Human Rights Situation in Belarus: August 2015
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Human Rights Situation in Belarus: August 2015
- on August 22, it was reported that President Aliaksandr Lukashenka pardoned and released from prison six political prisoners: Mikalai Statkevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Ihar Alinevich, Yury Rubtsou, Artsiom Prakapenka, and Yauhen Vaskovich. Despite the absence of any systemic changes in the field of human rights, the move of the authorities can be assessed as positive;
- the pardon of the political prisoners took place without removing their criminal convictions, they are subject to preventive monitoring until the expiry of their sentences, and also face other restrictions on their rights, including inability to run in election at all levels. In addition, the presence of open (unremoved) convictions may result in the use of tougher forms of control and restrictions (preventive supervision), including the threat of imprisonment for violation of these restrictions;
- on August 11, it became known that the investigating authorities opened a new politically motivated criminal case dealing with political graffiti inscribed on a number of facilities and buildings in the city of Minsk. In the framework of the criminal case on August 20, Maksim Piakarski and Vadzim Zharomski were charged under Part. 2, Art. 339 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism). Both were subjected to a preventive measure in the form of detention in custody;
- the authorities continued exerting pressure on human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka in Homieĺ;
- on August 14, the Ministry of Justice again refused to register the party "Belarusian Christian Democracy". Reasons for the refusal of registration violate the founders’ freedom of association and are in no way related to the permissible restrictions on freedom of association referred to in Art. 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
- a series of public events held in Minsk during the month were carried out without the intervention of law enforcement officers, and, in a number of cases, were accompanied by short-term detentions of their participants, which is due to the holding of the presidential election campaign. At the same time, in other cities of the country, local authorities continued to ban peaceful assemblies.
2. Political prisoners
On August 22, it was reported that President Aliaksandr Lukashenka pardoned and released from prison six political prisoners: Mikalai Statkevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Ihar Alinevich, Yury Rubtsou, Artsiom Prakapenka, and Yauhen Vaskovich. During the day, all the pardoned prisoners were released and returned home.
It should be noted that in accordance with the President’s Decree, all the six political prisoners were released from serving their sentences without removing their criminal convictions. In accordance with the criminal law, this means that they (except Yury Rubtsou) will be under preventive supervision for the duration of their sentences, and all will be restricted in their political rights, including not being able to run in election at all levels until their convictions are removed. In addition, the presence of preventive monitoring can be, under certain conditions, used by the authorities in order to establish more stringent means of controls over the former political prisoners – the establishment by courts of preventive supervision, violation of the rules of which may result in imprisonment.
In connection with the release of the six political prisoners, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" issued a special statement to welcome this step of the Belarusian authorities, calling for the authorities to take further steps aimed at improving the human rights situation in the country, as well as measures to restore civil and political rights of the former prisoners. It should be noted that the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners were a requirement of the EU to the authorities of Belarus.
On August 11, law enforcement officers detained five youth activists: Maksim Piakarski, Vadzim Zharomski, Viachaslau Kasinerau, Yaraslau Ulyianenkau and a citizen of the Russian Federation Pavel (last name unknown), on suspicion of malicious hooliganism (Part 2, Art. 339 of the Criminal Code) and damage to buildings and structures ( Art. 341 of the Criminal Code) associated with three episodes: inscribing graffiti “Belarus Must Be Belarusian” and “Revolution of Consciousness: It Is Near At Hand”, as well as smearing a billboard with the image of the police officers. The detention of the suspects was carried out at their places of residence and was accompanied by the disproportionate use of force and non-lethal weapons. The houses of the detainees were searched by police officers. Maksim Piakarski and Vadzim Zharomski were placed in a detention center, and then in the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ jail No. 1. They were subjected to a preventive measure in the form of detention, while Viachaslau Kasinerau is in custody in hospital, where he was taken with the double fracture of the jaw and other injuries.
On August 20, Maksim Piakarski and Vadzim Zharomski were formally charged under Part 2, Art. 339 of the Criminal Code, and all the three episodes were combined into one case. In connection with these arrests and the detention of Maksim Piakarski and Vadzim Zharomski, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" issued a statement calling the detainees new political prisoners.
3. Presidential election
On August 21, nomination groups completed events to gather signatures in support of presidential contenders. Collection of signatures in support of Aliaksandr Lukashenka was accompanied by pervasive use of administrative pressure on voters and took place in the workplace during working hours and on the initiative of the management of state-owned enterprises.
Of the eight nomination groups, signatures were submitted to the territorial election commissions by only five election headquarters: Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Tatsiana Karatkevich, Siarhei Haidukevich, V. Tsiareshchanka, and M. Ulakhovich. Currently, the process of verification of signatures is underway. Observers are excluded from participation in this process.
By August 26, local executive bodies had created precinct election commissions. The selection process was extremely formal; only 6% of representatives (31 people) nominated by opposition political parties were eventually included in the PECs. Thus, the opposition will be represented in as few as 0.5% of election commissions.
4. Harassment of journalists
The authorities continued to harass independent journalists and bringing them to administrative responsibility. Ales Dzianisau and Ales Kirkevich were fined 4.5 mln rubles each.
5. Arbitrary detentions
Police officers foiled a rock concert, which was held on August 1 near Minsk. The detention of young people, including girls, was accompanied by disproportionate use of force and non-lethal weapons. Their administrative cases were sent by the judge back for revision.
On August 12, Mikaševičy police detained Leanid Dubanosau, who was gathering signatures for presidential contender Tatsiana Karatkevich. Police officers said the detention was caused by a phone call from unknown persons, who alleged that the activist was collecting signatures in an intoxicated state. The activist was forced to pass a medical examination, which showed that he was sober.
6. Violations of freedom of association, pressure on human rights defenders
During the month, there were more cases of harassment of human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka in Homieĺ, which related to its active human rights work.
On August 25, Leanid Sudalenka was returning home from Vilnius. After crossing the border, border guard said that L. Sudalenka should leave the train at the next station and follow them to undergo customs control in the form of personal inspection. However, the officers offered no explanation of the reasons for this kind of customs control.
At around 9 p.m., at the station of Maladziečna, L. Sudalenka was violently taken out of the train, brought to the premises of the customs inspection, where he was subjected to personal examination. The inspection found nothing illegal or things that are subject to mandatory customs declaration. As a result, Leanid Sudalenka had to return home by another train, the fare was not compensated. This is not the first case when L. Sudalenka is searched at the border. In May, during customs control, officers seized Sudalenka’s personal laptop, in connection with which the human rights activist filed a complaint with the court of Ašmiany district and later an appeal to the Hrodna Regional Court.
Apart from that, the human rights activist continues to face pressure from the tax authorities. In particular, the tax authorities of the Homieĺ district ordered Leanid Sudalenka to submit a declaration of income and property for the period of 10 years. Moreover, the decision had a heading “For official use only”. Earlier, Sudalenka filed a report to the tax office to declare his income until 2012 inclusive. In this regard, the human rights activist appealed to the court of the Saviecki district of Homieĺ in order to oblige the tax office to declassify information about who was the initiator of the tax audit. On August 26, the court dismissed the complaint.
On August 14, the Ministry of Justice again refused to register the party "Belarusian Christian Democracy". The mentioned grounds for refusal to register the party, according to the Human Rights Center "Viasna", are in no way associated with the permissible restrictions on freedom of association referred to in Art. 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and violate the founders’ rights to association. It is worth recalling that since 2000 the Belarusian authorities have not registered a single new political party.
7. Violation of freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly
During the month, campaign activists staged pickets across the country in order to collect signatures for the nomination of presidential contenders. Due to the fact that these activities were carried out within the framework of the election campaign, the procedure was governed by the rules of the Electoral Code, instead of the Law "On Mass Events", i.e. these pickets were carried out without the permission of local authorities, and in places not prohibited by the decisions of these bodies. However, some opposition politicians held pickets with slogans of social and political content, accompanied, in some cases, with the collection of signatures. For example, there were several pickets in Minsk, which were organized by the UCP and the nomination group of then presidential contender Anatol Liabedzka to demand the release of political prisoners, to support freelance journalists and freedom of speech.
On August 21, outside the Minsk-based jail No. 1, activists held a rally of solidarity with Maksim Piakarski and Vadzim Zharomski. The protest was attended by about 20 people.
On the same day, August 21, on the last day of collecting signatures for the nomination of presidential contenders, potential candidate Tatsiana Karatkevich, the BPF and the civil campaign "Tell the Truth" held an event in Minsk, which was entitled "Avenue of the National Flag-2015". About 40 people with Belarusian national white-red-white flags in their hands tried to stretch across praspiekt Pieramožcaŭ. However, Interior Ministry officers in civilian clothes did not allow them to do so. There were no detentions during or after the protest.
It should be noted that all these public events had little or no intervention of the police, and were purely peaceful in nature and did not pose a threat to public order and security.
At the same time, local governments continued the practice of prohibiting public events in different cities of the country (Biaroza, Viciebsk, Baranavičy, etc.). There was also a case of bringing to administrative responsibility for holding an unauthorized religious meeting by pastor of the Church of God "Transformation" (“Transfiguration”), Siarhei Nikalayenka.
8. Ill-treatment, torture
The Investigation Committee reopened the investigation on the complaint of Piotr Kuchura, who became a victim of abuse in penal colony No. 15 in Mahilioŭ. At the same time, investigators still refused to admit their responsibility for the late start of a probe on the complaint.
Viachaslau Kasinerau, who was detained on suspicion of involvement in the ‘graffiti case’, as a result of the disproportionate use of violence by police officers was injured and eventually taken to hospital.
Yaraslau Ulyianenkau, who was injured in the same circumstances, submitted a statement to the Investigative Committee demanding to bring police officers to justice.
9. Guarantees of a fair trial
The Vaŭkavysk District Court did not extend the preventive supervision of former political prisoner Mikalai Autukhovich, despite a request from the police. The Vaŭkavysk District Prosecutor appealed against the ruling to the Hrodna Regional Court. On the eve of the trial, the date had been changed, and the court considered the case a day earlier, despite a request from Autukhovich, which prevented him from using the help of a lawyer of his choice and thus violated his right to legal protection. The initial decision of the District Court was canceled. The following day, The Vaŭkavysk District Court issued a new, quite the opposite decision in the absence of M. Autukhovich, who went on that day to hospital for treatment. An appeal against the new ruling, which extended supervision by 6 months, did not bring any positive results.