Human Rights Situation in Belarus: October 2015
The Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Human Rights Situation in Belarus: October 2015
- the election of the President of Belarus finished on October 11; according to the official data of the CEC, the vote was won by the incumbent Aliaksandr Lukashenka (83% of the vote);
- According to the estimates of the election observation campaign “Human Rights Defenders For Free Elections”, the electoral process did not meet a number of key international standards for democratic and free elections. This was due to the lack of equal access to the media for all the candidates, lack of impartiality of election commissions, use of administrative resources in favor of the incumbent, numerous facts of coercion of voters to participate in early voting, opaqueness of some election procedures for observers. The key point of criticism is the lack of transparency of the vote count procedure, which does not allow to consider the announced election results as a manifestation of voters’ will;
- during the month, there was a continuation of the policy of ‘mild practices’ that began back in August. During October, there were no new politically motivated cases, while a series of unauthorized mass events staged in Minsk by a number of opposition and public figures took place without the intervention of law enforcement officers and did not result in the arrests of either the organizers or the participants.
- Despite an overall positive trend observed in the last three months, October was marked by an increase in the number of administrative penalties, mainly fines, imposed on the organizers and participants of peaceful assemblies, as well as cases of arbitrary detention.
- The authorities extended the periods of preliminary investigations in previously opened politically motivated criminal cases: the case of former presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich and young activists charged in the so-called ‘graffiti case’ (Yaraslau Ulyianenkau, Maksim Piakarski, Vadzim Zharomski and Viachaslau Kasinerau). Thus, the authorities did not listen to the demands of the Belarusian and international human rights organizations asking to close all the politically motivated criminal cases.
- It should also be noted that there were no systemic changes in the sphere of human rights in the country.
36.05% of voters took part in the early voting campaign, which set the record for early voters as compared to the previous presidential campaigns of 2001, 2006 and 2010. In fact, early voting has become a norm, which does not meet the requirements of the Electoral Code. During early voting, observers of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders For Free Elections” witnessed numerous cases of coercion of citizens to participate in it perpetrated by the managers of enterprises and heads of education institutions. There were cases of overstatement of voter turnout at some polling stations.
In general, according to the campaign “Human Rights Defenders For Free Elections”, the electoral process did not meet a number of key international standards for democratic and free elections. This was due to the lack of equal access to the media for all the candidates, lack of impartiality of election commissions, use of administrative resources in favor of the incumbent, numerous facts of coercion of voters to participate in early voting, opaqueness of some election procedures for observers. Numerous complaints filed by the observers were left without adequate response from election commissions and the prosecuting authorities.
Politically motivated criminal prosecution
On October 22, it was announced that the Investigative Committee dismissed an appeal filed by former presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich to challenge an earlier refusal to drop criminal charges in the December 19, 2010 post-election protest case. Thus Mikhalevich is still facing charges in the criminal case.
On September 8, Mikhalevich returned to Belarus after four and a half years of emigration to the Czech Republic, where he received political asylum. He was detained by Belarusian border guards immediately after crossing the Lithuanian border. Mikhalevich was given in charge of the police, but released on bail a few hours later. Mikhalevich remains the last defendant in the criminal case opened after the events of December 19, 2010.
The Investigative Committee notified Yaraslau Ulyianenkau, Maksim Piakarski, Vadzim Zharomski and Viachaslau Kasinerau, defendants in the so-called ‘graffiti case’, that the period of preliminary investigation had been extended until November 30. On August 1, the young people were detained on suspicion of hooliganism by police officers who used disproportionately excessive violence. The Investigative Committee said that the charges stemmed from graffiti drawn on a number of buildings in Minsk, as well as damage to a billboard with the image of a police officer. On August 20, Maksim Piakarski and Vadzim Zharomski were formally charged under Part 2, Art. 339 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism) and taken into custody as a preventive measure. On August 31, both were released from jail after the measure of restraint was replaced by a release on bail.
Due to the presence in the country of politically motivated criminal cases, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) issued a joint statement in which they called on the authorities to end all politically motivated criminal cases and conduct systemic reforms in the field of human rights.
On October 9, the Court of Berazino district rejected a proposal of the district police department to extend the preventive supervision in relation to opposition activist Pavel Vinahradau. In 2011, Vinahradau was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of involvement in the riots of December 19, 2010 in Minsk. Later, he was released from prison in connection with a presidential pardon. After his release, Pavel continued his political activity, and therefore was repeatedly sentenced to administrative arrests and subjected to arbitrary detentions, including in the run-up to major social and political events in the country. Pavel Vinahradau was under preventive supervision for over three years. Ahead of the 2014 World Ice Hockey Championship in Minsk, Pavel was forced to leave the city for the town of Berazino in fear of ‘endless’ arbitrary arrests by employees of the Maskoŭski district police department of Minsk.
Violation of freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly
In October, central Minsk hosted a series of events organized by representatives of opposition parties and movements, as well as by separate opposition activists. In particular, peaceful assemblies of citizens were held in the capital on October 4, 10 and 11 – either during the presidential election campaign or immediately after its completion. All the protests were purely peaceful in nature, as they did not violate public order and did not represent a threat to public and national security, and therefore did not require any intervention on the part of law enforcement agencies, although held without proper authorization from the city executive committee. Despite this, a number of organizers and participants of these demonstrations were subsequently brought to administrative responsibility under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code (organizing or participating in unauthorized mass events) and sentenced to fines. At the same time, it should be noted that the authorities themselves did not interfere with the assemblies, did not interrupt their conduct, did not detain the participants and organizers during or after their completion.
On October 11, after the end of the presidential election, a few hundred people took to the protest in Minsk’s Kastryčnickaja Square and marched to Niezaliežnasci Square. In general, the demonstration was peaceful and was not marred by the use of force from the police, but several participants were detained and later released. Just after the event, some participants were summoned to the police station, where they were held preventive conversations.
The Court of Baranavičy fined Ryhor Hryk, local activist of the REP trade union, on charges of disorderly conduct, but actually for wearing prison uniform at work to protest against violations of workers’ rights, as well as for organizing an unsanctioned mass gathering (Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code) on September 27.
On 29 October, between 100 and 150 people gathered outside the KGB building in Minsk to stage a protest called “Chain of Memory” in honor of over 100 Belarusian cultural figures executed on the day in 1937. On the night of 29 to 30 October 1937, over a hundred representatives of the national intelligentsia were killed in the NKVD building in Minsk. Among them were writers, poets, scientists, public and political figures, and journalists. Their place of burial is still unknown. The meeting was held without obstruction by the police, but the organizers were charged with administrative offenses.
Local executive authorities across the country continued the practice of banning mass events and creating other obstacles to their conduct.
Thus, despite the fact that in general the presidential election was peaceful and was not marred by the use of violence and arrests of political opponents of the authorities, the campaign resulted in an increase in the number of prosecutions of citizens in connection with the exercise of their civil freedoms, with 17 cases documented during the month.
Violation of freedom of association, harassment of human rights defenders
On October 14, the Supreme Court of Belarus dismissed a lawsuit by the founders of the party “Belarusian Christian Democracy” against the Ministry of Justice’s decision to deny state registration. The refusal to register the party is in no way linked to the permissible restrictions on freedom of association as set out in Art. 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and violates the founders’ right to freedom of association.
In the night from 23 to 24 October, Ukrainian human rights activist Maria Yasenovska was detained in the Spadarožnik Hotel by employees of the Kastryčnicki district police department of Minsk. After she was taken to the district police department, she was shown a document prohibiting her entry into the Republic of Belarus. She was only released after the intervention of the head of a human rights institution “Office on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” Siarhei Drazdouski, who had invited Maria to Minsk.
Maria Yasenovska was allowed to stay in the country at the time of the seminar she was expected to attend, but she was forced to explain the purpose of her visit to the country. In the morning of October 25, the activist left for Ukraine. The reasons for the ban are yet to be specified.
On October 25, human rights defender Leanid Sudalenka wrote to the Homieĺ customs department to remind about the expiration of a period for administrative prosecution in a case opened against him on charges of resisting a lawful request of an official. Two months before, on August 25, customs officers detained the human rights activist on a train going from Vilnius to Minsk. Leanid Sudalenka was dragged out and searched without a valid reason. Later, customs officials said they were searching for “media of extremist content”. It should be noted that this is not the first time that such pressure is exerted on Leanid Sudalenka. Both Belarusian and international human rights community believe that the acts of harassment against Sudalenka by various government bodies are only due to his active human rights work.
On October 10, four football fans were detained without reason in Brest and accused of disorderly conduct. On October 30, their case was heard by a court, which dismissed the case citing the pettiness of the offense.
Five football fans from the informal community B-12 were detained at the European Championship qualifying match Belarus-Macedonia, which took place in the evening of October 12 at the Borisov Arena. They were subsequently convicted on trumped up administrative charges: the Barysaŭ District Court sentenced the football fans to fines of 1.8 mln rubles each.
Ill-treatment and torture
On October 13, blogger Viktar Nikitsenka, who collaborates with many independent media, was detained and severely beaten by the security forces in Minsk. The reason for the detention was taking a photo outside the Government House building with a homemade poster “Lukashenka On Trial”. Viktar Nikitsenka filed a request to open a criminal case, which is still being considered by the Investigative Committee.
Former political prisoners Yauhen Vaskovich, Ihar Alinevich, Yury Rubtsou, Mand ikalai Dziadok told the Human Rights Center "Viasna" about the conditions of detention and cruel, degrading treatment of prisoners.
The death penalty
On October 9, human rights activists held a press conference in Minsk, which was dedicated to the World Day Against the Death Penalty. The event was attended by the coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders Against the Death Penalty in Belarus” Andrei Paluda, representatives of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Ales Bialiatski and Valiantsin Stefanovich, Liubou Kavaliova, the mother of Uladzislau Kavaliou, was executed in 2012, and lawyer of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Hary Pahanyaila. Among the honored guests were representatives of the embassies of Great Britain, the Czech Republic and Italy.
On October 15, the United Nations Human Rights Committee confirmed the registration of a communication submitted by Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders Against the Death Penalty in Belarus”, on behalf of Siarhei Ivanou, who was sentenced to death earlier this year. The UN Committee said that the communication was registered under No. 2655/2015 and a copy was sent to the State party. The Committee also said that, “under rule 92 of the Committee’s rules of procedure, the State party was requested not to carry out Mr. Sergey Ivanov’s (Siarhei Ivanou’s) death sentence while his case is under consideration by the Committee”.