Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in November 2013
In November, the Belarusian authorities demonstrated the reluctance to soften their position in the field of human rights in the country, first of all – to change the attitude to the problem of political prisoners, including on the basis of the foreign policy factor. The expectations of some experts that on the eve of the summit of the Eastern Partnership the Belarusian authorities will make concessions to the requirements of the European Union, which had consistently reminded about the necessity release of political prisoners as a basic precondition for cooperation with Belarus, didn't come true.
The official Minsk in its turn stuck to a pragmatic attitude and showed no desire to debate on values. So, on the eve of the summit, 21 November, Foreign Minister of Belarus Uladzimir Makei noted in an interview with the Polish newspaper “Gazeta Prawna” that the country's authorities were considering cooperation in the framework of the EU Eastern Partnership primarily in economic terms. "Within the frames of this initiative, some projects were considered that will bring tangible benefits. We are looking forward to working together to improve the business climate," said Uladzimir Makei. With regard to political prisoners, Mr. Makei said that most of the convicts had already been released, and some of them left for the West. "I have no right to answer the question when the remaining ones will be released from prison, as is the competence of the courts, not of the Foreign Ministry". During the summit U. Makei tried to deny the existence of political prisoners in Belarus. "We have no political prisoners”, he said while talking to reporters. “Those prisoners who are in prison were punished for specific criminal offenses. In other countries they would have probably received even longer terms”. Then, contradicting himself, he answered the question whether the Belarusian authorities were ready to release political prisoners in response to the lifting of sanctions, in the following way: "What concerns the release of political prisoners – this question should be asked not to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but to the agencies which have taken an appropriate decision. Our courts are independent, so contact them. However, I 'm sure that if these prisoners write petitions for clemency, the petitions would be considered, and perhaps a positive decision would be taken". In fact, he confirmed the previously voiced position of the head of state on political prisoners: they can be released only after writing pardon applications.
The EU's position remained unchanged. European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule said during the summit that the prospects for relations between the EU and Belarus were large, but they depended only on the decision of the Belarusian authorities in the issue of political prisoners: "Here the EU policy is clear from the outset. In case of release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners, the EU is ready not only to build a solid foundation for bilateral relations between the EU and Belarus, but also to talk about the reform of the program and supported modernization of Belarus meeting the ambitions of the Belarusian people".
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, within the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius confirmed: "Our demands remain the same – to release political prisoners and take steps towards democratization". According to Mr. Bildt ,during the summit the topic of political prisoners in Belarus "was mentioned by several leaders in their speeches", while Foreign Minister of Belarus Uladzimir Makei did not address this topic. "However, Makei knows what must be done. I think that he has the opportunity to influence the resolution of these issues."
Due to the lack of a positive dynamics at the high political level the fate of political prisoners remained unchanged. Nine political prisoners were still kept in jail: Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Autukhovich, Ales Bialiatski, Mikalai Dziadok, Andrei Haidukou, Eduard Lobau, Artsiom Prakapenka, Mikalai Statkevich and Yauhen Vaskovich. The negative trend of trying former political prisoners on charges of violating the rules of preventive supervision was perpetuated.
On 12 November Minsk City Court upheld the verdict of the Pershamaiski District Court of Minsk, sentencing Uladzimir Yaromenak to three months of arrest on these charges. The verdict has come into force, and since the imprisonment of the activist his name will be added to the list of political prisoners. On 28 November analogical criminal case was considered by the Pershamaiski District Court against Vasil Parfiankou, who has already served a six-month arrest term for violating the rules of preventive supervision after his release on parole in 2011. Preventive supervision as a means of controlling political activism was still used towards three more former political prisoners: Dzmitry Dashkevich, Aliaksandr Frantskevich and Pavel Vinahradau. Prophylactic supervision in connection with prior conviction was used towards 28 former political prisoners.
Thus, in November the European Union continued demanding the release of political prisoners as a prerequisite to restoring full-scale relations with the official Minsk, whereas the latter made no steps to meet these demands and showed no positive intentions. Political prisoners still remained hostages of the Belarusian authorities in this stalemate.
Political prisoners, prosecution of social activists
4 November marked the half of the prison term for the head of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Ales Bialiatski, sentenced to 4.5 years of imprisonment. On 9 November Natallia Pinchuk, wife of Ales Bialiatski, reported that the imprisoned human rights defender earns about 20,000 rubles ($ 2) a month working as a packer at the garment industry six days a week. On 12 November Deputy Chairman of the State Customs Committee Siarhei Barysiuk stated in his response to complaints of violations by duty officials of Ashmiany customs during the appointment of an examination of the confiscated book "Enlightened by the Belarusian Issue" by Ales Bialiatski, and violations on the part of the expert commission, said that "taking into consideration your disagreement with the expert opinion and the lack of specific conclusions of the experts on the questions put by Ashmiany customs in the regulation on the appointment of the customs examination, the SCC of the Republic of Belarus, being guided by Article 143 of the Customs Code of the Customs Union, requested Ashmiany customs to organize a re-examination as soon as practicable...". According to the conclusions of the preliminary examination, the literary book by Ales Bialiatski "can damage the image of the Republic of Belarus".
On 5 November Maryna Adamovich, wife of political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich, said the administration of Mahiliou prison No. 4 tortured him by lack of sleep: “The prison guards kept
knocking on his door and shouting each 10-15 minutes a few nights in a row, interrupting his night sleep. This forces the political prisoner to rest in the daytime, for which he can be punished with solitary confinement. On 6 November Dzmitry Dashkevich filed an appeal to the Mahiliou Regional Department of Corrections asking to hold an examination in prison No. 4 in Mahiliou to find out why he received no letters from Mr. Statkevich. Maryna Adamovich told him that she had received a letter from her husband on 21 October, in which he passed greeting to Dzmitry Dashkevich and wrote that he had sent him three letters lately. However, Mr. Dashkevich received from him only one postcard two months ago. On 9 November Maryna Adamovich reported quoting her husband that the night knocking on the door had stopped, and he received his medical parcel. On 23 November M. Statkevich's pen pal Leanid Haravy filed a complaint to the Mahiliou Regional Department of Corrections against the actions of the personnel of Mahiliou prison No. 4, who limited Statkevich's right to correspondence. He filed the complaint after receiving a letter from Mr. Statkevich in which it was written that his letter wasn't let through by the censor. "I received an empty envelope from your letter, marked by the censor. So, your letter must have been very good :). Thanks for your support. Good luck and success in your business!"
On 12 November Minsk City Court upheld the verdict of the Pershamaiski district court for the arrest for three months of a former political prisoner, defendant in the criminal case of mass riots in Minsk on 19 December 2010 Uladzimir Yaromenak for violating the rules of preventive supervision. During the sitting of the cassation instance U. Yaromenak and his lawyer argued that the case materials were collected and the criminal case was opened illegally. In particular, the lawyer pointed out that the reports alleging violations of preventive supervision contained numerous violations. After the entry into force of the sentence Uladzimir Yaromenak must wait to be summoned to the criminal executive inspection of the Pershamaiski District Police Department to serve the three-month arrest term.
As it became known on 14 November, after the publication of the article "Letter From Hell" by political prisoner Mikalai Autukhovich in an october issue of "Narodnaya Volya" onions and other vegetables appeared in the shop of Hrodna prison and the prisoner was given bedding. Mr. Autukhovich was also visited by doctors, who confirmed the existence of problems with teeth that influenced on chewing food, and recommended a detailed health survey. On 16 November Autukhovich's mother Lidziya came to visit her son, but was told that the meeting was prohibited, the reasons for the prohibition weren't told. The prison officers also refused to accept a 30-kilo food parcel for the prisoner.
On 26 November political prisoner Yauhen Vaskovich phoned home after a long break. He talked with his mother Rushaniya for 20 minutes, much longer than he was allowed to talk before. He couldn't phone from Mahiliou prison for more than two months as the prison phone was broken. The political prisoner told that the heating had been turned on in the cells.
28 November marked exactly 3 years since the arrest of political prisoner Ihar Alinevich, who is serving an 8-year sentence in penitentiary No. 10 in Navapolatsk.
On 28 November the Pershamaiski District Court started a trial of former political prisoner Vasil Parfiankou on charges of violating the rules of preventive supervision (Article 421 of the Criminal Code). Mr. Parfiankou was taken to court under guard, as he had been kept in the activity therapy center (LTP) № 1 in Svetlahorsk (the Homel region) since 21 September. Judge Leanid Yarmolenkau postponed the trial to 5 December due to the fact that V. Parfiankou wasn't duly informed about the appointment of the hearing. The political prisoner was to have been notified about it at least five days before the trial. However, he was informed about the date of the hearing only on 27 November. The defense asked the judge to postpone the trial in order to get enough time to prepare for participation in the trial.
On 30 November political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok was transferred from Mahiliou prison to the republican prison hospital in Zhodzina. His transfer lasted 13 hours. Wife of political prisoner Valeryia Khotsina reported that on 1 December M. Dziadok was placed in a ward and got two diagnoses associated with gastric ulcer. The medics started giving him medicines and take him for medical procedures. All this was done in handcuffs, as the testimonial of M. Dziadok says that he is inclined to flee.
As it became known on 13 November, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations considered the individual appeal of Andrei Zhuk, a death convict executed in March 2010, and found that his rights were violated by the Belarusian state. The Human Rights Committee satisfied all points of the complaint, recognizing a violation of Art. 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – the right to life, Art. 7, which prohibits torture and inhuman treatment, Art. 9 – the right to liberty and security, Art. 14 – the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. Andrei Zhuk was sentenced to capital punishment in July 2009. His mother Sviatlana Zhuk filed an individual communication to the Committee, asking to register it urgently. The Committee accepted the appeal for consideration, and the Republic of Belarus received a note of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on registration of the appeal. HRC procedure introduces a requirement not to carry out the death sentence while the case is pending. However, the death sentence was carried out in March 2010 – before the completion of the complaint procedure by the Committee. The case of Andrei Zhuk is the second case in the practice of "Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty" considered by the Committee on Human Rights. The first was the case of Uladzislau Kavaliou (executed by shooting together with Dzmitry Kanavalau in 2012). Four more appeals are pending at the Human Rights Committee – the communication on behalf of Vasil Yuzepchuk (shot in 2010), Andrei Burdyka and Aleh Hryshkautsou (shot in 2011) and Pavel Seliun, whose death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in September 2013.
On 18 November the mother of death convict Pavel Seliun addressed Aliaksandr Lukashenka, asking to pardon her son: "My son is still alive. I would like to appeal to you, Aliaksandr Ryhoravich, because now the fate of my son depends on you. What has happened cannot be changed, and the shooting of my son won't resurrect my son shot wont raise the victims from the dead.” Mother asks pardon her son and, if possible, to meet him in person and take a decision only after the meeting: "Please take your time not to take a hasty decision. Now the fate of my son is only in your hands."
On 26 November a new trial of the criminal case of the murder of student Natallia Yemialyanchykava by Aliaksandr Hrunou started at the Homel Regional Court. The trial was led by Deputy Chairman of the Homel Regional Court Anatol Tozik. In October the Supreme Court reversed the death verdict to A. Hrunou, after which Aliaksandr Lukashenka stated: "If you are a scoundrel and a bastard, and it is not the first time you kill someone, then what right do you have to live on this earth? I am not bloodthirsty, but retribution and punishment should be appropriate. Otherwise we would never put things in order and never lower the temperature in this society. Grave crimes must be punished with maximal severity." A. Hrunou refused to testify at the trial and partially admitted his guilt in the brutal murder: he said that he had committed the murder, but did not admit that he had made it out of hooliganism. During his speech the mother of the killed student, Iryna Emialyanchykava, referred to the statement of Aliaksandr Lukashenka and asked to sentence the murderer to death. The continuation of the trial was scheduled for 8 December.
Torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment
On 5 November Svetlahorsk district prosecutor Uladzimir Tarasenka overturned the decision not to institute criminal proceedings in connection with the death of Aliaksandr Akulich in the detention center of the Svetlahorsk District Police Department. This was reported by mother of the deceased, Valiantsina Akulich. Numerous complaints to prosecutors and investigative committee, prepared by her with the assistance of the HRC "Viasna", constantly raise the question of holding policemen A. Bachkou and R. Stseshankou criminally liable. Such a requirement is due to the fact that they were on duty in the detention center in the night of 26 May 2012, when Aliaksandr Akulich died there. They didn't call an ambulance brigade in the due time. On the contrary, they beat the detainee, who was in a morbid state. Valiantsina Akulich repeatedly received the same response to her complaints: "It was decided not to institute criminal proceedings on the basis of paragraph 2 Part 1 of Art. 29 of the CCP" (for lack of actions that constitute a crime). Thus investigators, as well as the forensic commission constantly avoided the main question – whether there was a direct causal link between the death of Mr. Akulich and untimely medical assistance.
On 27 November Minsk resident Liudmila Kuchura, whose husband is serving his sentence in penitentiary No. 15 in Mahiliou, told the Human Rights Center "Viasna" that the pressure techniques which were used towards the convict, presented a serious threat to his health. Psychological pressure on Piatro Kuchura began after the publication of information about extortion in penitentiary No. 15 on the website of human rights organization "Platform" in June 2013. The administration of the penitentiary decided that the information was published on the initiative of Kuchura's wife, who is an activist of the initiative against lawlessness in the courts and the prosecutor's office. They started imposing penalties on Mr. Kuchura, then put him to solitary confinement, and then – to cell-type prison. The glaring fact on which Liudmila demands punishment for administration and staff of penitentiary No. 15 took place in the punishment cell. On 19 September, while being kept there, Piatro Kuchura saw that about one bucket of bleach had been poured into the wash basin and the toilet bowl. He wasn't told that there were problems with the sewage, so when he turned on the water, chlorine dissolved and gave a reaction. Mr. Kuchura received a strong irritation of the mucous of his eyes and mouth. He could neither see nor breathe, and started knocking on the door. The controller who came to the cell said that a plumber couldn't be sent to the cell, as all of them were busy. It's worth mentioning that there is virtually no ventilation in the punishment cells. The plumbers were called only when the prisoner felt bad. After the sewage was repaired the prisoner was given a cloth the size of a handkerchief to clean all that was spilled in the cell. He washed the cell, but it was still impossible to breathe. He was transferred to another cell only when his health deteriorated significantly. All this is described in detail in a complaint about unlawful actions of the administration and staff of penitentiary No. 15, submitted by Liudmila Kuchura to the head of the Investigative Committee of the Mahiliou region on 5 November. She requested an examination to establish the fact of chlorine poisoning and initiate criminal proceedings against those responsible for causing harm to the health of her husband. However, the head of the Investigative Committee A. Rakusau refused to discriminate in this case and redirected the complaint to the Mahiliou Regional Department of Corrections, though this department is not authorized to consider applications and crime reports. Indeed, in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code, decisions on applications or reports of crimes committed by officials of the Ministry of Interior in connection with their official or professional activities are within the exclusive competence of the preliminary investigation. That's why the next complaint, prepared with the assistance of members of HRC “Viasna”, was submitted to Deputy Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus.
Harassment of human rights defenders and human rights organizations
On 11 November Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Valiantsin Stefanovich stated that despite the correspondence with various government agencies he still hadn't received a response which authorized state body had taken the decision to put the website spring96.org on the list of limited access. First Deputy Head of Operational and Analytical Center under the President of the Republic of Belarus U. Rabavolau responded to his appeal that "the OAC has no information" and advised to "appeal to the State Supervisory Department for Telecommunications of the Republic of Belarus (SSDTRB) for the question to be considered in essence”. Valiantsin Stefanovich did not get an intelligible answer from the SSDTRB either. Instead of an essential answer, promised by the OAC, the SSDTRB responded: “Regulatory enactments do not regulate SSDTRB’s credentials in disseminating information on the identifiers of the web-sites on the limited access list”. SSDTRB’s head Bahdanau suggested Valiantsin Stefanovich to send requests to all these competent agencies and then appeal against their actions in court. The human rights activist stated he considered such a suggestion as an open mockery and would further address the Ministry of Information, since the response that the got from the State Supervisory Department for Telecommunications is not an answer to his question. The list of the “banned” Internet information sources emerged according to the resolution by the OAC as of 29 June 2010. Among others there are the web-sites of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, “Charter'97”and Belarusian Partisan. According to Uladzimir Rabavolau, as of February 2013, 119 information sources were included in the list, which mainly contain pornographic and extremist materials or violate copyrights. The access to them is blocked at the facilities of state agencies, educational and cultural institutions.
On 13 November Minsk Maskouski District Court began the trial of the director of a private cultural and educational institution "Platform Innovation" Andrei Bandarenka, charged with violating Part 1 of Art. 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offenses ("organization and conduct of unauthorized mass event"). The human rights activist was charged with involvement of the unauthorized pickets
near remand prison No.1 in Valadarski Street in Minsk, where 21-year-old prisoner Ihar Ptsichkin had died under obscure circumstances on 4 August 2013. The young man was beaten and died after just a few days in detention. Andrei Bandarenka solicited for being provided with a counsel. Judge Yauhen Khatkevich granted the motion and postponed the hearing to the following day. On 14 November the judge returned the violation report for revising, as it hadn't been drawn up by the person who had detained Mr. Bandarenka. A new report was drawn up by the police right in the courthouse, but Andrei Bandarenka refused to sign it without a lawyer. He was told that he was detained for 72 hours. The working hours were over, but another judge, Tatsiana Motyl, agreed to conduct the trial. Testimonies were given by police officers Ivan Kazak, Kuimau and lieutenant-colonel Lahunou. The judge denied the counsel's request to attach photos and videos to Bandarenka's case. At 9.50 p.m. the judge recognized human rights activist guilty and sentenced him to five days of arrest. On 19 November Andrei Bandarenka was released upon the expiration of his arrest. While serving the arrest term, he filed an appeal to Minsk City Court.
On 23 November the member of the Board of the HRC "Viasna" Uladzimir Labkovich received a letter from Minsk City Court informing him about the appointment of consideration of his appeal on 19 November. As he was informed about it too late, he was unable to attend the hearing. The appeal was filed against the decision of the Savetski District Court in Minsk for 8 October, according to which the human rights activist was punished with a fine of 30 basic units for distributing postcards on the occasion of the second anniversary of the arrest of Chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Ales Bialiatski. Back on 6 August the activist was punished with a fine of 30 basic units by the Savetski District Court for violating the order of organizing and holding mass events. As a result of his appeal to Minsk City Court the ruling was reversed, and the case was sent to the Savetski District Court for review by another judge. On 8 October Judge Eduard Jakubouski issued essentially the same verdict, and the human rights activist was again sentenced to a fine of 30 basic units. On 29 November it became known that Minsk City Court judge Aliaksei Bychko found no grounds for revocation of the judgment and dismissed Mr. Labkovich's appeal.
Administrative prosecution of social and political activists, arbitrary detention
O 3 November a resident of Homel, opposition activist Yury Rubtsou was detained in Minsk after the "Dziady" rally for wearing a vest with the inscription "Lukashenka, resign!", At the beginning of the action the police told him to take off the vest to prevent any conflicts. He was detained at the end of the event, in Kurapaty, not far from the bus depot “Karbyshev” without explaining the reasons. Wringing his hands, the police pushed him into a van. The detainee was taken to the police station down Karbyshev Street. On 4 November the Savetski District Court of Minsk sentenced Yury Rubtsou to three-day administrative arrest. Judge Dzmitry Pauliuchenka found the activist guilty of “disobedience” to police officers (Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code). The police witnesses who had detained Yu. Rubtsou explained that he refused to get into their car, which they regarded as "disobedience to legal claims". On 8 November Yury Rubtsou a appealed the arrest at Minsk City Court. The activist also appealed to the head of the Maskouski District Police Department, requiring an official investigation into the arbitrary seizure "of the garment containing an inscription of a political nature".
On 6 November the police detained the people who came to the detention center in Akrestsin Street to meet Yury Rubtsou who was to be released after serving the arrest term: Leanid Kulakou, Volha Nikalaichyk, “Novy Chas” journalist Viachaslau Piashko, freelance journalist Nastassia Reznikava, Yuliya Sakalova, Aksana Stsiapanava, Maryna Tsitova and Pavel Vinahradau. Mr. Rubtsou was detained as well. All detainees were taken to the Maskouski DPD. Police put down their passport data and released them in three hours.
On 6 November the leader of the “Young Front” Dzmitry Dashkevich was detained near the central department store (HUM) in Minsk while collecting signatures for returning to Lenin Street its historic name, “Frantsyskanskaya”. “Young Front” activists were collecting the signatures for the third day was already within the framework of the de-Communisation campaign launched by the organization. The same day, Tsentralny District Court Judge Valery Esman tried Mr. Dashkevich for disobeying lawful demands of the police and sentenced him to 3 days of arrest.
On 6 November the activist of the "Young Front" Raman Pratasevich was detained during the trial of Dzmitry Dashkevich and taken to the detention center in Akrestsin Street, where he spent two days before the trial. On 8 November Minsk Tsentralny District Court sentenced Mr. Pratasevich to 2 days of arrest for unauthorized picketing and released him from the courtroom, as the activist had already served the arrest term.
On 7 November Homel police detained Yury Rubtsou. At about 9.30 a.m. he appeared on the main square of Homel wearing a vest with the slogan "For Belarus without contracts". He was taken to a police van, where the police put down his passport information and asked him to leave the area. After the talk, Mr. Rubtsou was released.
On 8 November, UCP deputy chairman Vasil Paliakou was summoned to the office of the head of the public order division of the Navabelitski District Police Department of Homel, Lieutenant Colonel Henadz Khil'kevich, for 10 a.m. He was charged with violating the rules of organizing and holding mass events (Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code) for taking part in a rally in the memory of the victims of Stalinist repression, held in Homel on 3 November. During the rally, Paliakou and other activists lit candles and laid flowers and wreaths to the memorial crosses installed in the places of mass killings of people carried out in the years of Stalinist repression. On 13 November Siarhei Novikau, Judge of the Navabelitski District Court of Homel, sentenced Mr. Paliakou to a fine of 35 basic units.
On 10 November a mournful procession was held in Loshytsa Ravine in Minsk. The action, which was organized by the CCP BPF, involved about 70 people. During the event, police detained the resident of the Stoubtsy district Leanid Smouzh, who came there in a vest "For Belarus without dictatorship". On 11 November, Leninski District Court judge Nadzeya Navitskaya found him guilty of disobeying police officers (Art.23.4 Administrative Code) and sentenced him to five days of arrest. Mr. Smouzh pleaded not guilty, noting that he protested against injustice, being unable to find a job for several years already.
At 4.30 p.m. on 10 November five activists of the Polatsk coalition of democratic forces, Yury Belsky, Aleh Kraiko, Anatol Prakapenka, Yauhen Vilski and Anton Yasinovich, were detained in the office of the civil campaign "Tell the Truth". The detention was carried out by three policemen in uniform in presence of several representatives of the housing utilities who acted as witnesses. It was stated that the meeting was held after the working hours and supposedly disturbed the dwellers of the house. All detainees were taken to the Polatsk District Police Department. They were kept there for two hours and were released after giving explanations.
On 11 November the coordinator of the civil campaign "Stop Drinking – Start Living" Dzmitry Karashkou was detained for holding an anti-alcoholic picket in front of the executive committee, where he unfurled a huge inscription "Stop the sale of alcohol near schools". At the Tsentralny District Police Department he was presented charges under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the rules of holding mass events). The banner was confiscated, the young man was questioned and then released. The police warned him that soon he would be tried.
On 12 November Hrodna activist Vadzim Tsiarletski was detained at the railway station in Minsk. He came from Hrodna to Minsk to solve some issues related to the political prisoner Mikalai Autukhovich, and intended to return to Hrodna the same day. V. Tsiarletski was charged under Article 17.1 (disorderly conduct) and Art. 23.4 of the Administrative Code (disobedience to the police). He spent the night before the trial in the detention center in Akrestsin Street. On 13 November Vadzim Tsiarletski was taken to the Kastrychnitski District Court. Judge Maksim Lapko admitted to the trial only Tsiarletski's counsel, thus formally making the hearing closed. V. Tsiarletski was convicted of disorderly conduct and sentenced to three days of arrest. The charges of disobeying the police were dismissed by the judge.
On 13 November, Zhana Ptsichkina, whose son Ihar Ptsichkin had died in remand prison No. 1, was taken to the Maskouski District Court of Minsk. She was detained at home by unidentified police officers and men in plainclothes and charged with failure to appear in court on the administrative case concerning the 14 September picket (on that day the police detained 18 concerned people and relatives of Mr. Ptsichkin, who don't believe in the official version of his death and tried to commemorate him by laying flowers to the prison walls). Human rights defender Andrei Bandarenka was tried together with Mrs. Ptsichkina on the same charges. Zhana Ptsichkina and Andrei Bandarenka solicited for being provided with lawyers. Judge Yauhen Khatkevich granted the motions and postponed the hearing to the following day. On 14 November the judge found Zh. Ptsichkina guilty and issued her with a warning, whereas Andrei Bandarenka was sentenced to five days of arrest by Judge Tatsiana Motyl. The same day, the Maskouski District Court sentenced to five days of arrest another participant of the picket, Aliaksandr Danilau.
On 16 November evening, the co-chairman of the “Young Front” Andrei Tsianiuta and his colleague Stanislau Bula were detained by the police in the Savetski district of Homel while pasting leaflets against the alcoholization of the population. The detainees were taken to the police station, where they stayed for about 1,5 hours. Mr. Tsianiuta refused to give explanations. Stanislau Bula wrote that he had pasted the leaflets on bulletin boards, which was allowed by the law. The leaflets called on the authorities not to sell alcohol in the vicinity of schools. On 27 November A. Tsianiuta received a copy of the violation report by mail.
On 23 November evening police broke into the Culture Palace of the village of Kazlovichy where a screening of a film about Slutsk anti-Bolshevik uprising was held. Policeman Dzmitry Shkliareuski stated that the event organizer, Zinaida Tsimoshak, had "no permit for the meeting". The police interviewed the participants of the event for more than two hours, sitting in groups of three people in four or five rooms of the culture palace. Some of them also guarded the entrance of the hall so that no one could escape. The police asked the present people whether the meeting had any political aspect. By the way, Minsk historian Nina Stuzhynskaya was invited to the event to show the film “40 Days of Peasant Republic”, which had been aired on the state TV channel ONT. Z. Tsimoshak was given charges under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the rules of holding mass events) and told that the case would be passed to court.
Restrictions on freedom of speech and the right to impart information, harassment of journalists
On 31 October the administrator of the printing center “Karandash” (“Pencil”) Alena Rybak refused to accept the order for printing maps of the Eastern cemetery Minsk, prepared by staff of the Belarusian service of Radio "Liberty". She referred to a written policy, according to which "DataPrynt" didn't engage in printing pornographic, extremist, Nazi, anti-state, as well as materials containing elements of campaigning, referendum campaigning and those that can be used during socio-political actions and campaigns. On 5 November the Belarusian Association of Journalists sent to the private enterprise "DataPrynt" a formal inquiry concerning the refusal to print the map of the Eastern cemetery on the order of Radio "Liberty". A postcard “Journalists Aren't Extremists”, issued by the European Federation of Journalists within the campaign "Let's Stand for Journalism", was attached to the letter. Another postcard was sent to pavilion No. 2, personally for Alena Rybak.
On 5 November the TV channel “Belsat TV” received a subpoena to appear at the Supreme Court for 11 November. The owner of the trademark "Belsat" – a company that sells equipment for receiving satellite and cable television and radio, Andrei Beliakou, argues that the TV channel "Belsat" was illegally using his trademark. Beliakou's company was established it in 2003 under the leadership of Siarhei Lysiankou and was then called "Hitech-market". In May 2006 the creation of the TV channel “Belsat TV” was announced. A month later the owner of the company "Hitech-market" Siarhei Lysiankou passed the trademark to Andrei Beliakou, who changed the name of the firm to the Unitary Enterprise "BELSATplus". In 2011 the words “cable TV” appeared in its specification. The TV channel "Belsat" is registered in Poland, as well as the domain of its website. The domain name is not registered in Belarus and not administered on the territory of Belarus, the TV channel is not transmitted from the territory of Belarus, that's why the trademark is not within the jurisdiction of the Belarusian law. Besides "Belsat" is registered as "Belsat TV”, whereas the trade unitary enterprise is registered as "BELSATplus" (registration certificate No. 190 991 566). 11 November is the Independence Day in Poland, a state holiday, that's why "Belsat" appealed to the court to postpone the hearing. The firm which has sued the "Belsat TV" does not demand any monetary compensation. Its only requirement is that the satellite "Astra" suspend the transmission of the TV channel "Belsat" ("Belsat" is transmitted by the satellite "Astra 4A", earlier called "Sirius 4"). On 11 November the Supreme Court postponed the hearing to 9 December. The representative of the TV channel Michail Yanchuk explained that the channel received to subpoena just two working days before the hearing, whereas the legal term is five days before the trial, that's why “Belsat” was entitled to a reprieve.
On 12 November Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Andrei Bastunets stated that Belarus had the worst rating place on Freedom of the Media of all Eastern Partnership countries. This is evidenced by the quarterly index of freedom of speech, presented in Minsk. To date, Moldova and Georgia are the absolute leaders in the rating. Experts noted that since the situation in the media field remained unchanged, this may be due to the fact that no electoral campaign were being carried out in Belarus at the time. It s already the second time in a row when all the experts put the minimum number of points (zero) while assessing the situation with defamation laws. Their position is quite clear, as the Criminal Code of Belarus contains 6 articles criminalizing defamation. The index of freedom of speech is defined in six countries of the Eastern Partnership on the basis of the events and trends in the media over the last three months. The most negative event in Belarus in July-October was the closing of the private independent publishing house "Lohvinau".
On 18 November the Supreme Economic Court began hearings on the application to the Ministry of Information of Belarus to cancel the order for revocation of the license of the publishing house "Lohvinau". The license was revoked by the ministry board "due to gross violations of the licensing legislation" – the release of the album "Belarus Press Photo 2011", which was declared extremist by the Ashmiany District Court on 18 April 2013. The case was considered by Judge Tatsiana Prataschyk. The court granted the petition for hearing the witnesses, Uladzimir Arlou, Ihar Babkou and Yuliya Darashkevich. The latter reported that the album was composed of the photographs that had appeared in the media, including state-owned ones – Sovetskaya Belorussiya” and BelTA. Uladzimir Arlou stated that “Lohvinau” issued about 700 books during the 14 years of its existence, making a significant contribution to the development of the Belarusian culture. Witness Ihar Babkou pointed that “Lohvinau” was not a barricade or a political project, but a core project for the Belarusian culture, and its liquidation would do a great harm to Belarusian writers and readers. Andrei Bastunets, who represented “Lohvinau” at the trial, raised the question of the legitimacy of the sitting of the collegiate commission of the Ministry of Information, where the decision to revoke the license had been taken. The document contains only the signature of Minister Praliaskouski, the surnames of other members of the board aren't mentioned in it. The judge stated that the legitimacy of the document was confirmed by the signature of the Minister. The representative of the Ministry of Information ignored the criticism raised by Mr. Bastunets, who stated that the decision of the state agency didn't comply with the Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The judge dismissed the appeal of the individual entrepreneur Lohvinau and refused to invalidate the decision of the Ministry of Information". The verdict can be appealed at the cassation instance.
At 12 a.m. on 26 November independent journalists Viachaslau Piashko and Nasta Reznikava were detained at the entrance to Hlybokaye. The journalists were driving there to prepare a video report for the newspaper "Novy Chas". The car, which was driven by Mr. Piashko, was stopped at the entrance to the city by traffic police. Having examined the journalists' documents, the police first said they were alarmed by the number of the car body. Having examined the trunk, they asked the people to follow them to the police department, as the car and the passengers allegedly fitted the description of the swindlers who were wanted. At the request of the journalists to show the description of the criminals on the basis of which they were detained the police presented an unconvincing document on a computer with a general description of the man "of European appearance". The policemen refused to print the document. The journalists were released in about 30 minutes, after the police put down their passport details and phone numbers. The talk with them was held by senior officer Mikalai Kvatera.
Restriction of freedom of assembly
On 1 November Zhodzina City Court started hearing a case on the prohibition of a picket in support of the imprisoned human rights defender Ales Bialiatski and other political prisoners on 4 August. The trial was led by Judge Ivan Hrynkevich. The executive committee was represented by the head of the legal department Volha Verhel. The peculiarity of this case was that the picket organizers, human rights defenders Aliaksei and Sviatlana Lapitskis, challenged the ban imposed under the new regulation of 27 July 2012 № 1020 "On the procedure of holding mass events in Zhodzina". According to this document, the organizers must attach copies of contracts with police, ambulance and public utilities to their application for the mass event, whereas these agencies to refuse to enter into such contracts before seeing the official permit for the mass event. Having listened to the both sides, the court granted several motions and ruled that representatives of the police, ambulance and public utilities be summonsed to the 8 November hearing. All in all, the case was considered in four hearings. On 22 November the judge dismissed the appeal of the human rights defenders and upheld the decision of the executive committee.
On 5 November the Hrodna Regional Court considered the appeal of human rights defenders Uladzimir Khilmanovich, Viktar Sazonau and Raman Yurhel against the verdict of the Leninski District Court of Hrodna, which upheld the ban on their picket on 4 August in support of imprisoned human rights defender Ales Bialiatski, imposed by the Leninski District Executive Committee of Hrodna. On 23 September the Leninski District Court Judge Zhana Krauchanka confirmed the legality of the decision of the executive committee. The panel of judges of the Hrodna Regional Court headed by Judge Liudmila Maliuchok left the verdict of the district court unchanged.
As it became known on 6 November, the inhabitants of Hlybokaye were actually deprived of the right to peaceful assemblies. The district executive committee decided to amend its regulation concerning the organization of mass events by changing the authorized place for their conduct. It was found out that when local activists decided to hold a picket in solidarity with political prisoners. According to the received refusal, signed by the chairman of the Hlybokaye District Executive Committee, Aleh Morkhat, the previous regulation of the executive committee on mass events was amended on 8 October, and the new edition iss examined by the regional justice board, after which it will be entered in the register of state acts. Only then, if there is no need for amendments or clarifications, the amended regulation will be published in the district newspaper and will enter into force. Until then, holding any mass events is impossible. The activists intended to hold the picket on 23 November. On 18 November the picket organizer Dzmitry Lupach filed appealed the picket ban at the Hlybokaye District Court. At the 25 November hearing a representative of the legal department of the executive committee voiced another reason for the ban, the absence of service contracts with the police, ambulance and public utilities. The court took the side of the executive committee and confirmed the legality of the ban, referring to the cause, voiced at the trial. During the trial Mr. Lupach learned that the new regulation of the executive committee had been adopted and had entered into legal force on 1 November. Meanwhile, the district newspaper “Vesnik Hlybocchyny” wrote nothing about it, and the section "Normative legal acts" at its website does not work at all.
On 6 November the Slonim District Court considered the appeal of Slonim activist Ales Masiuk in which he asked to invalidate the decision of the Slonim District Executive Committee to ban the 29 September rally in support of readers and subscribers of "Hazeta Slonimskaya". The reason for the ban was that according to the schedule of the department of ideological work, culture and youth affairs of the Slonim District Executive Committee and the district committee of the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, the cross-quiz “Know your land” was to be held according on that day in the city park, and it was prohibited by law to hold several mass events in one place at once. However, when the representatives of the executive committee presented the schedule of the ideological department, it was found out that the cross-quiz was initially scheduled for 29 September, and transferred to 28 September somewhat later. Nevertheless, the court dismissed the appeal, arguing that the executive committee hadn't violated the law.
On 10 November opposition activists intended to hold a picket of solidarity with political prisoners at the central stadium of the town of Biaroza. However, Deputy Chairman of the Biaroza District Executive Committee Yauhen Tarasiuk banned the action referring to the failure of the organizers to enter into service contracts with the police, ambulance and public utilities. The executive committee was notified that according to the requirements of regulation of the Council of Ministers No. 207 of 2012, the executive committee was to contact the police for serving the picket. The picket organizers also submitted to the executive committee the answer received from the district hospital, in which it was stated that the hospital didn't have an appropriate regulation for serving mass events, as well as the price-list for it.
As it became known on 12 November, the Human Rights Committee of the UN recognized a violation by the Belarusian authorities of the rights of Chairman of Homel regional branch of the Belarusian Left Party "Fair World" Uladzimir Siakerka to peaceful assembly by banning a rally to protest against the abolition of social benefits, scheduled for December 2007. The local officials demanded that the democratic activists pay for the services of police, ambulance and public utilities. The Human Rights Committee stated that if the government imposes a restriction on the freedom of peaceful assembly, then it should support the implementation of the law and not seek unnecessary or inappropriate constraints. Based on the decision of the UN the government should provide the victims of the violations with an effective remedy, including a full recovery of the expenditures and an adequate compensation and is required to prevent similar violations in the future. Moreover, the Belarusian authorities must change the national law on mass events and the practice of its application to ensure everyone's right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
On 13 November the activists of the Movement "For Freedom" and the United Civil Party Aliaksandr Protska and Andrei Tolchyn received a message from the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations, recognizing a violation by the Belarusian authorities of their right to freedom of expression (Article 19 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). UN Committee recommends the Belarusian government to pay a compensation for moral damage to Aliaksandr Protska and Andrei Tolchyn, to restore their rights and to bring the national legislation, particularly the law on mass events, in compliance with international standards. The case concerns the events of 2008, when the activists handed out in Brahin and Naroulia invitations to meet with opposition leaders who were going to visit Chernobyl areas on the eve of the anniversary of the Chernobyl accident. Aliaksandr Protska and Andrei Tolchyn were detained by police and fined and arrested respectively.
On 14 November Deputy Chairman of the Baranavichy City Executive Committee banned a picket under the slogans "They Must Be Stopped" and "Let's put actions of the authorities under public control", the application for which was filed by an activist of the Baranavichy branch of the Trade Union of Radio Electronic Industry, Ryhor Hryk. The official stated that the slogans of the claimed mass action violated the requirements of Art. 10 of the Law "On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus".
On 14 November the panel of judges of the Vitsebsk Regional Court considered the complaint of Aliaksei Haurutsikau and Khrystafor Zhaliapau against the verdict of Judge of the Pershamaiski District Court of Vitsebsk Volha Ivanova, which upheld the ban on the picket against the deployment of the Russian military bases on the territory of Belarus they intended to hold on 8 September. The official reason for the ban was the absence of service contracts with the police and ambulance. According to regulation No. 881 of Vitsebsk City Executive Committee, such contracts must be attached to the applications for mass events. However, the regional police department and the central city polyclinic refused to enter into such contracts. The panel of judges of the Vitsebsk Regional Executive Committee upheld the earlier verdict of the Pershamaiski District Court of Vitsebsk and confirmed the legality of the ban, but sent the case for review in the part which concerns the refusal of the police and the polyclinic to cooperate with the activists.
On 17 November Slonim activist Ales Masiuk intended to hold a picket in the city park for protecting the right of residents of the Slonim district to subscribe to the newspaper “Hazeta Slonimskaya” through the republican unitary enterprise "Belposhta" and buy it at the newsstands of "Belsayuzdruk". Four days before the date of the picket the organizer received a ban signed by the Acting First Deputy Chairman Uladzislau Hershgoryn. According to the document, the state mass event “The younger generation – on your marks!”, dedicated to the International Students' Day, will be held in the same place at the same time.
On 19 November the Biaroza District Court considered the appeals of human rights defenders Siarhei Rusetski and Tamara Shchapiotkina and social activist Tatsiana Tarasevich against the decision of the executive committee to ban the picket against death penalty, which they intended to hold on 10 October. The applicants asked the court to declare the picket ban unlawful, as the regulation of Biaroza District Executive Committee of 9 February 2010 "On the procedure for organizing and holding mass events in the Biaroza district" is impossible to fulfill. According to the appropriate regulation of the executive committee, service contracts with the police, ambulance and public utilities must be attached to bids for holding mass events. However, according to regulation No. 207 of the Council of Ministers of 2012, the executive committee must send the police a copy of the registered application for the mass event (which the executive committee didn't do while taking the decision to ban the picket), after which the actions of the police during the picket could be discussed with the executive committee. Biaroza hospital didn't enter into the service contract, referring to the absence of the appropriate norms in the documents of the Health Ministry, as well as the price-list for such services. The public utilities also refused to enter into a service contract for the 10 October rally – they suddenly remembered that stadiums were the property of the district executive committee and advised the activists to apply there. The executive committee refused to change its decision according to the later regulation of the Council of Ministers. At the trial the lawyer of the executive committee Yauhen Kashtalian argued he hadn't received such orders from any officials of the Council of Ministers. Judge Natallia Minchanka took the side of the executive committee and dismissed the appeal of the human rights defenders and the social activist. On 29 November the human rights activists filed an appeal against the verdict to the regional court.
On 21 November Chairman of Bykhau district branch of the Belarusian Popular Front Siarhei Antonau filed a written request to Chairman of Bykhau District Executive Committee Dzmitry Kaleyeu to determine the place for holding pickets in Bykhau. The reason for the appeal was that his bids to host mass events (pickets) have been rejected twice in the past months. The reason for the first ban was that the site where he intended to hold the event, Krasouski Street, was located near the district radio station. The other ban was imposed on a picket against the deployment of foreign military bases and military facilities on the territory of Belarus due to the fact that the local housing enterprise “Zhylkamhas” conducted repairs in 50-hoddzie Peramohi Park at the time. “I hope Dzmitry Kaleyeu will finally give me a concrete answer where pickets can be held in Bykhau”, said Siarhei Antonau. “Then I will again file a bid for a picket, in the place specified by the authorities, so that they wouldn't have any grounds for banning the event”.
On 25 November Mahiliou Regional Court considered two appeals filed by human rights activists Barys Bukhel and Aliaksei Kolchyn. In the first case, the court presided by Judge Sviatlana Stalmakhova dismissed the case on the complaint of human rights defenders against the decision of Mahiliou City Executive Committee determining a single location in the city for mass events, organized by political parties, civil society organizations, trade unions and private individuals. In the second case, Mahiliou Regional Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the verdict of the Leninski District Court confirming the legality of the ban by Mahiliou authorities of a picket organized by the human rights defenders with the aim to demand the release of Ales Bialiatski and other political prisoners.
Restriction of freedom of association
On 11 November the member of the Free Trade Union of Belarus Leanid Dubanosau tried to challenge the decision of the Luninets District Court, which refused to reinstate him at work and didn't recognize the adverse discrimination at the enterprise due to his membership in the trade-union. In his appeal to the Brest Regional Court Mr. Dubanosau noted that the dismissal took place because of his participation in the independent trade union movement, as he had no penalties during almost 20 years of his work at “Granite”, whereas recently he has received two penalties at once, as a result of which his labor contract wasn't extended. The Brest Regional Court dismissed the appeal.