorial board of the mass media, or on the basis of an agreement, concluded with distributors of media production. There is no agreement between "Belposhta" and the editorial board of the aforementioned edition, according to which this edition could not be included in the subscription catalog of the enterprise. As far as the duty to include any mass media in the catalog is not provided by the legislation, the choice of printed editions for the catalog with the aim of their further distribution by subscription is the right of the national unitary enterprise "Belposhta", exercised by it in conformity with the legislation. On the basis of the aforesaid, the distribution of the printed edition "Hazeta Slonimskaya" must be conducted directly by its editorial board." It's worth mentioning that this situation has a long story – it has lasted since the beginning of 2006, when "Hazeta Slonimskaya" and a number of other independent printed editions were excluded from the list of the centralized subscription of "Belposhta". On 26 January, it also received an answer from the Ministry of Information of Belarus, signed by Deputy Minister U. Matusevich, who said he had no right to interfere in the business activities of commercial organizations.
Restrictions on freedom of assembly
On 9 January, the UN Human Rights Committee recognized a violation of the right to freedom of expression against a retired woman from Vitsebsk, Antanina Pivanos. The case concerned the events of March 25, 2008, when she brought embroidery with the words of the prayer "Our Father" to the so-called "Blue House" in order to congratulate the opposition activist Barys Khamaida on the Freedom Day. The police regarded the embroidery as an opposition poster, as a result of which the Chyhunachny District Court of Vitsebsk sentenced Antanina Pivanos to a fine for "unauthorized picketing". The appeals to the Vitsebsk Regional Court and the Supreme Court brought no results. The UN Human Rights Committee issued a positive decision on Antanina's case. According to it, Article 19 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was violated in relation to her. According to part 2 of this article, citizens of the countries which ratified the Covenant (including Belarus) have the right to free expression of their views. The Belarusian authorities must pay the woman a compensation including the reimbursement of the court expenditures, and return the confiscated items.
On 19 January, a number of Navapolatsk activists intended to file another appeal for holding a picket of solidarity with political prisoners and against the impoverishment of the Belarusian population. Before this, they had received three refusals with reference to a failure to present service contracts with the police, medics and public utilities. This time the activists decided to enter into such contracts. On 5 January, they applied to the police and were proposed to write an application to the head of the police department in a free form. Four days after this, they came to the police again to ask about the results and discovered that nobody had considered it. When the application was finally passed to the head of the Navapolatsk City Police Department D. Radziankou, he stated that it was composed in the wrong way and could not be considered. At the same time, the official refused to explain how to compose the appeal correctly. The city medics were dissatisfied with the form of the agreement as well, though the text was composed by them. According to the text of the agreement of December 27, 2012, the medical services were to be paid for after the event. However, two weeks later Siarhei Malashonak received a notice from the city hospital, saying that the agreement was "annulled due to the uncoordinated and contradictory manner of payment".
Restrictions on freedom of association
On 3 January, there appeared public information about persecution of the public association "Good Will" ("Dobraya Volia"). The Ministry of Justice asked the organization to convene another constituent assembly, declaring the previous one invalid. As stated by the head of the public association Leanid Skarabahaty, the officials had no opportunity to check whether the assembly was really held because they ignored it. "Good Will" specializes in the protection of children, particularly orphans. In 2011-2012, members of the NGO discovered abuses and violations concerning adopted children and orphans on the part of the Ministry of Education. The prosecution of "Good Will" has lasted since May 2012 on a lawsuit of the Ministry of Education.
On 5 January, Aleh Stakhayevich, the head of the independent trade union at "Granite" in Mikashevichy, stated that the number of union members had dropped significantly as a result of persecution from the side of the plant administration. In particular, in early 2012, the union included about 300 people, whereas by the beginning of 2013 there remained just a dozen activists. The main reason was that the "Granite" administration continued persecuting them, threatening with dismissals. In particular, the treasurer of the trade union, Anatol Litvinka, was forced to write explanatory notes almost daily. The administration was doing everything possible to create unbearable conditions, waiting for him to quit the job. One more activist, Leanid Dubanosau, was put before a choice: he could either take away the documents for payment of the trade union fees from the accounting department of "Granite", or they would find reasons to fire him.
As it became known on 8 January, the civil initiative "Khopits Pits – Treba Zhyts" ("Stop Drinking – Start Living") faced obstacles when trying get a legal status. According to the initiative's activist Kanstantsin Zhukouski, at first, they faced the trouble of getting a legal address. "For instance, we find ads about provision of a legal address, we phone, and we promised to be provided with a legal address, and then we receive refusals for various reasons. Afterwards, we filed documents to the Tsentralny District Executive Committee of Homel in order to get the legal address registered at the place of my residence. The answer was that it was "an improper use of a dwelling house or its part". According to the law, it is possible on permission of the people who dwell in the house. But this is where the trouble started," explains the activist. The authorities answered him that his application would be considered by the chief architect of the Tsentralny District Executive Committee. The administration also wrote that "you need to receive an agreement of the organizations, enumerated in part 4 of Article 8 of the Housing Code” (town-planning organs, the sanitation service and the fire security). “There are no such demands in the law. These are the artificial obstacles which are created to us," stated Mr. Zhukouski.