Situation of Human Rights in Belarus in August 2014

2014 2014-09-17T13:43:00+0300 2015-01-27T23:17:08+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations

Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations

In August, the systemic and systematic nature of human rights violations persisted, there were no positive changes or improvements. Despite the consistently poor situation of human rights, in August the Belarusian authorities managed to significantly improve their foreign reputation. On August 26, Minsk hosted talks on possible solutions of the Ukrainian crisis, which were attended by several senior EU officials, including EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. On the eve of the visit, Maja Kocijančič, Ms. Ashton’s spokesperson, noted that the visit did not imply changes in the position of the EU towards the official Minsk: “This is not a bilateral visit to Belarus. You surely know what the relationship between the European Union and Belarus are like today. A number of findings by the EU Council reflect this situation. There are problems in the political field, and the position of the European Union in this regard has not changed.”

However, it was clear that the meeting in Minsk was another step aimed at restoring relations between the European Union and the Belarusian authorities and a transition to another level of interaction. Meanwhile, the issue of the release of political prisoners, which had been emphasized by the EU in recent years as a prerequisite for the restoration of cooperation with the Belarusian authorities, was never mentioned during the summit. There were serious precautions that questions relating to the existence of political prisoners and the problems in the sphere of human rights could be sidelined or even disappear from the agenda in relations between the European Union and the official Minsk. This development could be a painful challenge, because the foreign factor is one of the most powerful levers of influence on the Belarusian leadership in this matter, given the virtual absence of mechanisms of influence within the country.

It should be stressed that the Minsk talks, which clearly improved the position of the leadership of Belarus in the international arena, were marred by arbitrary arrests and detentions of civil society and political activists, which is evidence of the ongoing repressive policy of the authorities and their desire to change the international situation without any positive internal transformations, solely by using the problems in the neighbouring Ukraine.

The visible lifting of international isolation of the Belarusian authorities in no way contributed to addressing the most pressing problem – the existence of political prisoners. Belarusian prisons continued to hold seven political prisoners: Mikalai Statkevich, Eduard Lobau, Mikalai Dziadok, Yauhen Vaskovich, Artsiom Prakapenka, Ihar Alinevich and Vasil Parfiankou. The Belarusian authorities failed to demonstrate the political will for their release, and no international instruments were used for this aim.

Political prisoners, criminal prosecution of civil society activists

On August 5, it was reported that a complaint on behalf of political prisoner Eduard Lobau was submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee. The individual communication was sent to the HRC on July 14 and was prepared by lawyers of the Belarusian Documentation Center. The complaint contained evidence of violations committed by the Republic of Belarus, namely the law enforcement authorities and judicial bodies, during the detention, arrest and trial of Eduard Lobau. All appeals filed by Eduard Lobau and his lawyer in the judicial board on criminal cases of the Minsk City Court were dismissed, and the judgement of the Court of Minsk’s Maskouski district was left in force. The supervisory complaint, filed to the Supreme Court of Belarus, was dismissed as well. In 2013, Eduard Lobau filed a complaint with the Prosecutor of Minsk, S. Khmaruk. The complaint cited evidence of violation of Eduard’s rights and urged the Prosecutor to issue a protest against the judgement of the Maskouski District Court of Minsk and the judicial determination of the judicial board on criminal cases of the Minsk City Court for their cancellation and termination of the proceedings. The Prosecutor’s Office of Minsk forwarded the appeal to the Investigative Committee, which found no violations in Lobau’s case and dismissed it.

On August 12, political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich turned 58, marking his fourth birthday in prison. Unidentified activists organized on this occasion a salute outside Mahiliou prison No. 4, where he was held. On August 23, Mikalai Statkevich’s wife, Maryna Adamovich, said that she learned from a letter that the minor provocations with correspondence and opportunities to receive newspapers were over. The political prisoner also wrote that he was still learning English.

On August 18, an activist of the Belarusian Christian Democracy, Pavel Prakapovich, said that political prisoner Yauhen Vaskovich, who is held in prison No. 4 in Mahiliou, could not receive books and that the order came from the prison administration. The three books the political prisoner asked to send, two English course books, as well as an adapted version of George Orwell’s 1984, were returned marked “prohibited attachment”. Over the past few months, Yauhen Vaskovich’s relatives and friends have tried several times in different ways to send him the books, but their attempts brought no results.

On August 23, political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok celebrated his birthday in prison No. 4 of Mahiliou, where he is serving a 4.5-year sentence. He turned 26, of which almost four years he spent behind bars. In his letter to relatives received on August 25, Mikalai Dziadok told about a foot surgery he had recently undergone.

On August 24, Volha Bezbarodkina, lawyer of political prisoner Vasil Parfiankou, said that she had received permission to visit the prisoner, who was serving a sentence in the penal colony of Horki. According to her, it was difficult to obtain such permission. Previously, for almost two months, Vasil Parfiankou’s friends and family had not received any letters from him, which caused serious concerns. On August 30, Vasil Parfiakou celebrated his 31st birthday.

Death penalty

On August 20, Tamara Sialiun, mother of death convict Pavel Sialiun, executed in April for a double murder, picked up her dead son’s things at the Hrodna Regional Court. There, she was given a few dozen tapes, CDs, LPs, mobile phones and other items that belonged to Pavel. Tamara Sialiun was accompanied by local human rights activists and journalists. The woman said that it was very difficult psychologically to do the trip, but she had received a document saying that she should pick up the things by September 1.

Persecution of human rights defenders and human rights organizations

On August 21, a report prepared by the Equal Rights Trust and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee was detained by the customs officials of the Minsk airport. The BHC received a certificate, which mentioned no claims against the edition entitled “Half an Hour ahead of Spring: A Report on Discrimination and Inequality in Belarus”. However, the parcel was submitted for examination to the Department of Smuggling. Customs officers did not report on the nature of the examination, but the check period was extended until August 31. The first part of the same books arrived in Belarus in July and passed the customs check without any claims. Meanwhile, human rights activists received a letter from the Office of the President saying that the information contained in the report was “taken into consideration”. The Russian-language report is the first comprehensive review of discrimination and inequality practices on all grounds and in all spheres of life in Belarus. It is based on extensive field research, interviews, focus groups and a serious analysis of legislation and policies. The report also provides a number of detailed recommendations to the Belarusian authorities on the necessary reforms in the legislation, policies and practices to ensure equality and non-discrimination.

Administrative prosecution of civil society and political activists, arbitrary detention

On August 7, it became known that Aleh Keral, an activist of Alternative opposition movement, had been sentenced to 10 days of arrest, although he was detained back on August 5. On this day, Aleh Keral was going to help the mother of Illia Dabratvor, who was then serving an arrest term. As the activist was waiting for the woman outside the gate of the city’s detention center, a police car pulled up and several riot policemen appeared, who without explanation grabbed the activist and put him into the car. He was then taken to the police department of Minsk’s Maskouski district and charged with two offenses, “disorderly conduct” (Art. 17.1 of the Administrative Code) and “resisting detention” (Art. 23.4 of the Administrative Code). The charges were expected to be heard by judge Tatsiana Matyl of the Maskouski District Court. However, she was busy in other proceedings and Aleh Keral was taken back to the police department, where the disorderly conduct charges were re-qualified, while the other police report disappeared. On August 6, Judge Tatsiana Matyl held a hasty hearing, not allowing Aleh Keral to speak on the essence of the case, saying instead: “I know that you admit your guilt” and sentencing him to ten days of arrest.

On August 12, Aleh Korban, leader of the Alternative movement, was sentenced to ten days of arrest by the Frunzenski District Court of Minsk. He was detained on August 12 near the metro station “Kamennaya Horka”. The activist was taken to the Frunzenski District Police Department and charged under Article 17.1 of the Administrative Code, “disorderly conduct”. As stated by another Alternative activist, Illia Dabratvor, who was released on the same day after serving 14-day arrest, Aleh Korban was expected to meet him. However, when he didn’t come to the detention centre, the activist realized that something was wrong. The recent wave of arrests of Alternative activists is believed to be linked to the campaign entitled “For Independent Belarus” launched by the movement.

On August 15, the Niasvizh District Court re-examined the administrative case of Natallia Bordak on charges of staging an unauthorized mass event on May 9, when she was displaying a poster “No to Putin's War with Ukraine”. Earlier, on June 24, the Minsk Regional Court quashed a fine of 4.5 mln roubles handed down to the Belarusian Christian Democracy activist by the District Court. However, Judge Hvozd again found Natallia Bordak guilty of organizing a picket and confirmed the sentence.

On August 18, Minsk police detained Raman Khalilau at the hostel of the Minsk-based Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radio-Electronics, where he was in his 5th year. Several police officers, who were waiting for the activist, searched his room and found leaflets on the subject of the labour movement, as well as instructions on how to organize strikes and other content. The police also confiscated a personal computer and a mobile phone. The activist was taken to the police department of Savetski district and charged with “disorderly conduct” (Article 17.1 of the Administrative Code). On August 19, the court sentenced him to 10 days of administrative arrest. However, after his release Raman Khalilau was once again invited to the police department, where he faced new administrative charges under Article 17.11 of the CAO (“production, distribution, and (or) storage of extremist materials”). Meanwhile, there was no expert examination of the seized flyers. The police officers returned the phone, but took the PC, which they said was a device for producing leaflets. The case was reported to human rights defenders only after the activist had served his sentence.

On August 23, the Court of Minsk’s Maskouski district considered an administrative case against an activist of the Zmena opposition movement, Pavel Vinahradau. As a result, he was sentenced to ten days of arrest for alleged disorderly conduct (Article 17.1 of the Administrative Code). Earlier that day, the activist’s apartment was visited by police officers who demanded that he opened the door. After a while Pavel Vinahradau went downstairs, where he was detained by police and taken to the police department of Maskouski district. There, the activist was accused of disorderly conduct, namely allegedly swearing outside the police department. He was then brought to the court building. Judge Aliaksandr Petrash, despite the obvious absurdity of the charges, ruled to punish the activist with an arrest of ten days. Pavel Vinahradau pleaded not guilty and said he did not understand what had caused his detention. The previous day, Pavel Vinahradau wrote in his blog on the website that Zmena had hoisted 100 white-red-white flags across the country.

On August 26, Judge Artsiom Biaskishski of the Court of Minsk’s Savetski district heard the administrative case against activist of the Young Front opposition movement Dzmitry Kremianetski. He was charged with disorderly conduct (Art. 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). As a result, the activist was sentenced to 10 days in jail. Dzmitry Kremianetski was detained at his apartment earlier that day.

On August 26, Minsk police detained Andrei Kasheuski, an activist of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party. He was reportedly distributing independent newspapers to earn a living. Andrei Kasheuski was charged with an administrative violation, “disorderly conduct” (Article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences). Later the same day, Judge Artsiom Biaskishski of the Court of Kastrychnitski district sentenced the activist to 10 days of administrative arrest.

On August 28, the Tsentralny District Court of Homel considered an administrative case against activist Kanstantsin Zhukouski, who was detained by riot police on August 25. As a result, Judge Volha Kazlova convicted the activist of disobeying police officers (Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code) and sentenced him to an administrative arrest of five days. At the request of Kanstantsin Zhukouski, the trial involved an interpreter, a teacher of one of the city schools, after the detainee demanded that the charges were heard in the Belarusian language. At the trial, Kanstantsin Zhukouski said that he was not guilty of the offence. He was detained outside his private house and taken to the police department, despite the fact that it was he who had called the police. The conflict started after the activist could not get into his own house, as the road was blocked by several trucks that belonged to a construction site located nearby. After he saw that there was no driver in the truck, the activist had to call the police. However, there appeared riot police, who detained the activist and brought him to the police station. He had to spend the following night in the detention centre. The trial was postponed until August 28, as the detainee demanded a lawyer and a Belarusian interpreter. Riot policemen argued in court that Kanstantsin Zhukouski had failed to provide his ID and refused to follow them to a police car, and even “tried to escape”. “The court’s decision was predictable, because the guards had been called even before the case materials were examined and the lawyer had a chance to speak. This whole thing is revenge on the part of the developer, so that I did not stop them, so they taught me a lesson,” said the activist.

On August 29, police officers detained Maksim Viniarski, coordinator of the European Belarus opposition movement, as he was leaving the apartment of activist Yuliya Stsiapanava. According to Leanid Kulakou, who witnessed the detention, Viniarski was told that he was wanted on suspicion of committing a crime. Later it became known that the activist was brought to the Savetski district police department and charged with disorderly conduct. The activist stood trial on September 1 in the court of Savetski district of Minsk. Judge Eduard Yakubouski found Maksim Viniarski guilty and sentenced him to 15 days of administrative arrest.

Restrictions on freedom of speech and the right to impart information, harassment of journalists

On August 12, the Mahiliou District Court sentenced local journalist Ihar Barysau to a fine of 4.5 mln roubles. The charges stemmed from an incident of July 16, when road police had stopped the car of ex-presidential candidate 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 was allegedly involved in hooliganism in Byalynichy. They ordered the car to follow them to the Mahiliou District Police Department, despite being presented 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. In the police department, the police officers complied interrogation and search reports and 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”.

On August 17, it became known that Baranavichy football commentator Uladzimir Maisiuk was fired, despite having commented local matches for almost 20 years. The journalist lost his job after criticizing the state of the football field, where players received endless injuries. These comments were published in the local newspaper “Intex-Press” on May 9. In this article, the commentator compared the football pitch with a collective farm field and said that the stadium in Baranavichy lacked competitions and there was no development of children’s sports.

On August 18, freelance journalists in Mahiliou, Ales Burakou and Mikhail Arshynski, were accused of collaborating with foreign media that did not have accreditation in Belarus. On the previous day, police Major Ruslan Marozau invited Ales Burakou to the police station for an interrogation concerning the fact that in October 2013 the TV channel “BelSat” had showed a story about the Mahiliou slums and how people still lived there. Regarding the journalist’s status, the police officer said that Ales Burakou was questioned as a person facing administrative charges. According to Major Marozau, the case was forwarded from the KGB, and he had to react to the possible violation. The police officer had a CD with a few stories about Mahiliou aired on BelSat. One of them told about the Mahiliou slums. A KGB officer who investigated the case tried to determine the identity of the journalist involved in filming these stories. The independent journalist stressed that he did not contribute to the TV channel and knew nothing about the stories. Moreover, Ales Burakou has been banned from entering Poland since 2009, after a conflict with his former employers of Radio Racyja who cancelled his visa.

On August 21, the Council of Ministers adopted a resolution on the establishment of the Republican expert commission on evaluation of information products for the presence (or absence) of extremism. The decree provides for the establishment of a system of expert commissions in each of the regions of Belarus. According to a government report, “the commission will include recognized experts in the field of philosophy, psychology, philology, sociology, as well as representatives of the government who are in charge of counteracting extremism, which will help fully and adequately consider materials for the presence of signs of extremism”. The Republican Commission will conduct examination of information products on the territory of Minsk. It will also to approve the rules for the regional commissions and their structure, develop recommendations for the regional commissions. In addition, it will address complaints against expert opinions passed by regional commissions, study and disseminate national and international experience to prevent propagation of extremist activity in information products. The commission will have the right to request and obtain the necessary documents, materials and information that are relevant for the examination. Also, it will be able to invite and hear at its meetings representatives of government agencies, organizations, associations and individual entrepreneurs. If necessary, the examinations will involve a variety of experts, public figures, which are not included in the commission. An examination may be initiated by state bodies, organizations, associations and individual entrepreneurs. It can also be carried out on the basis of decisions of state bodies or officials that “have such a right”. Expert opinions of the commission can be appealed in court, and those made by the regional commission – to the Republican Commission or in court. According to the Ministry of Information, the Council of Ministers took the decision in order “to foster the development of the law of Belarus “On Countering Extremism”. “The document was adopted in order to prevent the spread of information materials of extremist nature in Belarus, to protect the public interest against the destructive manifestations in the information space,” stressed the Ministry of Information.

On August 26, the Tsentralny District Court of Homel was supposed to consider the appeal of Mikalai Bianko. The journalist complained against a warning issued by the first prosecutor’s deputy of Homel region, in which he was accused of violating the law by making materials for the Poland-based Radio Racyja without accreditation. Mikalai Bianko holds the opinion that the official’s actions violated his constitutional rights and lawful interests. Unfortunately, the judge rejected the appeal, saying that a one-month period for appealing against prosecutor’s decision had expired. The judge refused to hold the hearing in the Belarusian language, rejecting the plaintiff’s request, and forbade human rights defender and BAJ member Leanid Sudalenka to speak on the journalist’s behalf. The judge also prohibited taking pictures in the courtroom. Representative of the Homel Regional Prosecutor’s Office Dzmitry Deboi who had prepared the warning to Mikalai Bianko, said that the journalist had received a right to appeal against the decision back on March 25, after the Regional Prosecutor issued a written refusal to cancel the warning. As a result, Judge Maryna Damnenka ruled to reject the complaint.

On August 29, Maryna Malchanava, a freelance journalist whose articles were published on the website of the TV channel BelSat, received a summons urging her to appear at the police station in Babruisk in order to face administrative charges over violating mass media legislation. On August 31, a similar invitation was received by a journalist of the Belarusian Radio Racyja in Brest, Yauhen Skrabets. He received a phone call from the police and was asked to come to the department reportedly to clarify information regarding his publications posted on Radio Racyja website. In both cases, human rights defenders stress ongoing attempts to prosecute journalists for working with foreign media without accreditation, as both media have been for many years seeking such accreditation from the Belarusian authorities.

Restrictions on freedom of assembly

In early August, human rights activists received ten bans on holding pickets to mark the Day of Solidarity with the Belarusian civil society and to demand the release of political prisoners. Pickets were not allowed by local authorities in Navapolatsk, Vitsebsk, Homel, Mazyr Rechytsa, Zhodzina, Barysau, Baranavichy, Smarhon and Mahiliou. All the bans referred to formal reasons: lack of agreements with law enforcement officers, medical services and public utilities, and intention to hold the pickets in busy areas in the city centres, which were not designated for such purposes by the local authorities.

On August 3, human rights activist Siarhei Housha received a letter signed by the deputy chairman of the Baranavichy City Executive Committee of Dzmitry Kastsiukevich, which said that the city authorities banned a rally on August 4 aimed to demand the release of political prisoners. The official argued that the applicant had infringed Part 5 of the Law “On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus” and Part 4 of the City Executive Commission’s ruling No. 1497 “On the order of holding events in Baranavichy”. Siarhei Housha says that the picket was banned because the authorities believe that Belarus has no political prisoners.

The picket scheduled for August 4 by Vitsebsk human rights activist Leanid Svetsik was banned by local authorities. The decision was signed by deputy chief of the Chyhunachny District of Vitsebsk Natallia Liapioshkina. In his application, the activist reminded local authorities that the right of citizens to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly were the most important political rights. Therefore, he requested that the government secured public order, health and cleaning services at the expense of the state. He also asked to “take measures to protect the picketers against possible provocations and misconduct by law enforcement agencies during the preparation and holding of the mass events, as well as after its completion”. However, the refusal was motivated by precisely by the lack of service contracts with the police, doctors and public utilities.

On August 4, Zhodzina human rights defenders did not receive any documentary evidence from the executive committee regarding the prohibition of the picket, which they planned to stage on August 4. Moreover, head of the ideology department, Iryna Karpovich, said on the phone that the ban had been mailed by a registered letter back on July 28.

On August 7, Brest authorities banned a rally in support of political prisoners. Unlike other cities of Belarus, this action was scheduled for August 10. According to human rights activist Uladzimir Vialichkin, who applied for the picket to the executive committee, he intended to hold the picket in the Peacekeepers’ Memorial Park, a place officially designated by the local authorities as a location for public events. However, the authorities didn’t allow the picket, as at the specified time the place would be allegedly occupied by another event. As it was found out, the holding of the picket was impeded by festivities on the Day of the Builder.

On August 11 human rights activists from Biaroza Tamara Shchapiotkina and Siarhei Rusetski sent a statement to Brest Regional Executive Committee with a view to oblige the Biaroza District Executive Committee to bring its ruling on the procedure for organizing and holding mass actions in accordance with Resolution No. 207 of the Council of Ministers, according to which the Executive Committee should within 24 hours after the submission of the application ask the police department to agree on securing public order during the public event. In April, the human rights activists appealed to the Ministry of Justice and to Brest Regional Police Department, asking them to oblige the Biaroza DEC to amend its ruling. They were told that the problem would be resolved. According to an answer from the Ministry of Justice signed by the first deputy minister A. Bileichyk and an answer from the Brest RPD signed by its head V. Uhlianitsa, the ruling of the Executive Committee had to be corrected to meet the ruling of the Council of Ministers. However, as the human rights activists were preparing another picket on July 27, they found out that it hadn’t been done yet. The police again answered that they couldn’t enter into a service agreement with the picket organizers, as they were to receive an application from the Executive Committee according to the ruling of the Council of Ministers.

On August 13, Vitsebsk regional coordinator of the movement “For Freedom” Khrystafor Zhaliapau received a reply from the Council of Ministers to a collective letter signed by several dozen residents of Vitsebsk, who urged the officials to contribute to amending ruling No. 881 of the Vitsebsk City Executive Committee “On Mass Events in Vitsebsk” and to initiate an appeal to the Constitutional Court in order to verify compliance of this document with the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus. The ban said that the Praesidium of the Council of Ministers decided not to submit the request of the authors of the collective letter to the Constitutional Court. No explanations were offered for this decision. The activist also stressed that the Council of Ministers failed to respond to another question. He argued that the Council of Ministers could have amended the ruling of the City Executive Committee, which could not be implemented, as local authorities demand agreements with the police department, as well as medical and cleaning services. Meanwhile, these departments evade signing the contracts. Having failed to give a substantial answer, the Council of Ministry forwarded the address to the Ministry of Justice. The letter Khrystafor Zhaliapau received from the Ministry said that local authorities were free to set the order of applying for a permit for street actions. The only thing confirmed by the Ministry of Justice was that in different regions the order provided by the authorities was different.

On August 22, human rights defenders in the town of Biaroza were not allowed to stage a picket, which was scheduled for August 25. The event was expected to mark 23 years since the bill on the Declaration of Independence acquired a constitutional status, as well as to protest against the deployment of Russian military bases on the territory of Belarus and to demand the release of political prisoners. The ban was signed by the Deputy Chairman of the District Executive Committee Yauhen Tarasiuk. The official referred to the absence of a copy of the contract with the police, while, according to ruling No. 207 of the Council of Ministers, it is the Executive Committee itself who should approach the police department. Knowing about the illegality of the reference, the official added another reason: the stadium would be occupied by sports events for children and youth, which were said to attract people. On August 25, human rights defender Tamara Shchapiotkina and civil society activist Tatsiana Tarasevich came to the central stadium at the scheduled time in order to see whether there were any events attended by people, because of which Biaroza officials had banned the picket. However, the entrance to the stadium, where the activists had intended to place 10 picketers, was empty, as well as the grandstands. There were only 25 young athletes on the big football field: some of them played soccer, others were jogging around the field.

On August 24, human rights defender Siarhei Housha received a reply to his letter from the Baranavichy City Executive Committee signed by the Deputy Chairman Dzmitry Kastsiukevich. In his petition, the activist asked to specify the reason for the ban on a picket scheduled for July 27. The official said that the picket, which was expected to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 27, was banned because the applicant had not submitted in due time copies of contracts with the City Department of Internal Affairs, the city clinic and the Spetsautabaza enterprise, who were supposed to service the planned picket. In reality, the activist had filed an application a month before July 27 and later filed copies of contracts with the government agencies. The necessary documents were submitted 15 days before the date of the planned picket.

On August 27, it was reported that Vitsebsk authorities banned a picket set to mark Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s birthday. A request for the event was submitted to the Kastrychnitski district administration of Vitsebsk by local blogger Ihar Pastnou, famous for his criticism of health care officials. He fulfilled all the requirements that are prescribed by the ruling of the City Executive Committee “On Mass Events in Vitsebsk”, but failed to receive permission. A letter from the district administration said that the applicant had not fully implemented the requirements of the Executive Committee’s ruling No. 881. According to Ihar Pastnou, he did all that was required of him. He applied for an event, but was faced with a long-standing problem of the organizers of mass events – mismatching of requirements of the executive committee with the real situation. Applicants must submit to the district administration maintenance contracts signed by housing, health care and police authorities. Ihar Pastnou contacted all these agencies, but only received a positive response from the public utilities: the Zelianhas enterprise, which is responsible for cleaning the urban territory, signed a contract with him. The clinic representative said that they were not engaged in the organization of events, saying that Ihar Pastnou should write to the district administration, as it were them who were in charge of the events. A reply from the police said that they were securing public order in any capacity without any contracts, as it was their professional duty. Thus, the activist could not establish cooperation with the clinic and the police, which are mentioned in the ruling of the Executive Committee as the other side to enter into a contract. Ihar Pastnou was going to stage a one-man picket by displaying a banner “Thank Batska for our Happy Life!”. In addition, the poster was going to feature a picture of his pay sheet with the amount of his salary, as well as photos of the wards in Vitsebsk hospitals.

On August 28, deputy chairman of the United Civil Party (UCP) Vasil Paliakou received a decision of the UN Human Rights Committee, which said that the Belarusian authorities had violated his right to peaceful assembly by banning in September 2008 a mass event aimed to urge citizens not to take part in the parliamentary elections which took place on September 28, 2008. The decision was adopted on July 17. Vasil Paliakou submitted his complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee after he was unable to protect his rights within the country. In its decision, the UN Human Rights Committee said that if the government imposed a restriction on the freedom of peaceful assembly, then it should promote the implementation of the law, instead of looking for unnecessary or inappropriate constraints. And since the government of Belarus decided that only the prohibition of the peaceful assembly could ensure public order and safety, the protection of morals or health or the protection of the rights and freedoms of other persons, it thus violated the applicant’s right to freedom of peaceful assembly under Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

On August 28, the city stadium Mukhavets in Pruzhany hosted a picket staged to collect signatures for the development of local border traffic in the 30-kilometre zone between Belarus and Poland. The picket was the only authorized rally out of seven applications submitted across the Brest region. The event was attended by three persons. Aliaksandr Khrapko, coordinator of the campaign for small border traffic in Brest and member of the Belarusian Christian Democracy, said that the weather prevented them from campaigning. The Pruzhany activists did not even need agreements with relevant government agencies to hold the picket.

On August 29, dozens of Mahiliou residents signed a collective appeal to the Council of Ministers of Belarus, where they asked to cancel the ruling of the Mahiliou City Executive Committee “On Mass Events in the City of Mahiliou”. The authors stressed that this ruling was contrary to the legislation on mass events and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and therefore violated the constitutional rights of citizens to freedom of peaceful assembly. They argued that the ruling established additional requirements that were contrary to law and common sense. This referred to the need to provide maintenance contracts (public order, health care and cleaning). However, practice shows that these agreements cannot be concluded, as state agencies refuse to sign any contracts without permission from the executive branch. The executive officials, in their turn, would not give permission without being presented contracts for these services. The appeal stressed that violations of the law on mass events were of pervasive nature: similar requirements were contained in the rulings of the authorities of Vitsebsk, Orsha, Polatsk, Dubrouna, Hlybokaye, Dokshytsy, Talachyn, Miyory, Ushachy, Sharkaushchyna, Zhodzina, Pukhavichy, Barysau, Brest, Pinsk, Kamianets, Biaroza, Stolin, Homel, Kalinkavichy, Mazyr, Buda-Kashaliova, Retchytsa, Naroulia, Yelsk, Vetka, Zhytkavichy, Dobrush, Petrykau, Rahachou, Zhlobin, Svetlahorsk, Karma, Mahiliou and Mstsislau. Such restrictions are not applied in only two regions of the country: in the city of Minsk and in the Hrodna region. The petitioners urge the government to reverse the ruling of the Mahiliou City Executive Committee in order to conform it to the Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as to initiate the verification by the Constitutional Court of the conformity with the Constitution of 40 normative legal acts on the order of holding events.

Restrictions on freedom of association

On August 8, the Leninski District Court of Brest dismissed the claim of a former worker of the JSC “Savushkin Product”, Uladzimir Andrashchuk. He asked the court to force the enterprise managers to pay him 15 million roubles which were to be paid under the collective agreement at retirement. The direct boss of Mr. Andrashchuk was to have applied to the Director General of JSC “Savushkin product” and the latter was to decide whether to pay this sum. His immediate boss, however, decided not to apply, believing that Andrashchuk had no relation to the collective agreement, as he was not a member of the state trade union. However, Uladzimir Andrashchuk has a 39-year-long good service record at the enterprise. The court dismissed the claim referring to the fact that Andrashchuk’s boss didn’t apply for the payment to his subordinate, as required by the collective agreement. On the other hand, the court admitted that the worker was a party to the collective agreement, as required by Article 365, Part 2 of the Labour Code. If a worker who is not a party to the collective agreement files an application for joining the collective agreement, he becomes its party.

On August 26, founders of the republican human rights association Covenant, a movement for the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, submitted to the Supreme Court their appeal against the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register the public association. According to the NGO’s executive director Leanid Sudalenka, the organization was created to protect the interests of citizens, in whose cases the UN Human Rights Committee rules to find violations of their civil and political rights by the state. When refusing to grant state registration to the association, the Ministry of Justice referred to such inaccuracies in the documents as an error in the apartment number of one of the founders and the date of birth of another activist. The founders say these errors are technical and should not affect the decision on the state registration of an association.