Human rights in Belarus in June 2014
In June, the systemic and systematic nature of human rights violations was preserved. Opportunities of exercising civil and political, social and economic rights guaranteed by the Constitution and international standards were still extremely limited in their essence. Dissidents were subjected to pressure, intimidation and harassment.
The country’s prisons continued to hold political prisoners, with the only positive development in this area being the release of human rights defender Ales Bialiatski under an amnesty on June 21. The decisive role of the government’s political will in this move is demonstrated by the fact that under the law amnesty does not apply to persons who have the status of “offenders of prison rules”, while the imprisoned human rights defender did have such a status. Moreover, ahead of his release, Ales Bialiatski was not notified whether his penalties had been lifted, which made it impossible to apply amnesty to him. In addition, the political nature of the decision to release the political prisoner is evidenced by the fact that amnesty was not applied to him in an absolutely identical situation of 2012.
Against this background, the authorities persistently argued that the release of political prisoners was exclusively in the legal field and this process could in no way be affected by the foreign factor, including by the position of the European Union, which still insisted on the release of political prisoners as a precondition for cooperation with the official Minsk. In an interview with the BelaPAN news agency on June 11, Minister of Foreign Affairs Uladzimir Makei said: “For us the issue rests solely within the framework of the law. If all appropriate internal state procedures are fulfilled, which would allow these individuals to walk free – let it be so. But it depends on these individuals themselves. I believe that the State is absolutely right in this situation, as it does not intend to arrange “bargaining” and “exchange” with the EU on this category of persons. It is solely a legal issue.” However, what he said further indicates that the issue of releasing political prisoners by the Belarusian authorities is directly linked to the solution of foreign policy issues, in particular, the EU sanctions, “I believe that we need to understand that in our relations there are several fundamental problems: for Belarus this is the sanctions, absolutely unjust sanctions from the EU, and for the European Union – the claims that we supposedly hold a certain amount of political prisoners. We realize that these problems exist in our relations, we should solve these problems.”
Immediately after the release of Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Makei was quick to say that his release was not a result of any political processes. In particular, in an interview for the Glavnyi Efir show broadcast on the Belarus 1 channel on June 29 he said that “the issue of political prisoners has already bored us to death” and that “we are looking at the situation the way it is, and we know that even if we released those whom they (EU – Ed.) called “political prisoners”, then tomorrow Belarus would face new claims.” Despite this statement, it is obvious that the release of Ales Bialiatski was not enforced under legal procedures, but on the basis of a silent political expediency, while these public statements were aimed at “saving the face” and demonstrating the absence of an external factor in decision-making related to political prisoners.
Ales Bialiatski’s release was a positive step, but the problem of political prisoners in Belarus remained fundamentally unresolved. Belarusian prisons continued to hold seven political prisoners: Mikalai Statkevich, Eduard Lobau, Mikalai Dziadok, Yauhen Vaskovich, Artsiom Prakapenka, Ihar Alinevich and Vasil Parfiankou. Subjecting them to the same procedure of release, i.e. an amnesty, remained outside the legal field, but the example of Ales Bialiatski’s release clearly demonstrated that the cases of political prisoners are solved exclusively with political decisions. By denying the external influence on the issue of political prisoners, the Minister of Foreign Affairs nevertheless hinted at the processes that were underway in this sphere, as well as problems that are on the agenda of talks between the official Minsk and the European Union in this connection. In the above quoted interview with BelaPAN he said: “As yet, the EU is not sure about the number of these individuals.” Mr. Makei said that the EU had spoken about 11, eight and nine political prisoners in Belarus at different points in the past. “And we do not know how many are in question now,” said Minister Makei. Although Makei’s statements suggest lack of inconsistency in the EU position, the instability of this figure can be attributed to the fact that the negotiations on the issue of political prisoners have been dragged out, and during that time several political prisoners were released after serving their sentences. Another problem, which, according to the Foreign Minister, has been negotiated between the EU and the Belarusian side is the inconsistency of the personal list of political prisoners. “And, for example, I am surprised by the hypocrisy of our European partners: those persons who, for example, are fighting against the government in Ukraine’s east are branded “terrorists”. Meanwhile, here government opponents who hurled firebombs at a foreign embassy are described as political prisoners. (…) According to the latest information, two of them are on the list of those who are viewed by the EU as political prisoners,” said Uladzimir Makei. The EU position on the personal list of political prisoners, the release of which was being negotiated, remained unknown to Belarusian human rights defenders.
The most important international event in the evaluation of the human rights situation in Belarus was the presentation of a report by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus Miklós Haraszti in the framework of the 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council on June 18. The Special Rapporteur noted that the previous year hadn't brought any positive developments, and the government had not taken the necessary steps to promote and protect the rights of Belarusian citizens. The Rapporteur labelled human rights violations in the country as systemic and systematic. “They are systematic because they are committed daily in all areas of life. Systemic – because the practice of human rights abuses from the outset is laid down in legislation, in government bodies,” said Mr. Haraszti. When speaking during the debate on the report, the representative of Belarus in Geneva, Mikhail Khvastou, said that Belarus still did not recognize the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, considering it “a political project of the European Union” having nothing to do with human rights. Khvastou added that the official Minsk did not view the mandate of the Special Rapporteur as an instrument of cooperation in the sphere of human rights and demanded its termination. A number of members of the Council said that the human rights situation in Belarus did not require special attention of the UN. This was said in a statement made by Russia on behalf of such countries as Bolivia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka. However, most members of the Council supported Miklós Haraszti’s report, which was demonstrated by voting results on the resolution “Situation of human rights in Belarus”, adopted on June 27. According to the resolution, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus was extended for another year. The Council decided “to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus for a period of one year” and requested the Special Rapporteur to “submit a report on the situation of human rights in Belarus to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-ninth session and to the General Assembly at its seventieth session”. The resolution was supported by 24 delegations, seven members of the Council voted against and 16 abstained. Thus, Miklós Haraszti continued his work as the Special Rapporteur. Belarusian human rights defenders welcomed the report and the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, considering it an effective opportunity to objectively assess the human rights situation in Belarus and to report on these assessments to the international community, and called on the Belarusian authorities to cooperate with Miklós Haraszti, which could lead to positive changes in the sphere of human rights in the country.
Political prisoners, criminal prosecution of civil society activists
On June 1, Valeryia Khotsina, the wife of political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok, said that her husband was banned to keep to a diet, which he had been allowed only a month before. The prisoner has a gastric ulcer, and the disease flared up while in prison. Last year, Mikalai Dziadok underwent a checkup in a prison hospital in Minsk, but was not offered any effective treatment. The prisoner had to relieve stomach pains by excluding certain foods from his diet. The temperature in the cell in the Mahiliou prison where the political prisoner was serving his sentence reached 30 degrees Celsius on hot days, and there was no ventilation.
On June 2, Maryna Adamovich, the wife of Mikalai Statkevich, said, quoting a letter from her husband that the political prisoner was recognized “prone to attacks and escape”, which further worsened his position. In addition, he was subjected to additional supervision measures, including monthly discipline talks. The label of an “aggressively inclined” prisoner stemmed from an incident when prison guards reported a possible escape plot, after they saw a newspaper on the wall of his cell, which, according to them, could hide a hole. Meanwhile, the cell, where the political prisoner was held, overlooked the prison yard where prisoners are taken for walks. Mikalai Statkevich also said that in connection with the introduction of digital TV in the Mahiliou region only three television channels remained on the prison TV, ONT, Belarus-1 and the Russian channel RTR. They sacrificed CTV and Belarus-2. Thus, according to Mikalai Statkevich, local news was not available to the owners of analogue TV sets, i.e. the majority of elderly people. On June 28, the prisoner was allowed to see his wife for the first time in 2014. During a walk ahead of the meeting, he was shown the camp newspaper Trudavy Shliakh so that he could read the text of this year’s amnesty law and see that it could not be applied to him. According to Maryna Adamovich, he does not hope to be amnestied.
On June 7, Maryna Lobava, the mother of political prisoner Eduard Lobau, said that her son was about to complete a course of welding in the colony in Ivatsevichy. According to Maryna Lobava, her son was interested in military history and dreamt of getting a university degree. But she did not rule out that the skills Eduard learned in the colony could be useful to him in the future. On June 21, after a long family visit, Eduard Lobau told his mother that after his release he would face preventive supervision restrictions.
On June 9, political prisoner Ihar Alinevich was visited in the Navapolatsk colony by his mother Valiantsina Alinevich. Since the colony was decided to be disbanded, Ms. Alinevich does not rule out that it was the last time that she saw her son there. On June 28, Valiantsina Alinevich said that she had not received any letters or phone calls from her son for three weeks. She explained it with the son's transfer to another colony. As of the end of June, there was no information about the new place of his imprisonment.
On June 13, authors of an individual communication submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of Ales Bialiatski addressed the Human Rights Committee with an open letter. Antoine Bernard, Director-General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and Natallia Pinchuk, the political prisoner’s wife, urged the Committee to speed up the consideration of the communication that had been submitted two years before. In July 2012, the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Belarus to the UN Office in Geneva sent a note to the Human Rights Committee saying that Belarus unequivocally refused to cooperate with the Committee on the case, and that its further communications with the Committee in this regard would be stopped. The government’s position has not changed since then, and it have not made any submissions on the case, although the Human Rights Committee had sent to Belarus two reminders with the proposal to comment on merits of the case. In this regard, it appears that there is no reason to expect a reply from the state in the case of Bialiatski, and for this reason to postpone its consideration by the Human Rights Committee for more than two years. The fact that the State refused to communicate with the Committee was not an obstacle to the consideration of the complaint, and representatives of Bialiatski urged the Committee to expedite this process. On June 21, Ales Bialiatski was unexpectedly released from the Babruisk colony. At 9 a.m., he was invited to the prison head, where a prosecutor told him that he was going to be released under an amnesty law, which entered into force on that day. He was ordered to pack his things, and an hour later he was taken to the railway station, where he boarded a train to Minsk. Ales Bialiatski said he was not hoping for an amnesty, as he had the status of a “malicious offender of prison rules”, which ruled out its application to him. Speaking of conditions of detention, he said that he was kept in a complete isolation from other prisoners, who were punished or transferred to other units for contacts with him. Officially, he was twice offered to write a petition for clemency: in September 2011 (at that time a few political prisoners were released) and in January 2014, after the press conference of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who announced information of a possible amnesty of Ales Bialiatski. The human rights defender was held in jail for 1,052 days. His release was welcomed by the U.S., the UK, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Anne Brasseur, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, the leading international human rights organizations: International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Civil Rights Defenders, Human Rights Watch and others. On June 23, Ales Bialiatski visited the criminal-executive inspection of Minsk’s Pershamaiski District Police Department, where he was registered after his early release from prison. The former political prisoner was subjected to preventive restrictions and obligations, including monthly check-ins at the police. He also needed to report to the police in the case of travel to any place in Belarus and abroad for more than a month.
On June 20, a civil society activist and film director, Volha Mikalaichyk, said, citing a letter from political prisoner Yauhen Vaskovich, that he had been once again placed in solitary confinement. Ms. Mikalaichyk said that the Mahiliou prison administration banned sending magazines and newspapers to the political prisoner send, noting that he can only subscribe with his own money.
On June 26, Katsiaryna Sadouskaya, 68, received notification of a criminal case opened against her under Part 2 of Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus). The case was reportedly initiated by the Investigative Committee’s Major Ahafonau on June 19. The charges stemmed from an incident of April 28, 2014, when former political prisoner Aliaksandr Frantskevich was detained and convicted amid a wave of preventive detentions ahead of the World Ice Hockey Championship. To protest against his arrest, Ms. Sadouskaya wrote in a book of complaints of Minsk’s Savetski District Court “offensive remarks against the President of the Republic of Belarus”, as well as “knowingly false and defamatory data combined with allegations of grave and especially grave crimes”. “By doing this, she offended the honour, dignity and authority of the President in connection with the exercise by the President of the Republic of Belarus of the powers conferred upon him by the Constitution and laws, publicly insulted the President of the Republic of Belarus in a written statement to the judicial body, using offensive words, phrases and sentences that contained obscene, degrading evaluation of the President and damaging the honour, dignity and authority of the Head of the State and humiliating his authority in the eyes of the public,” reads the document.
On June 27, human rights activist Anastasiya Loika received a letter from political prisoner Vasil Parfiankou. The political prisoner, who was serving a sentence in the PKT (cell-type premises) of penal colony No. 9 in Horki, wrote he had been again invited and asked to sign a commitment to law-abiding behavior and performance of legitimate claims of the administration. Vasil Parfiankou once again refused to do so, because he considered his imprisonment to be illegal. Vasil Parfiankou also said that he was concerned about the fact that because of the numerous “violations” (over twenty, according to the prisoner himself) he could be subjected to supervision restrictions again.
On June 17, the Minsk-based Graffiti club hosted the presentation of the project of Belarusian musicians called Aposhni Zolak (“Last Dawn”). In this way, a number of famous musicians, among them Hanna Khitryk, Aliaksandr Pamidorau, Zmitser Vaitsiushkevich, Anastasia Shpakouskaya, Viktar Rudenka, Liavon Volski, spoke against the death penalty. The seven artists presented their songs that talked about the most common ways to enforce the capital punishment. Half of the 14 tracks of the project were new songs written specifically for Aposhni Zolak. The other half were older songs recorded for the project in new versions. The project, initiated by the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, was realized by the creative team of the tuzin.fm website. Aposhni Zolakwas primarily aimed at making Belarusians pay attention to this problem, as many of them remained unaware of such practice in Belarus.
Torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment
In early June, Liudmila Kuchura, the wife of Piotr Kuchura, who was serving a sentence of imprisonment in Mahiliou penal colony No. 15, said that back in late May she had received a notification from the Office of the Investigative Committee in the Mahiliou region saying that a probe had been launched to determine the fact of chlorine poisoning and the alleged consequences of this poisoning, including a forensic medical examination. Liudmila Kuchura’s complaints were also said to be investigated in accordance with Article 174 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Belarus, as she requested to initiate criminal proceedings against those responsible for causing harm to the health of her husband. According to Ms. Kuchura, the news was a complete surprise, because almost nine months had passed since her husband had been allegedly tortured in jail. She did not rule out that the situation could have been impacted by her complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee filed in March this year, after she had exhausted all domestic remedies to prove the fact of bleach poisoning of her husband, which could be used against the convict deliberately as a means of torture, cruel and inhuman treatment.
Administrative prosecution of civil society and political activists, arbitrary detention
On June 5, the Pershamaiski District Court of Minsk extended the preventive supervision of Dzmitry Dashkevich for another three months, after Judge Leanid Yarmolenka said Dashkevich had repeatedly violated the rules of preventive supervision. The extension of the term of supervision was petitioned by the police department of Pershamaiski district.
On June 10, a court in Hrodna was expected to open a hearing of an administrative charge against Veranika Sebastsianovich, 83, an activist of the Polish minority movement. However, the trial was adjourned after her counsel Yulia Yurhelevich informed the audience that Judge Tatsiana Herhel had just returned from vacation and did not have time to study the case file. The elderly woman was accused of alleged smuggling of humanitarian aid to members of a veteran organization called the Union of Soldiers of the Home Army in Belarus. The case was sent to the court by officials of the Hrodna customs, who on April 2 had seized from her more than 70 boxes of humanitarian aid donated for veterans by the Polish association “Odra-Niemen”. On June 20, the case file was sent to the Hrodna regional customs department for “correcting the flaws”. Judge Tatsiana Herhel questioned two witnesses – Yury Aliakseyeu, who helped unload the boxes of humanitarian aid into an empty barn, as well as a customs official, Maksim Kachkouski, involved in the confiscation of the boxes on April 2. The customs official could not answer the question when the transport prosecutor’s office issued a sanction on the arrest and seizure of the cargo. Having examined the case file and evidence, the Judge was unable to specify when the sanction had been issued and received. Finally, another representative of the Hrodna customs, Uladzimir Dzmitryieu, asked to withdraw the charges for revision. After a short break, Judge Tatsiana Herhel granted the motion.
In the night of June 12, customs officials detained for two hours a Salihorsk activist of the Young From organization Ivan Shyla. The border guards took the activist’s passport after his train arrived in Brest. An hour and a half later, Ivan Shyla was sent for a customs search, during which he was forced to remove his T-shirt, shoes, and even socks. After the search, the officials asked the activist if his laptop contained any materials contradicting state ideology and national politics. Ivan Shyla regarded the harassment as an echo of the World Ice Hockey Championship. Then, like in the case of many other Belarusian civil society and political activists, the police were looking for Ivan in order to preventively detain him.
On June 17, police detained four graffiti artists from Vitsebsk, who started painting a portrait of Vasil Bykau on a transformer pillar in central Minsk. Members of a crew of street artists HoodGraff, Ilya, Siarhei, Artsiom and Aleh (they asked not to disclose their surnames), were taken to the police department of Partyzanski district, where they were charged with an administrative offence of damaging city property. Aleh Larychau, a representative of the Signal crew, which had invited the Vitsebsk artists to Minsk to mark the 90th anniversary of Vasil Bykau, provided explanations to the police department, but they failed to affect the case, and graffiti artists were taken to the Court of Partyzanski district where each of them was fined 4.5 mln roubles.
On June 17, Yanina Ausianik, an activist of Tell the Truth campaign, was detained in Babruisk while collecting signatures for an initiative called “People’s Referendum”. She was then taken to the police station. According to the activist, the police were called by a local resident, who had earlier warned the campaigner that her son worked in the police. Ms. Ausianik managed to collect 34 signatures; they were taken in the police station and never returned. She also faced charges, but refused to sign the administrative offence report. She was held at the police station for three hours and released at around 10 p.m.
On June 24, the Minsk Regional Court considered an appeal by Natallia Bordak, an activist of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party, against an earlier decision of the Niasvizh District Court, which on May 20 fined her 4.5 mln rubles on charges of illegal picketing. The Minsk Regional Court found many contradictions and quashed the judgement. In particular, the administrative case lacked information whether the rally was permitted by the city authorities. The case was submitted to the same court for a retrial. On May 9, Natallia Bordak staged a picket in the city park holding a sign “No to Putin’s War in Ukraine”. She explained her act by a desire to protest against the Russian aggression.
On June 25, trade union activist Leanid Dubanosau was detained in Mikashevichy on obscenity charges. He was then taken to the local police department. The activists says police officers were polite to him. During his detention, he received several calls from reporters. Journalists also phoned the police department, who did not know how to comment on the incident. Leanid Dubanosau was told he would be charged with using foul language. However, the police officers said the charge would not reach the court, as the activist allegedly apologized for his actions. He denied the charges. Then the police officers said they would not charge Leanid at all, saying that they only seemed to hear him swear and warning him against “anything else in the press”. Half an hour later, Leanid Dubanosau was released without charges. As a compensation, the activist was brought back home in a police car.
Restrictions on freedom of speech and the right to impart information, harassment of journalists
On June 2, the editorial office of a Baranavichy-based weekly “Intex-Press” received a refusal to cooperate in the second half of 2014 from the nation-wide newspaper distribution systems. All of them issued unmotivated bans. The Belposhta enterprise said that the formation of the subscription catalogue of print media was its own right, that parties to civil relations “are free to establish their rights” and “based on the above, the inclusion of “Intex-Press” in this directory is not possible”. Belposhta’s Brest branch and Brestablsayuzdruk issued similar answers, warning the editor against “coercion to sign contracts”. The independent weekly was excluded from the government-owned distribution systems in 2006 and since then it has repeatedly tried to seek cooperation, although unsuccessfully.
On June 9, a journalist from Babruisk Maryna Malchanava, was summoned to Police Major Siarhei Rudzko of the local police department “for a conversation”, which ended without any charges or records. Meanwhile, its essence remained unclear to the journalist. Major Rudzko showed several photos taken during the rally, which the journalist alleged seeing for the first time, and asked to name the people who participated in it. Siarhei Rudzko did not believe that she was not the author of the above images. He then began to inquire where she worked, what name she used to sign her publications, etc. An hour later, Maryna Malchanava said that she could leave as she was not facing any charges. The journalist says she got the impression that the police officer wanted to make her his informant. Maryna Malchanava said she was going to appeal against the actions of the police officer to the Prosecutor’s Office.
On June 11, the Brest Regional Prosecutor’s Office issued an official warning to an independent journalist Maksim Khliabets. The journalist was warned against cooperation with foreign media without accreditation. The warning stemmed from two publications that appeared on the website of the Belarusian Radio Racyja in March last year: “Spring to be met in Brest” and “Brest celebrates World Poetry Day”. The official warning was handed by prosecutor Bakharava.
On June 16, Hrodna Kastrychnitski District Court convicted Andrei Mialeshka, a journalist from Hrodna, of illegal manufacture of media products by Hrodna Kastrychnitski District Court. The Court concluded that when preparing a publication for the Belarusian Radio Racyja (Bialystok, Poland) Andrei Mialeshka had acted without accreditation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus and had thus violated Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code. The charges against the journalist stemmed from a publication posted on Radio Racyja’s website on April 17 and signed by an invented name Ihar Mikalayeu. On the basis of the evidence collected, police officers argued that this publication was prepared by Andrei Mialeshka, who had no right to work without the MFA’s accreditation. At previous meetings held on June 4 and 11, Judge Dzmitry Kedal first summoned additional witnesses, and then made a request on a number of warnings issued to the journalist by the local Prosecutor’s Office over his work without accreditation.
On June 17, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović expressed her concern about the increasing number of fines imposed on Belarusian journalists for work without accreditation. “I am concerned because this practice can effectively ban journalists from reporting,” Mijatović said. “Yesterday’s court decision against Andrei Mialeshka underscores the need to address the issue now.” “Accreditation should not be a license to work and the lack of it should not restrict journalists in their ability to work and express themselves freely,” she said. “All journalists should have the same professional rights as journalists employed with registered media outlets, including the right to seek and disseminate information.” Mijatović also alleged writing to Uladzimir Makei, Foreign Minister of Belarus, on June 5, raising the need to reform the media accreditation requirements.
On June 24, the Presidium of the Supreme Court sent the lawsuit of Andrei Beliakou against BelSat TV for a retrial due to insufficient investigation of the case in the previous hearings. The move came after a request for that had been submitted to the Presidium of the Supreme Court by the Court’s Deputy Chairman Aliaksandr Fedartsou. The official representative of BelSat, Mikhail Yanchuk, said during the court session that the channel’s name and logo were registered in Poland in 2006 in compliance with all European legal norms, and could not anyhow violate Andrei Beliakou’s rights. According to Mr. Beliakou, his company named BELSAT Plus, dealing with sales of satellite and cable equipment, allegedly suffered losses because its name resembles that of the independent TV channel. The lawsuit was filed in May 2013, and hearings started in November 2013. On January 27, 2014, the Panel of Judges of the Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit, as Andrei Beliakou did not provide evidence that his exclusive rights for the trademark were violated. Now, the Praesidium of the Supreme Court ordered that the lawsuit against BelSat be heard again.
On June 5, a few dozen residents of Vitsebsk sent a collective letter to the Council of Ministers with a request to contribute to amending the Vitsebsk City Executive Committee’s ruling No. 881 of July 10, 2009, regulating the order of applying for permission to hold mass events. The campaigners also requested that the Council of Ministers sent a petition to the Constitutional Court in order to verify compliance of this document with the Constitution. The appeal was initiated by the coordinator of the Movement “For Freedom” in the Vitsebsk region, Khrystafor Zhaliapau. He sayid that the need for such measures was due to the complete inability to hold mass actions at the initiative of civil society activists, as the authorities required that along with the application the organizers also attached contracts with police officers, as well as housing and medical departments, while these departments kept avoiding concluding contracts in any way possible. The activists have been unable to force the services to sign the contracts through the courts.
On June 10, a human rights defender of the city of Mazyr, Uladzimir Tseliapun, received a response to his petition from the Secretariat of the Constitutional Court. The human rights defender had voiced his proposals at a reception by Chairman of the Constitutional Court, which was held in Mazyr on May 28. Uladzimir Tseliapun asked the Chairman a few questions. In particular, he asked to verify the validity of the ruling on mass events adopted by the Mazyr District Executive Committee, the implementation of which was impossible in practice. According to the ruling, the applicants should attach copies of contracts with a number of municipal services, which have to be signed before the event is approved by the Executive Committee. However, these services refused to sign contracts, citing absence of permission to hold the event on the part of the Executive Committee. How to solve this issue, what are the possible mechanisms of implementing the ruling of the Executive Committee – the human rights defender did not receive answers to these questions from local or regional authorities, or in courts. A response from the Secretariat of the Constitutional Court, instead of considering the application on the merits, said that “supervision of correct and uniform application of the legislation in the sphere of local government and self-government bodies is carried out by the Prosecutor General and subordinate prosecutors”. According to the response, citizens can “submit initiatives for proposals under the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court, the President and the authorities, which possess the right to introduce proposals to the Constitutional Court”.
On June 12, Vasil Hadzkou received another ban on picketing from officials of the Minsk City Executive Committee. This was the fifth refusal in the last six months. The rally was scheduled for June 15 and was expected to be held in the Palianka public garden. The applicant stressed the fact that the proposed location complied with the Law “On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus”. During the rally, Vasil Hadzkou was going to use a number of posters reading “They demolished my house (2009), built the Metro (2012), but forgot to give a flat”, “The Constitution has the rights and freedoms on paper, but I want them in life” and “On the basis of which the rule of law I – the owner of the demolished house –was denied a new apartment?”. However, the officials banned the picket on the grounds that the garden would be reportedly cleaned on June 15. It should be noted that previous bans on hold pickets in the same place were motivated by a need to improve the area and mow the grass.
On June 13, four dozen residents of the town of Hlybokaye, Vitsebsk region, signed a collective letter to the Council of Ministers, which contained a request to initiate an appeal to the Constitutional Court in order to assess ruling No. 167 of the Hlybokaye District Executive Committee “On the determination of locations for holding rallies and picketing” for its compliance with the Constitution. A local civil society activist, Dzmitry Lupach, said the appeal stressed the fact that after the ruling of the Executive Committee was enforced in its present version local officials had not allowed a single mass event. The ruling has a clause, according to which an application must enclose a copy of service contract signed by housing, police and health care departments, while none of them would sign such contracts without the permission to hold the event.
On June 15 and 17, the Homel regional office of the Left Party “Fair World” had planned to hold two pickets, but was refused by the City Executive Committee. The purpose of the picket on June 15 was “to support actions of the President to combat abuse and corruption among officials”, the picket, which was planned for June 17, was expected to advertise the party’s campaign “Stop Prices”. The reason for the ban was failure to observe the requirements of the Executive Committee’s ruling “On Mass Events”, namely lack of contracts for health care services during the pickets and a clean-up of the territory after the event. Chairman of Fair World’s regional office Uladzimir Siakerka noted that the applicants had applied in advance for signing the contracts to the GorSAP company and the central clinic. However, both the housing enterprise and the health care service refused to enter into contracts on trivial grounds. The ambulance station referred to “extreme workload”, while GorSAP said the ban was due to an “acute shortage of street cleaners”. Homel’s central city hospital, which owns the ambulance station, did not give any answer at all. The Homel City Executive Committee was urged to take action to force the state-owned departments to unconditionally comply with the official regulations, as well as to provide information on possible instruments for entering into contracts for medical care services with legal entities. The activists also sent letters to GorSAP and the central clinic asking them to select the date when they would be able to provide the services defined by the City Executive Committee. At the same time, on June 23 the Tsentralny District Court of Homel received an appeal against the actions of public officials infringing the constitutional right to freedom of mass events, and as a consequence – to freedom of expression.