Human Rights Situation in Belarus: June 2015

2015 2015-07-06T10:37:31+0300 2015-07-08T10:43:16+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

The Human Rights Center "Viasna"

Human Rights Situation in Belarus: June 2015

1. Conclusions:

- during the month there were no positive developments in the human rights situation in Belarus;

- no new politically motivated criminal cases were opened in June; the country’s prisons continued to hold six political prisoners: Mikalai Statkevich, Yury Rubtsou, Mikalai Dziadok, Ihar Alinevich, Artsiom Prakapenka and Yauhen Vaskovich;

- international human rights organization Amnesty International recognized Yury Rubtsou a prisoner of conscience, saying that it considered the new sentence handed down to him as part of a long-term campaign of persecution of civil society activists by the Belarusian authorities, and launched a campaign demanding his immediate release;

- increased pressure on political prisoners caused particular concern of both Belarusian and international human rights organizations;

- the provisions of the Law “On amnesty in connection with the 70th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945” did not apply to any of the political prisoners currently in detention;

- there was increased pressure on independent journalists working for foreign media, which meant for some journalists a de facto ban on their professional activity;

- in June, the Ministry of Information ordered to restrict access to the Internet resource KYKY.ORG. According to the human rights activists, the decision of the state body is nothing but a manifestation of censorship against an independent Internet resource;

- in June, there were documented facts of prosecuting citizens under administrative procedures, including resulting in arrests, in connection with the exercise of their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, as well as violations of the rights of citizens to freedom of association, including a threat of criminal charges under Art. 193.1 of the Criminal Code in respect of a religious figure;

- just like in the previous months, in June local executive authorities continued the practice of rejecting requests to hold public events, while all attempts to appeal these decisions in courts were unsuccessful;

- On June 23, as part of its 29th session the UN Human Rights Council heard the report of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, about the current human rights situation in the country. The UN Special Rapporteur, in particular, noted that the situation with human rights in Belarus had no signs of improvement during the reporting period. In turn, the official representative of the Republic of Belarus in the United Nations Mikhail Khvastou once again said that Belarus did not recognize the mandate of the Special Rapporteur appointed in accordance with the decision of the UN Human Rights Council.[1]

2. Political prisoners, criminal prosecution of civil society and political activists

Of particular concern to both Belarusian and international human rights organizations was the situation with political prisoners.

On Juny 10, human rights organization Amnesty International recognized Yury Rubtsou a prisoner of conscience, saying that it considered the new sentence handed down to him as part of a long-term campaign of persecution of civil society activists in Belarus. This authoritative international organization announced an urgent action to demand his release.[2]

The Human Rights Center "Viasna" learned that the prison administration illegally limited contacts of political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok with his counsel. In particular, the lawyer’s meeting with Mikalai Dziadok in colony No. 9 in Horki on June 25 lasted only 15 minutes. It was not the first time the political prisoner faced violations of his right to legal assistance. Human rights activists regard the facts as a flagrant violation of the right to legal protection, guaranteed by the current penal legislation, the Constitution of Belarus and the international law of human rights. In addition, these facts show gross violation of guarantees for the activities of lawyers provided by the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On the Bar and the legal profession in the Republic of Belarus."[3]

On June 23, Mikalai Dziadok was for the fifth time after his transfer to the colony in Horki isolated in a punishment cell, in this case – for refusing to work. It should be noted that the prison administration charged him with assembling wooden pallets with a monthly payment of 5,000 Belarusian rubles, which can be regarded as a slave forced labor under a threat of punishment.

Mikalai Statkevich continues to serve his sentence in a maximum-security prison, where he was sent by the court until the end of the term of imprisonment at the request of the prison administration. On June 25, Deputy Prosecutor General A. Stuk said that "Statkevich was treated rather loyally without subjecting him to prosecution, but simply tightening the regime of detention." Mr. Stuk noted that failure to comply with the legitimate demands of the prison administration is punishable, among other things, by prosecution and an increase in sentence. Thus, Deputy Prosecutor General actually confirmed the findings of human rights defenders on the arbitrary nature of Article 411 of the Criminal Code providing for criminal responsibility for the commission of disciplinary offenses while serving a sentence of imprisonment, and the not less arbitrary practice of its application.[4]

3. Harassment of journalists and obstacles to the media

Journalists cooperating with media that are not accredited in Belarus continue to face harassment from the authorities. They are arbitrarily subjected to the rule of Part 2, Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Belarus, which provides for responsibility for illegal production and (or) distribution of media products.

The Ivacevičy District Prosecutor’s Office warned freelance journalist Pavel Dailid “about the inadmissibility of further violations of the law that establishes the procedure for the implementation of activities of journalists in Belarus." The reason for this was a publication on the website of Radio Liberty about the protest of villagers against the transfer into commercial use of a nearby lake.[5]

On June 1, journalist Volha Chaichyts and her colleague Siarhei Krauchuk were punished for their journalistic activities by fines amounting to 5,400,000 rubles each; the reason was a report aired on the TV channel "Belsat".[6]

On June 5, the Buda-Kašaliova District Court considered administrative charges brought against freelance journalists Kanstantsin Zhukouski and Natallia Kryvashei for shooting of reports that were shown on the TV channel "Belsat" and sentenced each of them to a fine of 3.6 million rubles. The hearings were held in the absence of both journalists in connection with the fact that they were not timely warned about time and place of the court session.[7]

On June 9, Kanstantsin Zhukouski was for the sixth time prosecuted for his professional activities, and was punished by a fine of 5.4 million rubles. The total amount of fines imposed on him amounted to 25.2 million rubles.[8]

On June 10, Natallia Kryvashei was once again punished by a fine of 9 mln rubles (the maximum amount levied on individuals) for an interview aired on the TV channel "Belsat".[9]

Freelance journalist Alina Litvinchuk was twice fined a total of 10.8 million rubles for the cooperation with the Belarusian Radio Racyja.[10]

Meanwhile, a journalist from Hrodna, Vitaut Parfionenka, sent seven requests to the Ministry of information asking to be accredited as a correspondent of the Belarusian Radio Racyja. The refusal of the Ministry was recognized legitimate and reasonable by a court; the same opinion was shared by the Supreme Court of Belarus.

For over a year, a correspondent of the news agency BelaPAN, Uladzimir Laptsevich, has been trying to attend the open meetings of the Mahilioŭ Regional Council of Deputies, but has been denied this right, citing absence of an official invitation.[11]

In 2006, a private socio-political newspaper Intex-press, which has existed for more than 20 years, was excluded from public distribution systems. Since then, it regularly wrote to the authorities, including the Brestablsajuzdruk enterprise to request to restore the distribution, but received negative responses.[12]

On June 10, freelance journalists Arkadz Nestsiarenka and Anastasiya Khralovich were detained when interviewing retired citizens about access to health care and were for more than five hours held in the Frunzienski district police department of Minsk. During this time, all records were deleted from their camcorders.[13]

4. Arbitrary detention

On June 12, employees of the Miadzel inter-district office of the KGB department in Minsk and the Minsk region detained a delegate of the BCD’s 5th founding congress, a 28-year-old Hanna Ulitskaya. Her mobile phone was seized without any procedural documents.[14]

A football fan, Maksim Malinouski, was charged with disorderly conduct and spent two days in the detention center. Subsequently, the court dismissed his case on rehabilitating grounds.[15]

5. Violation of freedom of association, harassment of human rights defenders

On June 10 and 11, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus considered an appeal against the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register the public association "For Fair Elections". The Civil Division of the Supreme Court left the decision of the Ministry of Justice in place, and the appeal was dismissed. It should be noted that this was the third attempt of registration of the public association since 2011. Earlier, the United Nations Human Rights Committee recognized the refusal to register the association "For Fair Elections" a violation by Belarus of Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

On June 19, the Court of the Centralny district of Homieĺ heard charges brought against the pastor of a Protestant Church "Transfiguration" Siarhei Nikalayenka. The court punished the priest by a fine of 20 basic units for carrying out a service of the religious organization at a place not registered with the church. Earlier, on May 31, during a Sunday worship the officially leased premises were raided by police officers with a video camera. The police officers started recording all those present, and the service was disrupted. They explained their actions by a phone call about an unauthorized event reportedly held at the place.[16]

Apart from that, Siarhei Nikalayenka’s house was searched by the police. According to police officers, the search was conducted as part of a preliminary investigation of the criminal case under Art. 193.1 (implementation or organization of activities on behalf of an unregistered organization).[17]

6. Violation of the right to freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly

Civil society activist Vital Kalinouski was punished by a fine of three basic units for distributing leaflets with pictures of Belarusian political prisoners. The fine amounted to 540,000 rubles.[18]

Slonim activist Ivan Bedka was punished by a fine of 180,000 rubles for pasting anti-alcohol posters at bus stops.[19]

On June 22, the Minsk District Court heard administrative charges brought against activists of the European Belarus opposition movement Maksim Viniarski and Siarhei Matskoits. The latter was accused of violating the order of organizing or holding mass events (Part 1, Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code), and punished by five days of administrative arrest; Maksim Viniarski was convicted under Part 3 of the same article (as the offense was committed repeatedly within a year) to 10 days of administrative arrest.[20] Leanid Kulakou for the same actions was sentenced the following day to ten days of administrative arrest.[21]

At the same time, local authorities prohibit pickets and events.

Civil society and human rights activists were not allowed to hold a picket in support of political prisoners in Biaroza.[22] The District Court found that the ban was justified.[23]

The leader of the Conservative Christian Party BPF Yury Belenki asked the Prosecutor of Minsk to prosecute deputy chairman of the Minsk City Executive Committee Karpenka. According to him, the official exceeded his authority when ordered to pay for services of maintaining public order during officially allowed mass events.[24]

On June 15, the Ministry of Information limited access to the website, “because of the information the spread of which could harm the national interests of the Republic of Belarus." According to the Ministry, "a number of publications posted on this information resource contained derogatory remarks against the national holiday of the Republic of Belarus – Victory Day, citizens of the country taking part in it, contested the importance of this event in the history of the state, thereby distorted the historical truth about the Great Patriotic War..."[25]

Followers of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness were detained in Viciebsk for the distribution of religious literature and were for more than five hours held without charges.[26]

On June 19, the pastor of a Protestant Church "Transfiguration" Siarhei Nikalayenka was punished by a fine of 20 basic units for holding services of a registered religious organization in an unregistered location.[27]

7. Ill-treatment and torture

As a result of a complaint by Zhanna Ptsichkina, mother of Ihar Ptsichkin who died in the Minsk-based jail No. 1, the General Prosecutor's Office quashed the decision of the Investigative Committee to discontinue the criminal proceedings against the prison staff.[28] However, the Prosecutor General's Office refused to issue a copy of the decision, citing the secrecy of the investigation.[29]

The deputy prosecutor of the Homieĺ region found no violations during a probe into the death of Aliaksandr Akulich in a temporary detention facility of the Svetlahorsk police department. For over three years, his mother has been asking to prosecute the police officers who, instead of providing medical care to her son, beat him with rubber batons, having fastened him to an iron lattice door.[30]

A human rights activist from Baranavičy Siarhei Housha continued to challenge the illegal actions of the police officers who brutally beat and detained young football fans. According to the human rights activist, the probe into the incident was superficial and disregarded his arguments.[31]

Officials of the Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigative Committee found no violation in the actions of the Investigative Committee, who failed to arrange a timely check at the request of the wife of prisoner Piotr Kuchura, who was allegedly subjected to prohibited ill-treatment, in connection with which an expert statement of harm to the prisoner’s health eventually became impossible.[32]

8. Guarantees of a fair trial

On June 1, the Viciebsk Regional Court started hearing of the criminal case against the founder of the private cultural institution “Platform Innovation” Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, who was accused of a number of crimes. The case was considered in a closed court session. In accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Belarus, the proceedings of the criminal case in a closed court session shall be permitted only in the interests of the protection of state secrets and other secrets protected by law, as well as for some categories of cases in order to prevent the disclosure of information about the private life of the persons involved in the case or degrading information, and when this is required by the interests of the safety of the victim, witness or other participants in criminal proceedings.[33]

Mikhail Hladki, who was illegally convicted of murder and subsequently acquitted, has been unsuccessfully trying to receive compensation from the state for 5 years in prison and 2 years of correctional labor. Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court of Belarus Valery Kalinkovich predestined the negative outcome of the lawsuit in an interview ahead of the consideration of the compensation claim.[34]

9. Prohibition of forced labor. Activity therapy centers

Local executive authorities across Belarus practiced putting pressure on employees of local businesses and organizations to force their participation in so-called ‘subbotniks’ involving free work in cleaning streets and transfer of their own money to pay for various celebrations.

Head of the Department of Corrections announced the number of prisoners held in activity therapy centers in Belarus: in June, there were about 6,700 people detained in these penal facilities.