Human Rights Situation in Belarus: March 2016
Human Rights Situation in Belarus: March 2016
- on 9-10 March Belarus was visited by the EU Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis. During his visit, the EU Special Representative held several meetings with senior government officials, including President Lukashenka. These meetings addressed a wide range of human rights issues in Belarus. On March 9, Mr. Lambrinidis met with representatives of the Belarusian human rights community;
- on March 10, Minsk hosted an international conference on the death penalty in Belarus. The conference was organized by the UNDP Office in Belarus, the British Embassy and the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The conference was attended by Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Andrea Rigoni, PACE rapporteur on Belarus, former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, as well as a number of international and foreign experts;
- March was not marked by any systemic changes that would demonstrate the commitment of the Belarusian authorities to be engaged in qualitative changes in the country’s human rights situation;
- there were no new politically motivated criminal cases during the month, which is a continuation of the downward trend in the overall level of repression in the country, which has been observed since last August (decrease in the number detentions, administrative arrests and prosecutions of citizens for political reasons);
- the authorities failed to take any steps towards full restoration of the rights of previously released political prisoners;
- on March 14, the Investigative Committee suspended the investigation of the criminal case instituted against one of the candidates in the 2010 elections, Ales Mikhalevich;
- despite the fact that all unauthorized peaceful assemblies were not intervened by the law enforcement authorities and were not forcibly stopped, participants and organizers of these gatherings continued to be brought to administrative responsibility in the form of fines. A total of 43 people were brought to administrative liability during March for taking part or organizing unsanctioned mass events;
- the authorities continued the practice of selective and politically motivated approach to the registration of public associations and political parties;
- on March 29, the judicial board for criminal cases of the Supreme Court considered the appeal of death convict Ivan Kulesh. The appeal was dismissed, and the death sentence handed down by the Hrodna Regional Court was left in place. The sentence came into force.
Politically motivated criminal prosecution
In March, there were no new politically motivated criminal cases.
On March 14, it became known that the Investigative Committee ordered the suspension of the criminal case against a presidential candidate in the 2010 elections Ales Mikhalevich. Mikhalevich himself, however, remained in the status of the accused, but the earlier measure of restraint of a subscription on his own recognizance was canceled.
In January 2016, the authorities suspended the criminal case against a columnist of the Belorusy I Rynok weekly Aliaksandr Alesin.
On March 18, the Minsk City Court considered an appeal by the three defendants in the so called ‘graffiti case’, Maksim Piakarski, Vadzim Zharomski and Viachaslau Kasinerau, and upheld the sentence imposed by the court of Minsk’s Frunzienski district.
It is worth noting that the Belarusian human rights community insists on the termination of all previously launched politically motivated criminal cases, including those against Aliaksandr Alesin and Ales Mikhalevich, considering this step of the Belarusian authorities as one of the priority measures of restorative nature.
Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to serve his sentence in prison. His prosecution was recognized by the human rights community as politically motivated. Human rights activists demand the immediate revision of his criminal case in an open trial in compliance with fair trial guarantees.
Violations of freedom of association
During the month, there was a series of refusals to provide state registration to public organizations and political parties. According to experts of the HRC "Viasna", these refusals were in no way linked to the permissible restrictions on freedom of association, as provided by Part 3 Art. 5 of the Constitution and Art. 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In most cases, the errors mentioned by the registering authority could be eliminated in the event of a respite in registration.
In general, these facts indicate that at the moment the authorities have not undertaken any changes and adjustments in their approach to the existing long-term practice of politically motivated selectivity in matters of registration of public associations.
In addition, these refusals once again emphasize the need for changes in the legislation governing the registration of NGOs and political parties.
On March 10, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal by the human rights public association "For Fair Elections" against a refusal of the Ministry of Justice to provide official registration.
The NGO has previously attempted to obtain registration in 2011, 2013 and in February 2015.
The organizing committee has three times appealed the denial of registration to the UN Human Rights Committee. In 2014, the Committee found a violation of international norms in the decision of the Ministry of Justice to refuse the state registration of the association "For Fair Elections" in 2011. Two more complaints are pending before the Committee.
On March 16, it became known that the Ministry of Justice refused to register the social and educational public association "Solidarity Movement Razam".
A letter by the Ministry of Justice noted that the list of founders failed to contain complete information about the founders, namely their work telephone numbers. In addition, one of the founders did not provide accurate information about the place of his employment. These circumstances were considered sufficient by the Ministry to deny official registration.
In addition, the Ministry of Justice refused to register the republican public association "For the Statehood and Independence!", which is co-founded by one of the presidential candidates in the 2010 elections Uladzimir Niaklyaeu.
One of the reasons for the refusal was the absence of the founders’ full names.
Other leaders of the association include the first leader of independent Belarus Stanislau Shushkevich, the first Belarusian Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, former presidential candidate and political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich, a trade union leader Henadz Fiadynich, politician and writer Liavon Barshcheuski and many other well-known politicians, culture and public figures.
On March 3, the Ministry of Justice for the sixth time denied registration to the Belarusian Christina Democracy party due to "gross violations of law".
According to the Ministry, a spot check of a number of persons referred to as the party co-founders found that they were not affiliated to the party and did not participate in its creation, nor did they put their signatures in the list of founders.
In connection with “these and other numerous violations”, the agency denied the state registration of the BCD.
According to party’s representatives, the reasons for the refusal of registration are "formal", as the Ministry of Justice did not provide any specific violations.
Violation of the right to peaceful assembly and expression
In March, the authorities still unreasonably restricted the right to peaceful assembly, although the assemblies that were carried out without a permit were not dispersed by police officers. The organizers and active participants were brought to administrative responsibility in the form of heavy fines.
On March 9, a fine of 3,150,000 rubles was imposed on Aliaksandr Abramovich of Barysaŭ for his involvement in the entrepreneurs’ rally, which took place on February 22. On March 10, the court of Minsk’s Centraĺny district considered the administrative cases of the six more participants in the same rally. Maksim Viniarski, Leanid Kulakou, Viachaslau Siuchyk, Pavel Seviarynets, and Pavel Vinahradau were punished by a fine of 10.5 million rubles.
On March 14, the court of Centraĺny district of Minsk considered the administrative case against Uladzimir Niaklyaeu under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code. The politician was accused of participation in two protests held on 15 and 28 February. As a result, the charges for the February 28 protests were sent back for revision.
On March 15, the Centraĺny district court tried Uladzimir Matskevich, Pavel Siarhei, Anatol Liabedzka, Nina Bahinskaya and Dzmitry Kavalhin for participating in entrepreneurs’ meetings held on 15 and 22 February.
Uladzimir Matskevich provided evidence proving that he was abroad during the time of the protest, which refuted explanations by police witnesses. His case was sent back for revision, although there was reason to close it.
Pavel Siarhei and Anatol Liabedzka were fined 10.5 million rubles each.
On March 24, the Centraĺny District Court considered the administrative cases of participants in the rally of entrepreneurs held in Minsk on February 28. The court fined UCP head Anatol Liabedzka, opposition activists Maksim Viniarski, Pavel Vinahradau, Leanid Kulakou, Volha Nikalaichyk, Mikalai Kolas, Pavel Siarhei, Aliaksandr Abramovich, a businessman from Vaukavysk Mikalai Autukhovich, co-chairmen of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party Pavel Seviarynets and Vital Rymasheuski.
On March 28, the court of Leninski district of Minsk ruled to fine UCP activist Sviatlana Yakshyna 4.2 mln rubles for participating in a protest against police violence, which was held in late January outside the Supreme Court building.
At the same time, local authorities kept banning street protests: an entrepreneur in Baranavičy Mikalai Charnavus was not allowed to hold a picket for the abolition of President’s Decree No. 222, which worsened the working conditions for entrepreneurs.
BPF activists in Viciebsk were not allowed to hold a meeting on the occasion of Freedom Day. The ban issued by the Čyhunačny district administration referred to the lack of agreements for the protection of public order, medical service and cleaning the territory after the picket. Similar bans were received by the activists of the CCP BPF party in two districts of Viciebsk.
The Minsk city executive committee banned a picket planned by the activists of an initiative against lawlessness in the courts and other authorities.
Harassment of journalists
The Minsk City Court upheld the decision of Frunzienski district court, which arbitrarily fined TUT.BY journalist Pavel Dabravolski 9.45 million rubles. This decision was taken on March 1 by judge Valery Kamisarau of the Minsk City Court.
In March, there were new instances of administrative prosecution of independent journalists.
On March 17, the Mazyr District Court again punished freelance journalist Kanstantsin Zhukouski by a fine of 7.35 million rubles.
On March 24, Rečyca police detained journalist Kanstantsin Zhukouski. According to him, he was interviewing local residents near the town community center. The freelancer was approached by police officers who neither introduced themselves nor explained the reasons for the detention and offered to follow them to the police station.
Torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment
Activist Maksim Shytsik was notified of the extension of a probe into his beating, as well as the beating of Pavel Siarhei and Pavel Dabravolski in the building of the Frunzienski district court of Minsk. The probe was extended until March 23. On January 25, before the start of the hearing in the ‘graffiti case’ two activists displayed a banner reading "No to political persecution". They also chanted, "Art is not a crime". The activists were forcibly taken out of the courtroom. Immediately after that, the activists and Pavel Dabravolski were beaten in the next room. Then they were taken to the police station, charged with administrative violations and then punished with fines by the Frunzienski District Court under Art. 17.1 "disorderly conduct" and Art. 23.34 "disobedience to the lawful demand of an official".
The HRC "Viasna" received a complaint by Maryna Bahdanava, who told about the death of her son in jail No. 8 in Žodzina, where he was held in custody. Ms. Bahdanava said that the doctors and prison staff improperly performed their professional duties. Aleh Bahdanau had a cardiac disease, and in 2014 he underwent heart surgery. After the surgery, he had to take medicines, regularly undergo tests and be under care of a cardiologist. All this could not be provided in detention. Shortly before his death Bogdanov complained about the lack of treatment and harassment by the prison staff, since for health reasons he was forced to break prison rules, namely lay on the bed in the daytime. Aleh Bahdanau was sent to solitary confinement for violations of prison rules, although his sentence had not entered into force (afterwards, the conviction was overturned by a court of appeal), and died on January 29. His body showed injuries typical of a beating. Without waiting for the experts’ conclusions about the cause of his death, the Investigative Committee ruled to not to open a criminal case.
Viachaslau Kasinerau, one of the defendants in so called ‘graffiti case’, who had sought criminal prosecution of persons who severely beat him during his detention on August 11 last year, was notified that the Investigative Committee’s Maskoŭski district office had suspended the preliminary investigation into his beating, as the investigators were unable to establish the person who broke the guy's jaw among the staff of the Interior Ministry’s riot squad.
The death penalty
On March 10, Minsk hosted an international conference on to the issue of the death penalty in Belarus. The conference was organized by the UNDP Office in Belarus, the British Embassy and the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The conference was attended by the EU’s Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis, PACE rapporteur on Belarus Andrea Rigoni, former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, as well as a number of international and foreign experts.
During the conference, representatives of the EU and PACE called on the authorities to introduce a moratorium on executions as a first step towards the complete abolition of the death penalty in the country. In particular, Andrea Rigoni urged the authorities to introduce a moratorium in his speech at the conference.
Organizers of the conference also invited representatives of the Belarusian human rights community. However, they did not invite representatives of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", which was due to the principled position of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.
During the conference, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Valiantsin Rybakou said that "unregistered organizations will not take part in activities organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."
On March 29, the Supreme Court’s Criminal Board upheld the death sentence handed down to Ivan Kulesh. The appeal was dismissed, and the death sentence by the Hrodna Regional Court was left in place. The sentence came into force.
Since the beginning of 2016, two death sentences were handed down in Belarus: to Siarhei Khmialeuski and Henadz Yakavitski. The two death sentences will come into force after their appeals are considered by the Supreme Court. The death sentences handed down to Ivan Kulesh and Siarhei Ivanou have already entered into force.
In the event of rejection of their appeals as a result of supervision procedures, the only possible legal protection mechanism for the death convicts is a petition for clemency to head of State.