Situation of Human Rights in Belarus in July 2014
July was marked by a stably severe human rights situation, ongoing systemic and systematic abuses. Extremely limited were the opportunities of exercising one’s civil and political rights, among which most problems concerned freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, arbitrary arrest and detention. The judicial system remained dependent on the executive branch. The problem of political prisoners remained essentially unsolved, despite a visible warming in relations between the European Union and the Belarusian officials, including the start of negotiations in some other spheres while maintaining the same rhetoric on the issue. On July 9, the European Union removed eight people from its Belarus sanctions list, lifting the travel ban from them. At the same time, the EU officials imposed sanctions on judge Vital Volkau of the Shklou District Court, who in January 2012 had ordered a transfer of former presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich to a closed-type prison in Mahiliou on charges of breaking the rules of imprisonment in penal colony No. 17 in Shklou. “This decision has thus led to breaches of M. Statkevich’s human rights including sleep deprivation and threatening his health,” said a Notice published in the EU’s Official Journal. Rodolphe Richard, Head of Political, Press and Information Section of the Delegation of the European Union to Belarus, said that the exclusion of a number of officials from the sanctions list would not lead to changes in the EU policy towards Belarus. Answering a direct question of whether the move was due to the recent release of human rights defender Ales Bialiatski, Mr. Richard gave a negative reply, saying “There are no more reasons for keeping them on the list of persons and entities who are subject to restrictive measures. The decision to exclude these individuals does not reflect any change in EU policy towards Belarus, as set out in the conclusions of the European Council of 15 October 2012: the EU continues its policy of critical engagement with Belarus, including the policy of restrictive measures, in order to facilitate respect for human rights, rule of law and democratic principles in Belarus,” said Mr. Richard. According to him, the EU still calls on the Belarusian authorities “to release all political prisoners and restore their civil and political rights”. Speaking of possible consultations currently underway on further steps to meet the requirements of the EU, Rodolphe Richard said: “There are regular discussions with the Belarusian side. During these discussions, the EU reiterates its position on the issue of political prisoners.”
Similar statements were made by the Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius during his working visit to Belarus on July 25, the purpose of which was to discuss Belarus-Lithuania relations and “the dialogue currently underway between Belarus and the EU”. Mr. Linkevičius noted that the EU and the Belarusian authorities still faced “problems that cannot be solved for a long time”. “Yet, there are some positive, so to say, moments from our point of view. The issue of political prisoners has not been resolved yet, which we always point at, but we consider the release of Ales Bialiatski as a step in a positive direction,” he said. According to Linas Linkevičius, the question of release of political prisoners was raised at his meetings with Prime Minister Mikhail Miasnikovich and Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei. “We need to make a few more steps to remove an important obstacle (political prisoners), which prevents dialogue, so that we could use our relationships for the benefit of economic, cultural and other relations,” said the Lithuanian Foreign Minister.
Thus, the crucial external factor in the issue had not fundamentally changed the situation of political prisoners. Belarusian prisons were still held seven political prisoners: Mikalai Statkevich, Eduard Lobau, Mikalai Dziadok, Yauhen Vaskovich, Artsiom Prakapenka, Ihar Alinevich and Vasil Parfiankou. Belarusian authorities did not show the political will for their release.
Political prisoners, criminal prosecution of civil society activists
On July 5, Maryna Lobava said that she had talked to her son, a political prisoner Eduard Lobau, held in the Ivatsevichy colony. During a phone call, Eduard Lobau said that he had completed his training in welding, passed the exam and received a diploma, which had been immediately taken. According to the internal rules, prisoners cannot possess any documents, so Eduard could regain his diploma only after release. On July 17, Eduard Lobau had a two-hour meeting with his mother. They were allowed to talk through the glass on the phone. Eduard said he had no complaints about the conditions of detention. He had received a food parcel, including vegetables and fruits.
On July 7, civil society activist and film director Volha Mikalaichyk reported referring to a letter from Vasil Parfiankou that he had been punished with solitary confinement for five days for refusing to do “voluntary work”. Vasil wrote that he was reading a lot and listened to the radio, but there was no TV set in his cell. He was prohibited to receive newspapers by subscription, but received newspapers from the editorial offices of “Nasha Niva” and “Novy Chas”. On July 26, Vasil Parfiankou’s father said that the family had a problem with writing to the prisoner. In his last letter, received in mid-July, Vasil Parfiankou wrote that he had received the last letter from the parents on April 30, while he had not received the newspapers sent to him on May 5 by registered mail.
On July 12, Valeryia Khotsina, the wife of political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok, said that her husband had had a finger surgery in the Mahiliou prison. The political prisoner asked his relatives to send him a new English-Russian dictionary. Valeryia Khotsina also said that Mikalai Dziadok was learning Arabic.
On July 15, political prisoner Artsiom Prakapenka was visited by his parents in Mahiliou penal colony No. 15. The long meeting with the convict was reduced to one day, as Artsiom was considered a malicious infringer of prison rules and had no right to a longer visit. The prisoner’s mother said that he had changed a lot, had lost five kilos and had to limit exercise, as there were problems with his joints and teeth. Artsiom Prakapenka told his parents that he had not been offered to write a request for clemency, and that two weeks ahead the visit he had received another penalty, thus getting the status of a violator of prison rules (the previous penalty had been issued in September 2013).
On July 21, Maryna Adamovich, wife of political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich, referring to a letter from her husband, said that the prisoner faced problems with receiving correspondence in the Mahiliou prison: the newspapers arrived late and were given only after requests, the library only gave the books that the prisoner had already read. There were cases of seizure of letters from the political prisoner, for example, one of them read that the size of the prison yard was 5 by 7 steps, it took 35 steps to walk to it from the prisoner’s cell, but this distance was guarded by guards with two dogs. On July 26, Maryna Adamovich said that during a phone call Mikalai Statkevich reported new provocations against him, related to correspondence and opportunities to receive newspapers, and also said the prison administration started inviting him for talks. The inmate also pointed out that he had been given cabbage soup for the first time over the past months, and although it was made of last year's cabbage it was one of the few vegetable dishes.
On July 21, the father of political prisoner Ihar Alinevich said that his son had been transferred to the Vitsba-3 colony, located not far from Vitsebsk. Mr. Alinevich’s family received an official notification of the transfer. On July 26, Ihar Alinevich’s parents received the first letter from their son from the new correctional facility. The political prisoner wrote the ecological conditions in Vitsba-3 were better compared to his previous colony in Navapolatsk. He also said that under the rules of the colony, he would be able to call home once in every three months (back in Navapolatsk, he received only five calls over four years, which was explained by lack of technical capabilities).
On July 2, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York at a special event entitled “Best Practices and Challenges in Implementing a Moratorium on the Death Penalty”, said that the death penalty had no place in the XXI century. “Twenty-five years ago, only about one-quarter of United Nations Member States had abolished the death penalty. Today, more than four fifths of the countries, an estimated 160 Member States, have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it,” said Ban Ki-moon, calling on all States to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. He urged to support the UN General Assembly resolution on a moratorium on the death penalty and to take concrete steps towards abolition of the death penalty at the national level.
On July 15, death convict Aliaksandr Hrunou was visited by his lawyer Siarhei Krasnou. According to the lawyer, they discussed the possibility of filing another review appeal to the Chairman of the Supreme Court directly from Hrunou. This was the last opportunity to draw attention to the extenuating circumstances in the case, noted by the Judicial Chamber for Criminal Cases of the Supreme Court while cancelling the first death sentence. Aliaksandr Hrunou and his mother also appealed for clemency directly to President Aliaksandr Lukashenka. The practice shows that death convicts are not informed about the negative result of the consideration of the petition, and the decision is read out immediately before execution of the sentence. However, after the registration of the individual communication submitted on behalf of Aliaksandr Hrunou to the UN Human Rights Committee, the Belarusian authorities were urged to suspend the execution until the consideration of the appeal on its merits, which might take up to five years. Aliaksandr Hrunou was reportedly regularly visited by a priest.
Torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment
On July 1, Yuliya Hancharova, a representative of the Investigative Committee of Belarus, said that the death of Ihar Pstichkin in prison No. 1 of Minsk had not been caused by the use of violence. “The materials of the criminal case do not show evidence of the use of violence, physical force and special means against I. Ptsichkin, both by the employees of the insulator, and others, during his stay in prison No. 1,” says the official. She also noted that the investigation possessed evidence of Ihar Pstichkin’s systematic abuse of smoking mixtures containing narcotic and psychotropic substances, in the period from 2011 to 2013. “The investigation established that after a few days of his stay in the detention centre, I. Ptsichkin began to show signs of an acute mental disorder, manifested by hallucinations, delusions, food and drink refusal, persecution manias. For this reason, the latter was taken to the medical unit of the insulator, where he died after a while,” said the IC representative. She also said during the acute condition the prisoner's body had been fixed with straps. This, as well as injuries suffered by the prisoner at the moment of the rise of mental illness caused by the withdrawal syndrome, attributes for the injuries and bruises found on the body of the deceased. Experts determined that he had received minor injuries, which allegedly had no cause-and-effect linkage to his death. According to the official, the medical staff of the detention facility were still under a criminal investigation into the improper performance of their professional duties, resulting in the death of the convicted person. “A complex commission, a repeated forensic, a forensic psychiatric and a forensic examinations of the correctness of performance of professional duties by health professionals have been appointed. The results of this examination will establish the cause of death of I. Ptsichkin and the correctness of medical care by medical personnel of the detention facility.” Earlier, the Central Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee initiated criminal proceedings against an employee of the medical unit of prison No. 1 of the Department of Corrections of the Ministry of Interior in Minsk and Minsk region, who was suspected of improper performance of his professional duties, resulting in the death of convict I. Ptsichkin. Ihar Ptsichkin, 21, died under strange circumstances in pre-trial prison No. 1 on August 4, 2013. An online report said, referring to the prisoner’s mother, that his body had “numerous bruises and hematomae”. Ihar Ptsichkin’s relatives were told that the results of an autopsy had shown signs of a cardiac arrest that had reportedly caused his death. Ihar Ptsichkin’s mother stresses that the reasons for this have failed to be identified and specified by the investigators.
On July 10, it became known that Chairman of the Homel Regional Court Siarhei Shautsou dismissed the review appeal of Svetlahorsk resident Valiantsina Akulich, who demanded prosecution of police officers involved in the death of her son. Back in May, the Svetlahorsk District Court dismissed her appeal against another refusal of the Investigation Committee to initiate criminal proceedings against Svetlahorsk policemen. The woman insists that the actions of R. Stseshankou and A. Bachko were of criminal nature, because instead of a timely call for medical assistance for her son, who developed a temporary psychical disorder, the guards “calmed him down” with clubs. “On May 26, 2012, A. Akulich died in the detention centre of the Svetlahorsk District Police Department. The cause of his death, as established by forensic examinations, including a comprehensive one, No. 169, on May 20, 2013, was chronic alcohol intoxication, complicated by the development of alcohol withdrawal state with delirium and brain edema. In addition, some injuries were found in the form of numerous abrasions and bruises, which belong to the category of light and have no causal connection with the death of A.A. Akulich,” says the Chairman of the Regional Court Shautsou in his decision to reject the appeal. Over a year, neither the investigation nor the court were willing to address the true cause of the death of A. Akulich. They were urged to answer a question why police employees R. Stseshankou and A. Bachko were not punished for their criminal acts, as they only called for an ambulance after the prisoner had stopped breathing.
On July 18, Liudmila Kuchura, wife of prisoner Piotr Kuchura, said that after a probe she had requested, the Mahiliou inter-district department of the Investigative Committee refused to open a criminal investigation into the illegal actions of the administration of penal colony No. 15. The probe into the alleged poisoning of Piotr Kuchura in a punishment cell had been launched in late May by the Investigative Committee’s Office in the Mahiliou region, after human rights defenders had helped Mrs. Kuchura submit a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee, which reported on the deliberate use of bleach as a means of torture, cruel or inhuman treatment. In addition, the Investigative Committee promised that the probe would include a forensic examination in order to identify the effects of poisoning in the body of Piotr Kuchura. As a result, a decision of June 27 signed by senior investigator Skavarodkin refused to institute criminal proceedings. The decision enumerates the persons interviewed during the probe, including the staff and convicts of penal colony No. 15, as well as the medical records examined during the investigation. Mr. Skavarodkin said that the prison administration staff had not been involved in any actions constituting an offence under Article 426 of the Criminal Code “Abuse of power or official authority”. Liudmila Kuchura appealed the decision to the City Prosecutor. In her complaint to the prosecutor of Mahiliou sent on July 17, Liudmila Kuchura says that the decision not to open a criminal case is illegal, arbitrary and subject to cancellation. “Certainly, if the probe had been carried out in due time, it would be easier to find out the circumstances of the case. However, this does not mean that now they only need to simulate activity rather than taking all legal measures in order to establish the full circumstances of the incident. I consider it necessary to supplement the materials of the probe with a forensic medical examination, which would examine not the medical records but the victim himself in order to find any traits of his exposure to the chemical. The fact that he had not been provided with necessary medical assistance and was not examined in the due time became the subject of my complaints. Therefore, it seems improper to justify the lack of records of injuries with absence of damage itself. Significant contradictions between the explanations of those interviewed need to be eliminated. This can be done through confrontations, which is not provided by the law on criminal procedure at the stage of preliminary inquiries. Therefore, it is only possible to fully verify the arguments of the victim and the applicant by instigating criminal proceedings and conducting an investigation,” said Ms. Kuchura. “On July 22, 2014 the Prosecutor's Office of Mahiliou examined the materials of the probe, reversed the decision not to open a criminal case and sent the materials to the Mahiliou inter-district department of the Investigative Committee for an additional probe,” said Prosecutor Mikalai Vulvach.
Persecution of human rights defenders and human rights organizations
On July 8, human rights activist Tamara Siarhei was once again summoned to the Prosecutor General's Office to the Deputy Head of the Department for the rights and freedoms of citizens, Pavel Yeliseyeu. The official asked whether the Civil Initiative Against Lawlessness in the Courts and the Prosecutor’s Offices had managed to obtain the official registration, and to which state agencies the Initiative had addressed recently. Then Paul Yeliseyeu reminded that on April 23, 2013 the Prosecutor General’s Office issued Tamara Siarhei with an official warning about criminal liability under Article 193-1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus for organizing an unregistered public association. The human rights activist passed her written explanations to Mr. Yeliseyeu and refused to sign the minutes of the conversation. In the explanatory note, Ms. Siarhei stressed that the right to apply to officials, including collectively, was guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus. Tamara Siarhei considers her summons to the Prosecutor General as an act of intimidation, aimed at forcing her to refused from her constitutional rights and freedoms. On July 22, the persons who had signed collective appeals to the presidential administration, activists of the Civil Initiative Against Lawlessness in the Courts and the Prosecutor’s Offices, began to be summoned to the General Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of the Interior. In particular, on July 22, for nine hours without a break, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., four women were interviewed by a senior operations officer for particularly important cases. Meanwhile, three of them were elderly, and two were over 75 years old. Among them there was a resident of Minsk Larysa Siniauskaya. On December 24, 1999, her son was killed, and to this day the woman has been unable to force officials to open a criminal investigation into the tragic fact. During the interrogation, which lasted more than three hours, the woman was told that she could be prosecuted if she continued signing collective petitions. The interrogations were related to a probe carried out by the General Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption at the request of the Prosecutor General to institute criminal proceedings against lawyer Tamara Siarhei under Article 193-1 of the Criminal Code.
On July 30, Chairman of the Minsk City Court P. Karshunovich said in a letter to deputy chairman of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich that he saw no grounds to protest and grant his appeal against an earlier decision of the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk in the case of blacklisting the website spring96.org as an Internet resource with restricted access violated his rights. The human rights defender insisted that the decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office violated his rights, as the author and a reader of the site, to receive and impart information, as well as to freedom of expression. Back on February 18, 2014, the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk considered Valiantsin Stefanovich’s complaint against the decision to blacklist Viasna’s website. However, Judge Alena Siamak stated that Valiantsin Stefanovich was an improper plaintiff in the lawsuit, as he was not the owner of the website spring96.org. Later, the College of Civil Affairs of the Minsk City Court rejected the human rights defender’s private complaint and upheld the District Court’s decision, noting that the court’s findings in the case were correct. In fact, the answer by Chairman of the Minsk City Court P. Karshunou word for word repeated the previous verdicts: “Since you do not own the Internet resource, the court came to the correct conclusion on the absence of your rights to challenge the decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Belarus and rightly dismissed the case due to lack of jurisdiction.” The Prosecutor General’s position was based on the fact that the website allegedly contained information about the organization, which had not passed state registration in accordance with the law and, therefore, publication of such information was a violation of the law.
Administrative prosecution of civil society and political activists, arbitrary detention
On July 2, leader of the civil society organization “Initiative” Aleh Korban and its activist Uladz Siarheyenka were detained by the police. Both activists were detained in their apartments and taken to the Partyzanski District Police Department of Minsk. On July 3, police detained an activist of the United Civil Party Anton Zhylko. Only on July 7 it was reported that the detainees stood trials on July 4 in the Court of Partyzanski district. All of them were found guilty of violating Article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, disorderly conduct, and sentenced to ten days of arrest each. Human rights defenders believe that the detentions are connected with the celebration of the official Independence Day on July 3.
On July 2, Baranavichy police detained local individual entrepreneur Mikalai Charnavus after a visit to the Baranavichy City Executive Committee and a meeting with the journalists of a regional newspaper. He was brought to the city police department. The chief of public order and crime prevention department, Major Aliaksei Hetsman, charged him with holding an unauthorized rally of individual entrepreneurs on July 1 at the city market and in the hall of the executive committee. At that time Mikalai Charnavus, who had a 2nd group disability, felt bad and repeatedly asked to call an ambulance. However, Aliaksei Hetman refused to do it. After the policeman completed the violation report, Mr. Charnavus was sent to the detention centre, where he felt really bad. His blood pressure rapidly increased and he suffered a hypertensive crisis. In these circumstances, police had to call an ambulance, which took him to the city hospital, where he was guarded by two policemen. On July 3, he was visited in the hospital by a police officer. According to Mr. Charnavus, the police officer asked him to sign a document according to which the activist gave personal consent that his trial took place on July 7 in his absence. However, the civil society activist strongly disagreed with the content of this paper. On July 5 he sent letter to the Chairman of the City Court, in which he asked not to hold the trial without his presence. At the same time, Mikalai Charnavus sent a statement to the City Prosecutor urging him to respond to the actions of the police, who had for five hours refused to call an ambulance at the request of a disabled person. On July 21, the Baranavichy City Court found Mikalai Charnavus guilty of violating Article 23.34, Part 3 of the Administrative Code, organizing and conducting an unauthorized event, and sentenced him to an administrative fine of 4.5 mnl roubles. The charges were heard by judge Yauhen Brehan with secretary Volha Yachnik. Of the three witnesses mentioned in the report, only the director of the market Vital Rakhmedzhanau appeared in the courtroom, but was unable to confirm that the unauthorized event of July 1 had been organized by Mikalai Charnavus.
On July 22, opposition activist Uladzimir Niapomniashchykh was detained in the centre of Homel. The UCP member was taken to the nearest police station. “I walked through a yard and saw two police officers, one of them smoking, and the other eating a banana. When I passed them by, the sergeants stopped me and demanded that I showed my camera, as they thought I was taking pictures of them. I showed that there were no pictures of the policemen on my camera, then they asked me to show my passport. In response, I asked them to introduce themselves, they quickly showed their IDs, but I could not see anything, so I also refused to show my passport. As a result, the sergeants took me to the police station,” said the activist. Three hours later, Uladzimir Niapomniashchykh was released without charges.
On July 25, unknown people in civilian clothes detained activist Mikita Brouka. The activist was taken to the police department of the Savetski district where he was interviewed, fingerprinted and asked to answer a few questions through a lie detector, which the activist refused to do. Later, there appeared a military enlistment commissar of the Minsk district, who handed Mikita Brouka a summons for a medical examination. Mikita Brouka is the coordinator of social and cultural initiative “Art-Siadziba”, as well as a journalist of the newspaper Novy Chas. In recent years, he has been organizing concerts.
On July 27, Ales Makayeu, an activist of the entrepreneurs’ movement, was detained by police in Minsk. During a traditional service near the Red Church on Independence Square, the businessman raised a white-red-white flag for the release of political prisoners. Ales Makayeu was taken to the police department of the Maskouski district and charged with two administrative offences: disobeying police officers (Article 23.4 of the Code of Administrative Offences) and disorderly conduct (Art. 17.1 of the CAO). On July 28, Judge Maksim Sushko of the Court of Minsk’s Maskouski district found him guilty and by partial summation sentenced the activist to an administrative arrest of 15 days. A police officer named Yazepau bore testimony at the hearing.
On July 27, Belarusian border guards detained participants of a camp entitled “For European Integration of Belarus”. The incident is said to be linked to the Belarusian editions they were carrying. Several people were coming back from Poland and their luggage was searched by a border official. Among the materials seized by the guards there were copies of the book about political prisoners in Belarus “Palitviazni.info”, as well as a weekly of the Belarusians in Poland “Niva”.
On July 29, an activist of the public initiative “Alternative”, Illia Dabratvor, managed to call home and told his wife that he had been sentenced to 14 days of arrest. That morning, Illia Dabratvor was seen in the House of Justice in Minsk, where the trial of human rights activist Andrei Bandarenka was underway. Illia Dabratvor was wearing a black T-shirt with the Pahonia national coat of arms and the inscription “Freedom to Political Prisoners”. His associates said that he had been detained for this inscription. Another reason for the detention could be Alternative’s event in Dziarzhynsk on July 26, when signs reading “For Independent Belarus”, “Belarus – Not Russia” were posted across the town. The activist was convicted by the Maskouski District Court under two articles of the Administrative Code: disobedience to the police (Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code) and disorderly conduct (Art. 17.1 of the CAO).
On July 30, Ales Serdziukou, activist of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), was detained in Mahiliou while campaigning for so called People’s Referendum initiative. “I was collecting signatures in support of the six points of People’s Referendum going from door to door. Apparently, somebody did not like it and decided to punish me by calling the police. When I left a house in Mauchanski Street, police officers were already waiting for me downstairs,” said the activist. “Twenty minutes later there appeared the district police officer. He was interested why I had been collecting signatures. He wanted to take them, but I said that I would not give him anything. He did not insist. He compiled a violation report and said that I was going to be called to the police in the near future.” The police officers inquired whether the activist had been distributing the People’s Referendum newsletter and if he had any of them. They searched him, but found nothing. They said that apart from campaigning he was reportedly distributing this kind of publications.
Restrictions on freedom of speech and the right to impart information, harassment of journalists
On July 9, unknown persons attacked the e-mail of a critical doctor in Vitsebsk, Ihar Pastnou. He received a message stating that the password for his Google account had been changed. He was warned that his account had been hacked and offered to change the password again. After that Ihar Pastnou found that all his correspondence was lost. The critical doctor, known for his criticism of the local health care authorities, for which he was subjected to measures of punitive psychiatry, believes that the attack could have been caused by a new campaign he had recently started at the regional website freeregion.info. Through his Facebook account and with the use of the website, Ihar Pastnou called on people to send to his mailbox photos and evidence of mismanagement and irregularities in the field of health care in the Vitsebsk region. As a result, he says, people actually started sending photographs of hospital wards, children’s wards, evidence of police-related violence and so on. Some of these materials, which had not been published in the online edition, had disappeared.
On July 16, road police stopped the car of ex-presidential candidate of the BPF, Ryhor Kastusiou, and deputy chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) Ihar Barysau. The traffic police checked the documents and told them that a similar Mercedes had been allegedly involved in hooliganism in Bialynichy. The police officers told the activists to follow them to the Mahiliou District Police Department, despite the fact that they had valid documents. The policemen checked the trunk where they found printed materials, but did not open the packs, escorting the car to the police station instead. At the police department, the police officers complied interrogation and search reports, and then seized the publications until the trial. The police seized a total of 12,000 independent newspapers: the newsletter “Social Democrat”, which told about the People’s Referendum and the newspaper “Nash Mahiliou” dedicated to the information campaign “Save Old Mahiliou”. The activists were held for almost three hours. On July 23, Ihar Barysau was summoned to the police department of the Mahiliou district where Major Siarhei Haliantau officially charged him with an administrative offence. Ihar Barysau was accused of violating Article 22.9, Part 2 of the Administrative Code, according to which he, not being a distributor of mass media, in violation of Article 17 of the Law “On Mass Media”, transported in his own car 11,800 copies of BSDP flyers and the newsletter “Nash Mahiliou”, which, according to Article 1 of the Law “On Mass Media”, was distribution of media products. Major Haliantau said that he would forward the case to the court the same day. Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) stressed that he did not agree with the charges, as he did not distribute printed products, but was simply carrying them.
On July 19, Viktar Parfionenka, a freelance journalist from Hrodna, who had been over the past few years contributing to the Belarusian Radio Racyja and had received six refusals for an official accreditation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, expressed his intention to apply for accreditation for the seventh time. The last refusal argued that the journalist had allegedly failed to attach a copy of his passport, although he said that he had sent a copy. As a result, the journalist had made a written list of all the attached papers. Simultaneously, Viktar Parfionenka sent a complaint against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and later received an answer from the Council of Ministers, which said that it had been forwarded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
July 31, the second day of the trial of human rights activist Andrei Bandarenka, representatives of the media who attended the trial at the building of the House of Justice in Minsk, were met by law enforcement officers. Not asking which editions they represented, the police officers put down information about their names and places of residence. When asked by a BelaPAN reporter why it was needed the person in civilian clothes who recorded the information said nothing and let the journalist inside. The man was also reportedly comparing the data with the information he had, including scanned photographs of journalists with their personal details.
Restrictions on freedom of assembly
On July 5, a group of civil society activists named People’s Control was not allowed to stage a picket in Homel. The initiative is famous for its campaign “Clean Water” aimed at improving the state of lakes in the regional centre. On June 18, one of the campaigners, Andrei Melnikau, sent a request for holding a picket to the Homel City Executive Committee. The event was expected to draw public attention to the poor state of water within the boundaries of Homel and was scheduled for July 3. The activist planned to hold a picket in the permitted place, a pitch near the crossroads of Barykin and Vaiskovaya Streets, and enclosed a written commitment to pay the associated costs: ambulance services and a clean-up of the territory. However, he did not receive a reply within the prescribed period. The answer came only on July 5. Meanwhile, though the ban was dated June 26, the envelope was stamped “July 2” (departure) and “July 4” (delivery). The negative decision simply listed provisions of the City Executive Committee’s ruling on mass events, with no explanations on what basis the rally was forbidden.
On July 8, Belarusian Christian Democrats reported having applied for permissions to hold over 100 pickets in 41 cities and towns of Belarus, but only one of them was authorized, a picket in Klichau. BCD activists were going to campaign for changes to the legislation on alcohol control, as well as to stage awareness-raising events. A few days later, the rally in Klichau was actually banned, too. After giving their permission, the local authorities told the activists to submit contracts with local police, doctors and public utilities, as well as to obtain permission from the owner of the store, next to which the planned event was going to be held. The organizer of the picket, Sviatlana Hrytsenka, contacted the store owner, but he did not give his permission. Thus, the picket was thwarted.
On July 11, Brest authorities banned a rally against rising prices for goods and services, the application for which had been filed by the head of the local branch of the Belarusian Party of the Left “Fair World” Liudmila Dzenisenka. The picket was scheduled for July 17. A letter signed by the deputy chairman of the Executive Committee Henadz Barysiuk said that the picket could not be authorized, as the venue would be occupied by some other events, which had been planned earlier.
On July 15, Brest activists of the regional organization of the United Civil Party were not allowed to hold five pickets aimed at promoting the values of state sovereignty and independence and the expression of solidarity with the Ukrainian people in their aspirations to preserve the integrity and independence of Ukraine. The official reason for banning the pickets was that the party members intended to hold them in busy places – the central department store of Brest, the cinema Belarus and the shopping centre Uskhod. The local authorities said that public events could only be held at specifically designated places: the city park and the Locomotive stadium.
On July 15, civil society activist Ryhor Hryk received a letter signed by the deputy chairman of the Baranavichy City Executive Committee D. Kastsiukevich, which said that the authorities banned a rally scheduled for July 27, expected to mark the anniversary of the Declaration of Belarus’ State Sovereignty. The official argued that the applicants of the picket, Ryhor Hryk, Siarhei Housha and Viachaslau Bolbat, violated Part 5 of the Law “On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus” and paragraph 4 of the Executive Committee’s ruling of June 16, 2009 “On the order of organizing mass events in the city of Baranavichy”. Meanwhile, he failed to specify the grounds for the ban, despite the fact that the applicants had fulfilled all requirements of the law and entered into written agreements with the police, medics and public utilities.
On July 16, Ivan Bedka, a member of the Belarusian Christian Democracy’s Slonim branch, received a reply signed by the chairman of the Slonim District Executive Committee Aleh Tarhonski, which said that the picket he was going to stage was banned because “there is no information about the source of funding; besides, the route of participants of the event was not specified”.
On July 21, the Homel City Executive Committee banned a series of pickets. Local human rights defenders, activists of the pro-democratic organizations and political parties were planning to stage 40 protests in Homel on July 27 in order to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Sovereignty. The Executive Committee said that the applicants had failed to fulfil the requirements of local rules, according to which the organizers were to sign service contracts and pre-pay for the services of the ambulance and public utilities. In addition, the refusal referred to the fact that the applicants had planned to hold the events in the busiest places of the regional centre, while the rules allowed holding pickets and other activities in only two places – in a remote industrial area and near a stadium on the outskirts of the city. Meanwhile, signing contracts with the medics and utilities was simply impossible. The clinic representatives said they lacked vehicles and the communal service referred to lack of personnel. On the same day, local human rights defenders received another ban. They wanted to hold a rally on August 4 to remind the public of the existence of political prisoners in the country.
On July 23, it was announced that Orsha authorities had banned three street protests scheduled for July 27, the day of the adoption of the Declaration on State Sovereignty of Belarus. The events were applied for by local activists of the United Civil Party and were expected to be held in three locations, the Heroes Park, near the entrance to the Aronia cafe and in the textile workers’ recreation park. All the three venues are authorized for public events. Over the last three years, Orsha executive authorities have not given permission for a single mass event on the initiative of opposition activists. All tree actions were banned on the same ground – absence of service contracts with the police, health care department and public utilities. These agencies keep refusing to enter into contracts, referring to a variety of reasons. However, in one of the trials, when activists tried to defend their right to express their opinions, it became clear that neither the police nor the clinic or the municipal utilities were entitled to enter into contracts with individuals. Meanwhile, the condition of entering in such contracts is stipulated in the ruling of the Executive Committee of Orsha which regulates the conduct of mass events.
On July 25, Biaroza human rights defenders Siarhei Rusetski, Tamara Shchapiotkina and local civil society activist Tatsiana Tarasevich were prohibited to stage a picket scheduled for July 27. The aim of the rally was to mark the 24th anniversary of the Declaration of Sovereignty of Belarus, earlier celebrated as Independence Day. The activists also planned to remind local residents of the deployment of Russian military bases on the territory of Belarus and the existence of political prisoners in the country. The picket was banned as the activists had failed to submit in due time contracts with organizations, supposed to service the picket, local hospital and housing department.
On July 31, Mahiliou authorities banned a picket for the release of political prisoners. The picket was scheduled on August 4 and was expected to be staged in the city centre close to the city administration. In his response, Deputy Chairman of the Mahiliou City Executive Committee Andrei Kuntsevich once again informed human rights defenders Aliaksei Kolchyn and Barys Bukhel that the place for the picket, site near house No. 31 in Pershamaiskaya Street was not an authorized venue for such events. The only authorized location is situated on the city outskirts. The human rights activists disagreed with the position of the officials, saying that the local authorities artificially restricted the right of citizens to freedom of assembly and meetings.
Restrictions on freedom of association
On July 11, an activist of the Trade Union of Radio-Electronic Industry Uladzimir Andrashchuk said he wanted to get a 15-million-rouble bonus to his pension from the management of the company “Savushkin product”. According to the collective agreement, he, being an operator of ammonium compressor devices of the sixth grade, was to have been paid this money during his retirement. However, the enterprise refused to do it. The matter is that the collective agreement said that the money was to be paid on application of the immediate superior of a worker and with the consent of the CEO. Mr. Andrashchuk stated that by not paying the money the enterprise took revenge for his leaving the state trade-union and joining the independent one.
On July 21, Maryna Shtrakhava, coordinator for legal advice of the Studentskaya Rada NGO, said in an interview with Radio Liberty’s Belarus service that during a monitoring carried out by the students’ rights group in the framework of the Public Committee of Bologna they recorded cases when deans or other representatives of the university administration interviewed students, describing their involvement in civil society organizations as undesirable. They advised to quit such activities and encouraged them to think about the possible negative consequences, said Ms. Shtrakhava.