Human Rights Situation in Belarus: January 2017
- in January, there were no systemic changes, which would demonstrate an intention by the Belarusian authorities to contribute to a qualitative change in the human rights situation;
- as of early 2017, places of detention continued to hold Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Aliaksandr Lapitski, whose sentencing is viewed by the country’s human rights community as politically motivated, while the above persons themselves were recognized as political prisoners;
- on January 11, imprisoned human rights activist Andrei Bandarenka was charged under Part 2 of Art. 411 of the Criminal Code (willful disobedience to the correctional institution administration in the execution of sentence of imprisonment). Human rights defenders link the prosecution of Bandarenka to his earlier human rights activities and in case of his conviction are ready to recognize him as a political prisoner;
- during the month, there were cases of confiscation and seizure of personal property of citizens in connection with their failure to pay administrative fines imposed for participation in peaceful assemblies. Human rights defenders regard these cases as a form of repression in connection with the exercise of the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression;
- on 24 January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) held in Strasbourg a discussion of the situation of human rights and development of democracy in Belarus. The hearing was attended by members of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly, Chairman of the Standing Commission on Human Rights, National Relations and Mass Media and Head of the Working Group on the Death Penalty Andrei Navumovich, and a member of the opposition United Civil Party Hanna Kanapatskaya, as well as a representative of the HRC “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich.
Political prisoners and politically motivated prosecution
Pressure on human rights defenders
On January 11, imprisoned human rights activist Andrei Bandarenka was charged under Part 2 of Art. 411 of the Criminal Code (willful disobedience to the correctional institution administration in the execution of a sentence of imprisonment committed by a person convicted of a serious or especially serious crime). He faces an additional prison sentence of up to two years.
Over the period of his imprisonment in various places of detention, Andrei Bandarenka was subjected to over a dozen penalties. Because of this, the former head of the Platforma human rights organization was recognized a ‘malicious offender of prison rules’.
If convicted under Part 2, Art. 411 of the Criminal Code, Andrei Bandarenka will be recognized a political prisoner.
Bandarenka’s current sentence is expected to expire on 31 March 2017.
Violations of social and economic rights. Forced labor
On January 5, the Maladziečna District Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal in the judicial board on civil cases of the Minsk Regional Court in connection with an earlier decision of the Maladziečna District Court to deny the existence of employment relationships between a local agricultural company and a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl Viktoryia Papchenia, who died after being hit by a truck while harvesting potatoes on September 29.
Earlier, an appeal against the court’s decision was sent by the girl’s father, Leanid Papchenia.
The tragedy occurred on September 29 and caused wide public attention. The girl fell under the wheels of a truck, which was moving in reverse.
The schoolchildren were sent to the field by an order of headteacher at School No. 11 in Maladziečna, which was issued pursuant to an earlier order by the department of education, sports and tourism of the Maladziečna district executive committee.
On January 26, the judicial board on civil cases of the Minsk Regional Court dismissed both appeals.
The death penalty
Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal to once again call on President Lukashenka to stop executions in Belarus.
Amnesty International offered to view a video and to sign an online petition calling on Belarus to immediately establish a moratorium on all executions and to join the regional and global trend to abolish the death penalty.
During his speech at the discussion of the situation with human rights and development of democracy in Belarus after the 2016 parliamentary elections, which was held on January 24 at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg, Andrei Navumovich, Chairman of the Standing Commission on Human Rights, National Relations and Mass Media and head of the Working Group on the Death Penalty, announced his readiness to hold parliamentary hearings on the issue of the death penalty in the country.
The hearings were also attended by a representative of the HRC “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich and a member of Parliament representing the opposition United Civil Party, Hanna Kanapatskaya.
Earlier, representatives of the campaign Human Rights Defenders Against the Death Penalty in Belarus wrote to all the 110 members of Parliament asking them to hold parliamentary hearings on the issue.
Violations of the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression
The United Nations Human Rights Committee said it would consider a complaint by Yury Belenki, deputy chairman of the Conservative Christian Party of the Belarusian Popular Front, related to his prosecution for the memorial events in Kurapaty and Lošyca Jar in 2014. The politician was accused of failing to agree with the police on measures to ensure public order during the events, despite the fact that the assemblies were authorized by the Minsk city executive committee and were not accompanied by violations of public order.
Belenki’s communication was registered under number 2860/2016. At this stage, according to the Committee’s letter to the author, a copy of the complaint was forwarded to the Belarusian government, which is expected to provide within six months a response to the Committee on this issue.
In January 2017, there were more cases of violations of the citizens’ rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. Several activists and politicians faced administrative sanctions in the form of heavy fines for participating in unauthorized pickets.
There were a few cases of arbitrary detentions of activists after they announced their involvement in peaceful assemblies. In particular, Pavel Prakapovich and Artsiom Leuchanka of the Young Front opposition group, were detained in Independence Avenue on New Year’s Eve, December 31. Aliaksandr Lastouski, spokesman for the Minsk city police department, refused to provide any reasons for and details of the detention.
After the violent detention, the two activists were taken to the police station, where they were held until 4:30 am. They were eventually released, but charged with administrative violations under Articles 17.1 (disorderly conduct) and 23.4 of the Administrative Code (disobedience to the lawful demands of an official).
The actual reason for the detention was the activists’ intention to celebrate New Year in central Minsk under white-red-white flags, which they announced the day before. One of the Young Front leaders, Zmitser Dashkevich, was detained on the same day.
Pavel Prakapovich and Artsiom Leuchanka appealed against the unlawful detention.
Zmitser Dashkevich was eventually fined 1,150 rubles for disobeying police officers.
On January 25, bailiffs confiscated Zmitser Dashkevich’s car. The reason was his failure to pay several fines that were imposed by the court for taking part in numerous peaceful rallies. The imposition of administrative penalties for exercising one’s right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression is definitely contrary to the international commitments of Belarus in this sphere. Moreover, confiscation of property as a result of the imposition of these penalties is the continuation of reprisals for exercising one’s legitimate rights. After paying the fines, the vehicle was returned to the owner.
Freedom of association
According to Mikalai Autukhovich, founders of the public association “Committee for the Support of Entrepreneurship Solidarity” had appealed to the Supreme Court against the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to allow the NGO’s registration. The activists demand to invalidate the decision, as it violates their right to association, as well as to oblige the Ministry of Justice to resume the registration procedure.
Torture and ill-treatment
Dzmitry Serada received a copy of the decision by the Minsk Prosecutor’s Office to open a criminal case against an employee of the Interior Ministry under Part 1, Art. 426 of the Criminal Code. This was the result of another complaint of abuse of authority by police officers, which was prepared by the lawyers of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”. Earlier, the Investigative Committee twice refused to initiate criminal proceedings against the police officers who beat Serada during a violent raid on his apartment on August 4.
Human rights defenders received information about several deaths in a penal colony in Hlybokaje. Some of them are reportedly related to poor medical assistance. In one case, a prisoner committed suicide after he was unable to receive necessary medical care.
Zhanna and Iryna Ptsichkinas, mother and sister of Ihar Ptsichkin who died in jail No. 1 in August 2013, filed a supervisory appeal against the verdict of the court, which sentenced a colony paramedic to a term of imprisonment.
They also appealed against a refusal to open a criminal case against unidentified persons, who beat Ptsichkin on the territory of jail before and during his stay in the prison hospital.
The victim’s relatives filed a claim against the Department of Corrections asking for compensation for the suffering caused by the loss of their son and brother.