Review-chronicle of human rights violations in Belarus in October 2013
October was characterized by consolidation and preservation of negative trends in the field of human rights, which have evolved over the last few months. A positive event, the release of political prisoner Pavel Seviarynets from an open penitentiary, did not change the overall situation and cannot be regarded as a sign of positive momentum, since his release wasn't a consequence of any steps taken by the authorities or a change in the attitude to the problem of political prisoners, but took place after the expiration of the sentence.
Nine political prisoners were still held in prisons: Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Autukhovich, Ales Bialiatski, Mikalai Dziadok, Andrei Haidukou, Eduard Lobau, Mikalai Statkevich, Artsiom Prakapenka and Yauhen Vaskovich. The political prisoners were harassed and punished, the already difficult conditions of their detention were toughened, which included restrictions on means of subsistence, decease of the quality of food and medical care. Deprivation of family visits, limitation of mail correspondence and constant pressure aimed at obtaining clemency petitions complemented physical challenges to psychological ones, bringing the conditions of detention nearer to cruel and inhuman treatment.
In late October, the three-year term of personal restriction of Dzmitry Miadzvedz, a person involved in the case of mass riots of 19 December 2010, came to an end, after which he was put on the prophylactic register. A variety of restrictive measures, including prophylactic (28 people) and preventive supervision (3 people – Dzmitry Dashkevich, Aliaksandr Frantskevich and Pavel Vinahradau) were still used towards political prisoners, allowing intelligence agencies to monitor their political activity. With regard to Vasil Parfiankou, the preventive supervision was suspended during his stay in the activity therapy center, but the criminal case initiated for violation of the rules of supervision was not terminated. Despite the fact that on 1 October preventive supervision was lifted from Uladzimir Yaromenak, in October we learned about the appointment of the date of consideration of his appeal (12 November) in the case concerning the punishment handed down in August – three months in jail for violating the rules of preventive supervision.
In October, the European Union increased the emphasis on the requirement that the Belarusian authorities release political prisoners as a prerequisite for restoring full cooperation and participation in EU programs. The increasing activity in this area was caused by the approach of the summit of the Eastern Partnership and the need to determine the conditions of participation of the official delegation of Belarus in it. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, published in "Ukrainska Pravda" an article on the possible accession to the European community of new countries and the steps that the countries would have to take for it. With regard to Belarus, it was noted: "We continue to stand firmly on the requirements that Belarus should release its political prisoners, and we encourage our partners to stay away from the practice of selective justice. We are concerned about the retreat from democratic principles.”
"Belarus must overcome a number of obstacles in order to intensify the cooperation with the European Union in the framework of the Eastern Partnership, the main of which are the existence of political prisoners in the country”, commented the Director of Political Affairs, Swedish Foreign Minister Thorbjorn Sulstrem on the visit to Minsk. “It was important for us to visit the capitals of all the states of the Eastern Partnership before the summit in Vilnius. We have met with representatives of the Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Administration in Belarus. There is a fairly big obstacle to cooperation with Belarus within the framework of the Eastern Partnership – the presence of political prisoners. We told our interlocutors that it is time to remove this obstacle." The European Union continued the policy of critical engagement with Belarus, aimed at ensuring respect for human rights and democratic principles in the country, by extending on 29 October sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for the implementation of repression and companies that finance regime. "In accordance with the annual review the Council of the European Union extended the restrictive measures against Belarus until 31 October 2014. This was due to the fact that political prisoners were still not released, and improvements in respect for human rights, rule of law and democratic principles in Belarus were not observed," said the EU 's official Journal. Besides, the EU lifted sanctions from five Belarusian companies and 13 officials, but added three officials: the head of Babruisk penitentiary No. 2 Aliaksandr Kakunin and his deputy Yury Trutko, as well as Aliaksandr Lapatka, who was mentioned as the deputy head of Mozyr penitentiary No. 9. Visa restrictions were imposed on them for the use of cruel and inhuman treatment of political prisoners and the pressure on them. At the same time, former political prisoner Dzmitry Dashkevich in an interview with “Nasha Niva” stated that Aliaksandr Lapatka must have been put on the list mechanically, though he was one of the most adequate officers working in Horki penitentiary.
An important event for the Belarusian human rights community, including from the point of view of the situation in the country was holding of III Belarusian Human Rights Forum on 26-27 October, which was attended by over 110 delegates from 25 organizations, Belarusian and foreign guests. The Forum Resolution, "On the situation of human rights in Belarus", stated that "for the time elapsed since the last Forum of the fall of 2010, the situation of human rights in Belarus has deteriorated dramatically" and "unlike the resolution of the previous Forum, held in 2010, we can not mention any positive changes or trends that would indicate the potential to improve the human rights situation in Belarus". The statement "On Measures for the return of Belarus to implement international human rights standards" noted that "over the past fifteen years, the Republic of Belarus was gradually separated from the international standards of human rights enshrined in international treaties and conventions on human rights". Forum participants strongly condemned "such dismissive attitude of the government of Belarus to the values and norms of human rights" and urged it to "return to the legal field, delineated by the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, the international instruments on human rights signed by the Republic of Belarus, and not to deviate from established norms of these standards". In their address to the summit of the Eastern Partnership the Forum participants stressed: "We see the program as a means of bringing Eastern Partnership partner countries closer to European standards in all spheres of life. The trade and economic development of the partner countries can not be separated from the socio-political and humanitarian dimension of the European standards, including in the field of human rights (...). We urge the Summit to make efforts to encourage the Belarusian government to remove the barriers that make it impossible for the full participation of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership. We see the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners and their rehabilitation as the first of a series of such steps.”
At the international level, systemic problems in the field of human rights in Belarus in the context of electoral processes were most clearly represented in the report of the UN Special Rapporteur, Miklos Haraszti, presented on 28 October at General Assembly of the UN in New York. Representative of the Belarusian delegation stressed once again the position of non-recognition of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, and, accordingly, that his country was considering the establishment of the mandate of the EU as an attempt to exert pressure on the country, which conducted an independent policy. The representative of Belarus said that while passing the UPR Belarus implemented the majority of the recommendations assumed by it. The approach to assessing the human rights situation in member countries of the UN solely within the frames of UPR was supported by a number of countries, which also have problems with human rights, such as Cuba, Venezuela, Laos, Russia, China, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua. Simultaneously, the EU, the U.S., Switzerland and Norway supported the report, expressed concern about the situation of human rights in the country and once again called on the Belarusian authorities to cooperate with the special procedures and mechanisms of the United Nations, in particular to ensure access to the territory of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus.
Political prisoners, the prosecution of social activists
On 1 October, preventive supervision was lifted from former political prisoner Uladzimir Yaromenak by a decision of Pershamaiski District Court in Minsk. The activist was informed about it by the penal inspection. In August Mr. Yaromenak was sentenced to 3 months of arrest by the Pershamaiski District Court of Minsk for violation of the rules of preventive supervision. The activist appealed against the verdict. As it became known on 25 October, the consideration of the appeal was scheduled for 12 November.
On 4 October political prisoner Ihar Alinevich, who is serving an 8-year prison term in the Navapolatsk penitentiary, was allowed a short-term visit with his mother.
On 5 October Aliaksandr Dziadok, father of political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok, stated that his son was preparing a complaint on his case to the last supervisory body – the chairman of the Supreme Court. On 28 October, the wife of the political prisoner, Valeryia Khotsina, stated that Mr. Dziadok had been twice put in solitary confinement for the last two months, first time – for ten days in September, and then – for five days in October. According to Valeryia Khotsina, Mikalai's health is deteriorating.
On 6 October Maryna Autukhovich, wife of political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich, received an answer from Mahiliou Penal Department to her complaint about censoring of letters for more than three days, which is prohibited by law. The Department responded that M. Statkevich was not detained, but convicted, and therefore the requirements of the law did not apply for him. On 9 October it became known that Statkevich refused to continue to seek medical care in prison. The political prisoner said that his applications for medical assistance were used by the prison authorities as a signal for the organization of illegal pressure by illegally creating the conditions for exacerbation of the diseases which became known to them. In this situation, all applications for medical assistance give a contrary effect and become dangerous, forcing him to hide information about health problems.
On 9 October, after a long break, letters started coming from political prisoner Mikalai Autukhovich, serving his term in Hrodna prison. What concerns his cutting his belly with a blade in protest against unfair penalties, the political prison wrote: “My health is really okay. Ask those who support me, not to worry." On 16 October human rights activist Aleh Volchak stated that Autukhovich wrote him not to believe the prison administration if it stated that he had a stroke or seizure. Mr. Volchak also reported receiving a response to an appeal to the Prosecutor General of Belarus, filed by him and Aliaksandr Kamarouski (both are co-chairmen of the Republican public association of veterans of the war in Afghanistan ) on 25 September, in which they demanded to verify the legitimacy of two penalties imposed on Autukhovich. The response stated that the appeal was forwarded to Hrodna Regional Prosecutor's Office.
On 12 October Maryna Lobava, mother of political prisoner Eduard Lobau, reported that her son was allowed to meet with a priest, Reverend Dzmitry, who served in Slutsk district. According to her, this wasn't the first meeting with the priest. It was held in the presence of a representative of the administration, so this wasn't an ordinary confession, but a talk about Eduard's spiritual state, the plans and current activities. On 24 October Maryna Lobava received a short visit with her son – two-hour talk through the glass. The administration of the Ivatsevichy penitentiary also allowed passing him a parcel. Maryna Lobava reported that Eduard's state was satisfactory and he continued to study the profession of electric welder at a vocational school in the penitentiary.
On 19 October political prisoner Pavel Seviarynets was released from the open penitentiary No. 7 in the village of Kuplin in the Pruzhany district, Brest region, where he was serving a three-year sentence for participating in a protest against the rigged elections of 19 December 2010. Friends, colleagues and journalists were planning to meet P. Seviarynets in the Pruzhany district, since it was assumed that he would be released at about 10:00 a.m. However, approximately at 6.00 p.m. it became known that Pavel was on his way to Minsk. He reported that at 3:30 he was taken out of the penitentiary and put on a train Brest-Moscow, which arrived in the capital at 8:42 a.m. According to the politician, his travel companions on the train recognized him, expressed their support and interest in the fate of others convicted on charges of rioting on 19 December 2010. During the meeting at the railway station in Minsk, police detained six journalists, politician Vital Rymasheuski, social activists Hanna Shaputska and Andrei Molchan (all were released after P. Seviarynets left the station). The former political prisoner stated his intention to continue social and political activities.
On 29 October the executive secretary of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Dzianis Sadouski stated that friends and relatives hadn't been receiving letters from political prisoner Yauhen Vaskovich for more than a month. The administration of Mahiliou prison also restricts the prisoner in getting newspapers.
On 30 October the official journal of the European Union published a new version of the Belarusian "black list", which contains 232 persons and 25 companies. On 29 October an appropriate decision was adopted by the Council of the EU. The names of two officers of the Babruisk penitentiary No. 2, where political prisoner Ales Bialiatski is serving his term, were put on the list: Aliaksandr Kakunin, the head of the penitentiary, and his deputy, Yury Trutko. Human rights activist Andrei Bandarenka, who lobbied for their inclusion in the list of restricted access to the EU, stated: "We are still receiving information about the pressure on Ales Bialiatski, who was"not recommended" to chat with other prisoners. Any prisoner who dared to talk with Ales, is severely punished by the administration of the penitentiary, up to placement in solitary confinement."
30 October marked the end of the three-year term of personal restraint without sending to an open penitentiary, for a participant of the post-election protest rally of 19 December 2010, Dzmitry Miadzvedz. Mr. Miadzvedz doesn't belong to any political parties and movements, he is an electrical engineer, who worked in construction and had his own business. He got to the Nezalezhnasts Square on occasion – he arranged to meet with his son, but they lost each other in the crowd. As a result, he and his son were arrested on the night of 19-20 December, and sentenced to 10 days in jail. After serving his term of administrative arrest, Dz. Miadzvedz was arrested again and placed in the remand prison in Valadaraski Street – this time in a criminal case on the riots. After the expiration of the term of the penalty, Dz. Miadzvedz was put on the prophylactic register of the police at the place of his residence. He will have the status of previously convicted for five years.
On 31 October Volha Haidukova, the mother of political prisoner Andrei Haidukou, reported that she and her daughter Maryia had a long-term meeting with him at the penitentiary No. 19 in Mahiliou. According to her, parole could be applied to Andrei as early as 8 August, but his attestation wasn't conducted as he was just transferred to the penitentiary at the time.
On 8 October the results of the research on crime and punishment in Belarus, conducted by the sociological company “Satio”. The study revealed an ambiguous attitude to the death penalty among its supporters and opponents. More than a half of respondents (63.8%) answered to the direct question about the abolition of the death penalty that they supported its use. However, being asked about the attitude to alternative measures of punishment (life imprisonment, a moratorium on the death penalty), the respondents also demonstrated an extensive support for them. The main argument of the strongest advocates of the death penalty is giving an adequate retribution for the crime committed. Another important argument is the sense of security of the citizens in the state where the death penalty is used. The main argument of diehard opponents of the death penalty is the value of human life. 73.5% of respondents fear miscarriages of justice and are convinced that "it is worth to convict an innocent than to let a guilty one go unpunished".
33% of the respondents were unaware of the use of the death penalty and 5.5% were convinced that there was a moratorium on its use in the country. Only 6% of respondents said they had read about the death penalty in the media. The results of the research are based on personal interviews with 1.100 residents of Belarus aged 18 to 75 years, and the results of the six thematic focus groups conducted in 2013. The study was commissioned by Penal Reform International.
On 9 October UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, Miklos Haraszti, urged the Belarusian authorities to immediately introduce a moratorium on the death penalty until a reform of legislation and judicial system, which would remove the death penalty from the Criminal Code.
On 10 October the coordinator of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus" Andrei Paluda, the trustee of death convict Pavel Seliun, stated that the Human Rights Committee of the UN had registered an individual communication in his case for 2 October 2013 under № 2289/2013. A. Paluda informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus about it, reminding about the obligation to ensure the termination of the execution until considering the application: "In accordance with rule 92 of the rules of procedure of the Committee, the State shall not execute the death sentence, before consideration of the appeal on the merits". In accordance with the Regulation № 978 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, approved by the Council of Ministers on 31July 2006, the function of monitoring the implementation of international agreements belongs to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so the human rights defender further requests that the Ministry notify the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General's Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the registration Pavel Seliun's communication by the Human Rights Committee of the UN, as well as monitor compliance with international treaties of the Republic of Belarus by these governmental authorities and provide them with the necessary assistance in this. On 24 October Andrei Paluda received a response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus. Deputy Minister Valiantsin Rybakou said that "the message has been sent to the Belarusian side for receiving written comments. Fulfilling its international obligations under the Optional Protocol (to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), Belarus plans to send such comments to the Committee in the manner prescribed by Art. 4 Part 2 of the Optional Protocol." Thereby, the Ministry completely ignored the essence of his address – the request to suspend the execution and inform the appropriate authorities (in this case – the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor General's Office) about consideration of Pavel Seliun's individual communication by the Human Rights Committee of the UN.
On 18 October the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court considered the appeal of death convict Aliaksandr Hrunou against the verdict of Homel Regional Court. Mr. Hrunou was sentenced to death on the basis of paragraph 6 Part 2 of Article 139 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. The 25-year-old man committed the murder of his friend, student Natallia Emialiianchykava. At the sitting of the Supreme Court the counsel of the accused, Siarhei Krasnou stated that criminal law of Belarus provides other penalties besides the capital punishment – imprisonment for a term of 8-25 years or life imprisonment. The human rights defender, referring to the rules of international law and related national legislation, presented to the judicial board presented a number of violations, which are reflected in the criminal case, but were ignored by the court of the first instance. In particular, the lawyer spoke about violation of the presumption of innocence in relation to his client (Article 26 of the Belarusian Constitution and paragraph 2 of Article 14 of the ICCPR), breach of the principle of equal protection and adversarial proceedings (Article 22 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and art.24 of the CCP), noted the contradictions associated with the examination of the psychological and psychiatric health of Mr. Hrunou. In addition, the defender pointed out to another violation, which, according to him, no one paid attention to: "Yet before the verdict of the judicial collegium of Homel Regional Court entered into force, Hrunou was already kept in solitary confinement on death row in the remand prison of the Homel Regional Executive Committee, where he had to wear clothing with the abbreviation “ИМН” (in Russian - “исключительная мера наказания”, exceptional punishment), i.e. received such treatment, as if the outcome of his case was already predestined...". On 22 October the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court overturned the death verdict to Aliaksandr Hrunou and returned the case for a new trial.
Torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment
On 15 October political prisoner Autukhovich published in the newspaper "Narodnaya Volya" an article about the conditions in prison No. 1 in Hrodna, where he has been serving a sentence since the end of January 2012, and to which he was transferred from Ivatsevichy penitentiary after an appropriate court decision. Here are some excerpts from M. Autukhovich's publication: "I did not complain when I was put in solitary confinement on my arrival in prison and kept there for 255 days. In this damp and cold room with a concrete floor, without a table and benches (which is prohibited by law) I could sit until the end of the term, if some newspaper article about it wasn't published. Due to the high humidity in the cell, even things inside my bag were covered with mold. The mattress was rotting. The prison officers mockingly said, "Rejoice that you were given a luxurious room!" However, after living in such “luxury”, moist clumps started coming out of my lungs, though I am a non-smoker. I had to wear a cap there even in sumer, and ice was on the inside of the window bars all winter long. My mother bought 30 kilos of expensive foodstuffs for her pension to pass them to me. She brought them to the prison, but was told that I wasn't allowed to accept them. Isn't it a mockery? It's good that I prepared her to such version of events during our meeting and calmed her down. Otherwise, she could get a heart attack. (...) Neither did I complain about the physicians who ignored my calls for help. I applied to them about 40 times, and they responded only 6 times. All their visits ended with one question: “What can we give to you, if we don't have anything?” The medics of penitentiary No. 5 sincerely told me: “It is easier for us to register your death than to cure you”. I have a lot of serious diseases, but the prison doctors have never taken any samples for analyses. And this applies not only to me – I've heard similar complaints from many convicts. I couldn't get an appointment with the chief of the medical unit for more than two months, although I duly wrote applications for it. When I finally got an appointment, he answered the question why I had to wait for it for so much time by saying he hadn't received any applications from me.... Yes, it's true that written applications of convicts often get lost. Once I was denied a meeting with my counsel due to the alleged absence of my application for it. I didn't write a new one, as literally several days before the arrival of my counsel I handed the application for the meeting directly to the head of the prison. This should not happen, but it happens. I did not react to many other dirty tricks and provocations, until a visit of Hrodna regional prosecutor, thanks to which I learned that I was a “repeated violator” of the prison regulations. As it turned out, back in October 2012, a report was composed on me for allegedly paying no reaction to the comments of controller. Although in reality, there were no such comments or warnings. In October 2012, I was reprimanded, which I accidentally discovered in January 2013 (...) And then a month before the end of the previous penalties, I was reprimanded again under the same scenario. What kind of prison is this, in which ordinary controllers fabricate identical violations, whereas the administration pretends to have no relation to it? (...) It cannot be a coincidence that in 2012 and 2013 I received penalties just before the extinction of the previous ones. Thus, I had to show protest and wheal my belly with a blade. The guilt or all of these measures lies on the prison staff. There is no other way to draw attention to this problem. The administration pays no reaction to protest hunger-strikes. I protest, because tomorrow this controller can confirm that Autukhovich hanged himself in the cell or died of heart failure (...) I got nail fungus in jail. I had a long argument with the prison administration, saying that it is improper for 500 people to use one pair of scissors which isn't disinfected and just hangs on a hook in the bath. I convinced them and they allowed using personal means of hygiene. My wife thrice brought me nail clippers and drove them back home. Some of them say it is allowed to use them, whereas other ones say it is prohibited. Convicts are not allowed to have personal needles for sewing. Its presence is a gross violation for which one can get a penalty. Thus, athwart the common sense, the administration makes the prisoners use one needle per 10-15 cells, though in some of them there are HIV and hepatitis B carriers (...) Why are fruits and vegetables absent in the prison shop? For 20 months in Hrodna prison I saw onions there just once. I tried many times to get the prison administration arrange the sale of apples there, but it turns out that apples are an exotic product for Belarus, even though the gardens are full of them and people are willing to give apples almost for free (as it was last fall). These are not trifles, this is what makes people disabled, though it is not said in any verdict that it is allowed to ruin the convicts' health.
On 31 October a junior detective of the Criminal Investigation Agency of Krychau District Police Department was convicted by Babruisk Interpost Court under Part 3 of Art. 426 of the Criminal Code (abuse of power or authority) and point 9 Part 2 of Art. 147 of the Criminal Code (intentional infliction of serious bodily injury). For multiple offenses he was sentenced to imprisonment for a term of 6 years from the direction in maximum security prison, without confiscation of property, with the deprivation of the special title of "senior police sergeant", with deprivation of the right to hold certain positions for a period of five years. In December 2012, Krychau police detained citizen L., who was a suspect in the theft at Krychau enterprise "Kamunalnik". The police officers used physical force against a suspect, as a result of which he received serious injuries. After his release from the police station, the citizen appealed to Krychau Inter-district KGB Department. Though many police officers took part in his beating in the building of Krychau DPD, just one of them was punished for it.
Harassment of human rights defenders and human rights organizations
On 8 October Savetski District Court in Minsk took the fourth attempt to review an administrative case against a member of the Board of the HRC "Viasna", Uladzimir Labkovich. On 4 September Minsk City Court reversed the verdict on bringing him to administrative responsibility under Part 1 of Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code ("violation of the procedure for organizing and holding mass events"), issued by Dzmitry Pauliuchenka, Judge of Savetski District Court in Minsk on 6 August, and ruled that the case was to be returned to the court for review by another judge. However, Judge Eduard Yakubouski also found Mr. Labkovich guilty and fined him the same 30 basic units. On 18 October Uladzimir Labkovich filed to the Minsk City Court an appeal against the verdict of the Savetski District Court. This time he stated to the Minsk City Court that this time he didn't manage to learn the reasons why the court found him guilty before passing his appeal: “During the trial, Judge Eduard Yakubouski, who presided at the hearing, familiarized me with only the resulting part of the decision, saying the full text of the verdict couldn't be printed due to the absence of electricity in the court building”. It means that Judge Yakubouski deprived Mr. Labkovuch of the right for protection under appeal. "In fact, I can only guess what was the essence of my guilt,” commented the human rights activist. In his appeal Uladzimir Labkovich asks the court to overturn the ruling of Savetski District Court for 8 October (by which he was sentenced to pay a fine) and drop the administrative proceedings against him. Mr. Labkovich also insists on bringing to justice the judge of Savetski District Court Eduard Yakubouski for his failure to issue him with a copy of the verdict, which deprived him of the possibility to appeal against it.
On 10 October, the Minsk City Court considered an appeal of human rights activist Tamara Siarhei against the verdict of Tsentralny District Court, which upheld and justified the official warning issued by the General Prosecutor's Office on criminal responsibility for organizing the activities of unregistered public association – an initiative "Against lawlessness in the courts and prosecutors' offices". On return from the decision room, the Judicial board of Minsk City Court, comprised of Volha Rymasheuskaya (chairperson), Alena Prudnikava and Katsiaryna Yakutovich, postponed the hearing to 24 October instead of announcing a verdict. The court motivated its decision by a reference to the necessity to request from the prosecutor's office the materials on the basis of which the warning was issued. On 24 October Tamara Siarhei's appeal was dismissed.
On 25 October Homel member of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Anatol Paplauny was warned that his labor contract would not be extended. Mr. Paplauny has worked as a toolmaker at the private enterprise "Vipra" for five years, and haven't received any penalties during that time. This was noted in the report for his dismissal. "Thank you for your diligent work!", wrote the head of “Vipra” Ihar Shchyhelski. The human rights defender has repeatedly been brought to administrative responsibility for his activity. He served a 15-day arrest term during the silent protest actions in the summer of 2011. He actively participated in election observation.
On 25 October, one hour prior to the departure of the evening train for Vilnius, the platform was filled with men in civilian clothes with walkie-talkies. Those who came to the platform were videoed. No obstacles were created for them, and the train departed on schedule. The following day, on 26 October, III Belarusian Human Rights Forum was held in Vilnius, which was attended by more than 150 delegates and guests from Belarus, most of whom went to Vilnius but the evening train from Minsk.
Pressurization of social and political activists by security services
On 25 October KGB officers demanded that the boss of Mahiliou blogger Dzmitry Yarmolenka write a testimonial about the activist. The reason for the attention of the KGB to the blogger were his publications at the website "Free Format" (formats.by). This summer Dzmitry had a conversation with some KGB officers who tried to recruit him, but as soon as the young man refused to work for them, they started pressurizing him on all sides. KGB officers also came to Dzmitry's work and talked with his boss, who, in his turn, held a preventive talk with him concerning the publications on the Internet and allegedly spoiled the image of the country and the current government. Earlier, Dzmitry Yarmolenka was expelled from the Faculty of Law of Mahiliou State University named after Kuliashou.
Administrative prosecution of social and political activists, arbitrary detention
On 4 October Judge of Minsk City Court A. Bychko quashed the verdict of Minsk Tsentralny District Court for 22 August, by which an activist of the National Bolshevik movement Dzmitry Paliyenka was fined 12 basic units on charges of violation the procedure for conduct or organization mass events (Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code). The charges were given to the activist for holding a protest action against the "conscription slavery"on 8 August in Minsk. The case was returned to Tsentralny District Court for review by another judge.
On 4 October an activist of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) Ales Serdziukou was forcible take out of the car details market near the Homel highway, at which he was handing out a newsletter dedicated to the campaign "For reduction of customs clearance of cars imported to Belarus from Europe and the U.S.". The activist managed to distribute about 50 copies of the newsletter, after which he was approached by three police officers who wanted to find out what he was distributing. The name of the policeman who talked to Mr. Serdziukou is Uladzimir Dantsou. As a result, the activist had to leave the market.
On 7 October Vitsebsk activist Barys Khamaida, distributor of independent press, was detained by police and taken to Chyhunachny District Police Department for allegedly unauthorized picketing. Later Mr. Khamaida was released from the police department without getting any charges. According to the activist, he, as usual, distributed the independent press in the center of Vitsebsk, and there were no signs of picketing in his actions.
On 12 October the 15-day administrative arrest of the leader of “Zmena” Pavel Vinahradau came to an end. However, the staff of the detention center in Akrestsin Street didn't release him in time, but took him to the settlement of Sokal, approximately 30 kilometers away from Minsk, where he was met by his friends.
On 17 October the member of the United Civil Party Dzmitry Kavalhin and Anton Zhylko were detained at the entrance of the Minsk Car Plant (MAZ) while handing out the newsletter of the UCP "Holas Rozumu” (“Voice of Reason"). The activists were taken to Zavodski District Police Department and released after three hours, having written explanatory notes. The police warned the activists the could be summonsed to the police after an expert examination of the confiscated newsletter.
On 23 October, on the eve of the sitting of the Council of CIS Foreign Ministers scheduled in Minsk for 24 October, a number of arbitrary preventive detentions of activists of various organizations and movements that had previously been involved in organizing the protests took place. The leader of the Belarusian National Bolsheviks Yauhen Kontush was arrested near his porch. The same day he was taken to Maskouski District Court in Minsk and sentenced to five days of arrest for alleged disorderly conduct. The case was considered by Judge Yury Sezin. Another activist of this movement, Dzmitry Paliyenka, was arrested after the end of his working hours at the entrance of his enterprise and taken to Zavodski District Police Department, where he was charged with disorderly conduct. The same day Judge Tatsiana Motyl punished him with six days of arrest. On 23 October the police detained National Bolshevik Artsiom Karpuchok. The same day he was sentenced to five days of arrest by Kastrychnitski District Court. The police also tried to detain another activist of the movement, Aliaksandr Paliakou, but he managed to avoid it. An activist of the "European Belarus " Andrei Molchan was detained in the workplace at 2 p.m. and taken to the police station. Judge of Maskouski District Court Tatsiana Motyl sentenced him to five days of arrest under Art. 23.4 of the Administrative Code (disobeying an official). “Zmena” activist Vital Vasilkou was detained in the evening and managed to inform Aliaksandr Artsybashau about the detention by phone. The following day Judge Natallia Drachova found him guilty of violating Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code and sentenced him to five days of arrest.
On 29 October, the Day of remembrance of the victims of totalitarian repression, Minsk police detained 23 members of mourning marathon and journalists. Among the detainees there were such
public figures as Aliaksei Shein, Uladzimir Ramanouski, Hanna Shaputska, Ales Makayeu, Siarhei Khanzhankou, Katsiaryna Sadouskaya, Nina Bahinskaya, Illia Dabratvor, his minor son Yausei Dabratvor, and five journalists – Natallia Kastsiukevich (Benitsevich), Aliaksandr Korsakau, Siarhei Krauchuk, Dzianis Nosau and Natallia Valakida. The detainees were taken to Frunzenski District Police Department. One of the participants of the memorial action, Halina Siuchyk, refused to come to the DPD, as it was difficult for her to climb the stairs. The police wanted to help her, but she refused, and was left alone, but later detained as well. Three hours later, all the detainees were released without getting any charges.
On 29 October Judge of Leninski District Court Alena Volkava fined the head of Mahiliou regional coalition of democratic forces Yury Novikau 45 basic units for distributing leaflets and collecting signatures against the deployment of the Russian airbase. Seven leaflets and signature sheets, seized from Mr. Novikau during the detention, which took place near the house in Leninskaya Street, 29 in the evening of 8 September, were used as evidence at the trial. Three people, who put their signatures against the deployment of the Russian military bases in Belarus, were questioned at the trial. One of them said that such people as Yury Novikau should be given medals, not arrest terms. Human rights activist Barys Bukhel noted that the court verdict created a precedent when people are fined for handing out leaflets and collecting signatures as for distributing media.
On 29 October the Minsk police detained an activist of the campaign against the compaction of the Pershamaiski district of Minsk, Viktar Talmachou. The activist was handing out leaflets about the preparation of a referendum against the construction of new houses. The leaflets contained information about the initiative group, established by local residents with the support of activists of the “Europerspective” in order to initiate the referendum by collecting signatures, and preparation for its registration with the state. The activist was taken to Pershamaiski District Police Department and released after a questioning and confiscation of the leaflets.
Restrictions on freedom of speech and the right to impart information, harassment of journalists
On 3 October the international human rights organization Freedom House presented the report on Internet freedom. According to the study, Belarus is among the group of countries where Internet use is unfree. The report stated that Belarus uses a system of monitoring and control over the Internet, SORM, as well as Russia. The same system is also used by the authorities of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The report says that of the 60 countries that were studied in this year, 29 blocked or filtered content of the political and social nature. The index of Internet freedom in Belarus in 2013 is 67, close to the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. Uzbekistan is the only former Soviet republic having a rating lower than Belarus, 78. Iceland, Estonia, Germany, USA and Australia were found to be the countries with the freest Internet in 2013.
On 5 October at V Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership in Chisinau the Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Andrei Bastunets voiced the information that the publishing house “Lohvinau” was being deprived of its license. Individual entrepreneur Ihar Lohvinau received a note informing him about the termination of the license for publishing on 23 September. The document was signed by First Deputy Minister of Information, Liliya Ananich. The license was revoked "due to gross violations of the licensing legislation" by publishing of the album "Belarus Press Photo 2011", which was found extremist by Ashmiany District Court on 18 April 2013. The staff of the publishing house believe that the termination of the license was illegal and was conducted with numerous violations. Therefore, they sent a letter to Minister of Information, Aleh Praliaskouski. On 23 October the publishing house "Lohvinau" applied to the Supreme Economic Court to invalidate the order of the Ministry of information on the termination of the license for publishing.
On 15 October, Krychau District Court started considering a civil lawsuit filed by workers of the Cherykau PMK-280 against the journalists of the newspaper “Volny Horad”. Plasterer Baihol and carpenter Koneu demanded that the journalists pay 16 million rubles as a compensation for moral damages allegedly done by the article "We'll wait a bit before publishing a refutation” (“Volny Horad”, № 25 dated 29 June 29 2013). According to the plaintiffs, the information that the labor contracts with them weren't concluded properly brought them moral suffering. The case was considered by Judge Antanina Kachanava, who questioned the plaintiffs and the journalists. The plaintiffs could not answer what was the essence of their moral suffering, and how the newspaper article did moral damage to them. The editor of the newspaper Siarhei Niarouny is sure that ordinary workers aren't the real initiators of this lawsuit, aimed at silencing “Volny Horad”. The next sitting was scheduled for 24 October. On this day, Krychau District Court dropped the case. Judge Antanina Kanchanava issued the appropriate verdict after the workers of the Cherykau PMK-280 had refused from their claims to the journalists of “Volny Horad”.
On 22 October Krychau District Court granted the lawsuit of the Cherykau PMK-280 against the newspaper “Volny Horad”. Judge Antanina Kachanava concluded that by their article “We'll wait a bit before publishing a refutation” the journalists discredited the administration of the enterprise and undermined its business reputation. The newspaper was obliged to publish a refutation of the information published in the article. The refutation is being prepared by the administration of the Cherykau PMK-280. The journalists were also sentenced to compensate the expenses of the enterprise for the lawyer's services, 850,000 rubles, and the court expenses – 300,000 rubles.
On 15 October Babruisk City Court held the second hearing on the case of blogger Aleh Zhalnou and his son, whom the traffic police accused of showing resistance and the use of physical force (Art. 23.4 of the Administrative Code). The case was considered by Judge Natallia Charapukha. The Zhalnous insist that they didn't resist to the police and themselves become victims of abuse of power by the traffic police. Natallia Charapukha asked the defendants whether somebody allowed them to shoot a video near the building of the traffic police. The traffic policemen focused on this as well. The judge announced a break till 23 October in order to request the necessary documents. However, on that day the trial didn't continue, as some defects were found in the violation report, drawn by the police major Siarhei Rudzko, who didn't witness the events, but drew up the document on the basis of the reports of the traffic policemen. In the evening of 1 November Judge Natallia Charapukha finished the trial, found Aleh Zhalnou guilty and fined him 20 basic units.
At about 7.10 a.m. on 24 October Aleh Zhalnou's apartment was visited by police majors Dzianis Rakouski and Siarhei Rudzko, a man who didn't introduce himself, and some people who acted as witnesses. The visitors entered the apartment when Zhalnou's wife was going out. They had a warrant for inspecting the apartment, signed by Babruisk prosecutor Karapetsian. The inspection was also authorized by two deputy chairmen of Babrusik District Police Department, Aliaksandr Siarheyeu and Vital Kharlapau. The reason for the inspection was the appeal of Yauhen Serashtanau, major of the traffic police of Babrusik City Executive Committee, concerning the publication of audio and video recordings on the Internet in 2012-2013 which allegedly insulted his honor and dignity and undermined his business reputation. The major was convinced that these materials were published by Aleh Zhalnou and therefore asked to instigate criminal proceedings against him. The search lasted for seven hours and ended with the confiscation of computer equipment and appliances, and means of communication: hard disks, a modem, a smartphone and a cellular phone.
On 19 October morning the press-secretary of the Belarusian Association of Journalists and a journalist of the magazine “Abazhur” Barys Haretski, the journalists of the European Radio for Belarus Ales Piletski and Vital Ruhainy, photographer Aliaksandr Vasiukovich, “Nasha Niva” photo correspondent Siarhei Hudzilin, journalist Nadzeia Hatsak, BelaPAN correspondents Andrei Korsak and Zakhar Shacharbakou and Radio “Liberty” journalist Yahor Mayorchyk were detained by the police at the platform of Minsk railway station. The journalists were going to cover the return of former political prisoner Pavel Seviarynets to Minsk. The police purposefully detained the journalists, since it was evident that they came there to cover the event, many of them brought professional equipment and had their journalist IDs with them. Despite this, the police alleged that the journalists “looked suspicious”. The detention was supervised by the chairman of the Main Police Department of Minsk City Executive Committee, Aliaksandr Barsukou. He checked the journalists' IDs and then ordered his subordinates to release them, without giving any explanations.
On 29 October independent journalists Aliaksandr Barazenka and Maryia Artsybashava were detained near the metro station “Pershamaiskaya” and taken to Leninski District Police Department of Minsk, but were released soon afterwards.
Restriction of freedom of assembly
On 2 October members of the Brest branch of the United Civil Party stated that Brest City Executive Committee didn't allow them to conduct four pickets against the introduction of an exit fee. The executive committee referred to the fact that the applicants intended to hold their pickets in the places which were unsuitable for mass events, or didn't enter into contracts with the municipal services, police and health care institutions.
On 3 October an activist of Baranavichy city branch of the Independent Trade Union of Radio Electronic Industry Ryhor Hryk stated that Baranavichy City Executive Committee banned a picket on the occasion of the International Day for Decent Work, which he intended to hold on 7 October. The ban was signed by the deputy head of the executive committee Dz. Kastsiukevich, who explained it by the non-implementation of the committee's regulation "On the procedure for holding mass events in Baranavichy", which required him to enter into service contracts with the police, municipal services and the hospital. In fact, it is impossible to implement this regulation in practice, since the aforementioned agencies often refuse to enter into service contracts without being presented the official permission for holding the mass event in question.
On 3 October activists of the ITUREI stated that they weren't allowed a picket of protest against the actions of a lawyer Natallia Zakharchanka and the verdict of the Leninski District Court judge Halina Tarasava, who ruled in favor of their eviction from the dormitory of Building Trust № 12 without providing other accommodation. The picket was to have taken place on 2 October at 100 meters from the courts and prosecutors' offices, located in Dobrolubov Street, on the way of the pedestrians going to the buildings from the nearest stop of the public transport. The official reason for the ban was that the activists had chosen the wrong place for their action. According to the official answer of the official from the executive committee, it is allowed to hold mass events in the city only at the site near the “Khimik” stadium in Cheluskintsy Street on the city outskirts. The administration of Building Trust No. 12 just threw the women with their 4-year and 16-year-old children out on the street. During the trial the women signed a settlement agreement with the trust.
Judge Tarasava and counsel Zakharchanka told them that it wouldn't have any negative consequences. However, as a result, the women were evicted from the dormitory.
On 6 October Hrodna City Executive Committee did not allow the human rights defenders Uladzimir Khilmanovich, Raman Yurhel and Viktar Sazonau to hold an information picket on 10 October, the World Day against the Death Penalty. In the official letter, signed by the deputy chairperson of the Hrodna CEC, Alena Ahei, it was stated:" ... in your application you must specify where the mass event will be conducted with the use of fireworks and open fire...". Another reason for the ban was that, judging by the answers received from Leninski District Police Department, the municipal services and the ambulance station of Hrodna, the executive committee came to the conclusion that the applicants were unable to fulfill the requirements of the legislation. However, the authorities provided no juridical grounding for this statement.
On 8 October human rights defender Aliaksei Lapitski received a letter from Zhodzina City Executive Committee, signed by the deputy chairman, Yury Sharaha. The letter came by registered mail to the main post office of Zhodzina, and contained a ban on holding a picket on the World Day Against the Death Penalty, 10 October. As it follows from the document, the executive committee didn't consider Lapitski's application for the picket on its merits, as the applicant didn't attach service contracts with the police, medics and municipal services to it. However, the impossibility to enter into service contracts with these institutions is proved by their answers to the preliminary application for holding another mass event on 4 August. It turned out that these institutions simply do not have the practice of signing contracts with citizens, and therefore refused to do it.
On 10 October the Biaroza human rights defenders and social activists reported receiving a ban on the picket against the death penalty, signed by the deputy chairman of Biaroza Town Executive Committee Viktar Mikhniuk. The ban was explained by the absence of service agreements with the police, hospital and municipal services. Meanwhile, on 25 September the human rights defenders filed the appropriate applications to Biaroza District Police Department, the hospital and the municipal services. The police answered that according to the regulation of the Council of Ministers No. 207 for 2012, the executive committee should send them a copy of the registered application for picket (which the committee didn't do), after which the actions of the police during the picket could be discussed with the committee.
On 10 October Vitsebsk Pershamaiski District Court considered the appeal of the regional coordinator of the "For Freedom" Khrystafor Zhaliapau and a representative of the organizing committee of “Narodnaya Hramada” Aliaksei Haurutsikau against the ban on the picket they intended to hold on 8 November in protest against the deployment of the Russian military bases on their territory. The applicants asked the court to oblige the district authorities to give permission for a mass event on this issue at another time. The district executive committee, in its turn, asked the court to consider the appeal in the absence of its representatives at the trial. Judge Volha Ivanova found no reasons to make the authorities give permission for the next picket. Representatives of Vitsebsk Regional Department of Internal Affairs didn't come to the trial either. According to an appropriate regulation of Vitsebsk City Executive Committee, the organizers were to have entered into a service agreement with this institution. The department waited until the organizers received the picket ban from the authorities, and then answered that there was no use to enter into the service agreement as the action had been banned. The trial was attended only by representatives of the central city polyclinic, who didn't enter into a service contract either. At the trial they stated that the ambulance was too busy on the week-end. The judge denied the activists' request to oblige the responsible agencies to conclude the service contracts and found no reasons to issue a private opinion that the verdict of the executive committee was impossible to implement, as the rational sequence of receiving permission for holding mass events was violated. As a result, the court dismissed the lawsuit.
On 11 October Hrodna activist Aleh Kalinkou received a negative reply to his application for the authorization of the street procession he intended to hold on 20 October to express protest against rigged elections and campaign for fair elections, signed by the deputy head of Hrodna City Executive Committee Alena Ahei. The specified number of the action participants was just one person. The executive committee explained its decision by the fact that the applicant wanted to hold the procession through the center of the city, crossing Savetskaya Square, whereas holding mass events in this place was not permitted by the appropriate regulation of the state institutions. It was also stated that the applicant failed to meet the legal requirements, having not presented all necessary information. However, it wasn't told what Aleh Kalinkou failed to specify in his application.
On 15 October Vitsebsk human rights defenders received two picket bans from Chyhunachny District Executive Committee in Vitsebsk. One of them was dedicated to the use of the death penalty in Belarus and was scheduled for 19 October, the other intended to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Belarusian Popular Front and was to have been held by Vitsebsk activists of the Conservative-Christian Party BPF Yan Dziarzhautsau and Yan Talpyha. Ther reason for the both bans was the absence of the service contracts with the police, medics and municipal services, required by the regulation of Vitsebsk City Executive Committee No. 881 "On Mass Events in Vitsebsk". The activists believe that this document is contrary to the applicable law, and have repeatedly asked for its amendment, as far as the aforementioned agencies refuse to cooperate with them before being presented the permission from the authorities.
On 22 October LeninskiDistrict Court in Mahiliou, chaired by Judge Valiantsina Lapatsina, considered the appeal ofhuman rights defenders Barys Bukhel and Aliaksei Kolchyn against the regulation of Mahiliou City Executive Committee "On Mass Events in Mahiliou". By this document the city authorities determined just one place in the entire city as a venue for events organized by political parties, public organizations, trade unions and citizens, the stadium in Cheluskintsy Street, 64B. The stadium is located far from the main streets of the city in a sparsely populated place and, obviously, is not convenient for mass actions. In their appeal the human rights defenders asked the to reverse the regulation of the executive committee as contrary to the law “On Mass Events”, the Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ( ICCPR). The court ignored the arguments of the plaintiffs and dismissed their lawsuit.
On 28 October Aliaksei Haurutsikau and Khrystafor Zhaliapau received a negative reply from Vitsebsk Pershamaiski District Executive Committee to their request to authorize a picket of solidarity with political prisoners which they intended to hold on 29 October. The picket was appointed on a weekday, as the previous time the activists didn't manage to enter into a service contract with the city medics, as the central city polyclinic stated that the ambulance was too busy at the week-end and therefore it was impossible to send a car for serving the picket. However, this time the polyclinic refused to enter into a service contract without providing any reasons. The police didn't answer at all. A positive answer was received only from the municipal services. The requirement to enter into service agreements before the mass events is contained in the regulation of the executive committee, and the failure to enter into such agreements becomes a reason for banning the events.
Restriction of freedom of association
On 13 October the member of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union Leanid Dubanosau reported being unable to obtain reinstatement in the company "Granite". He has worked there for almost 20 years and is ready to continue his work, ask he has a number of specialties which are in demand at the enterprise. During the hearing on his reinstatement at “Granite”, the lawyer of the enterprise stated that the refusal to extend the labor contract for Mr. Dubanosau had nothing to do with his membership in the independent trade union. After this, Leanid Dubanosau went to see the Director General, Eduard Haurylkovich. The activist reminded that he could work not only as an excavator operator, but also do other jobs. However, the head of the administration of “Granite” blankly refused to employ him. Mr. Dubanosau stated that the shortage of skilled workers was quite perceivable at the enterprise, and therefore he considered the denial of employment as discrimination in connection with his participation in the independent trade union movement.
On 14 October two leaders of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of the Mozyr refinery began a hunger strike in the workplace. The hunger-strike was started by the head of the trade-union, Yury Shvets, who was later joined by his deputy, Vasil Alkhouski. The workers declared a three-day hunger-strike after the unfair dismissal of five activists of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union, whose labor contracts weren't extended. The alternative trade union has been facing incessant pressurization since 2008.
On 16 October Baranavichy District and City Court held a preliminary examination of the application of social activist Mikalai Charnavus against the actions of the head of the Economic Department of Baranavichy City Executive Committee, Raisa Ulasovich. The court session was led by Judge Mikalai Selmanovich. The case concerns the repeated failure to provide space for the public association of Baranavichy Ukrainians "Kobzar" despite the information about vacant premises at the official website of the Baranavichy CEC. In its lawsuit Mr. Charnavus asked the court to oblige Baranavichy City Executive Committee to provide the organization with one of the vacant offices. As far as the defendant Raisa Ulasovich didn't come, the hearing was postponed to 24 October. On that day, the interests of the executive committee were represented by the head of the legal service of the executive committee Aleh Yauseyeu. He said that the NGO " Kobzar" was not included in the list of organizations that are eligible for free property. The judge rejected Mr. Charnavus' appeal and acknowledged that the executive committee acted in accordance with the law.
On 23 October the Brest Regional Court dismissed the appeal of Belaaziorsk social activist Aliaksandr Kuzmin against the actions of the prosecutors of the Biaroza district and the Brest region. Judge Alena Kavalchuk upheld the warning, issued to him by the prosecutors for activity on behalf of the unregistered organization "Tell the Truth".