Human Rights Situation in Belarus: February 2017
- in February there were no changes of systemic nature, which would demonstrate the desire of the Belarusian authorities to contribute to the qualitative improvement of the human rights situation;
- Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to serve his sentence in a penal colony outside Barysaŭ. His sentencing was considered by the country’s human rights community as politically motivated persecution, and Zhamchuzhny himself — a political prisoner;
- on February 9, the court of Lieninski district of Mahilioŭ ruled to send the criminal case opened under Part 2 of Art. 411 of the Criminal Code (willful disobedience to the correctional institution administration) against human rights activist Andrei Bandarenka to the prosecutor's office in order to address the shortcomings of the investigation. The human rights activists link the prosecution of Bandarenka to his earlier human rights activities and, in the event of his conviction, they are ready to recognize him a political prisoner;
- On 17 and 19 February in Minsk, Mahilioŭ, Homieĺ and Hrodna, and on February 26 in Viciebsk, Brest, Baranavičy and Babrujsk protests were held against the President’s Decree No. 3, which ordered certain categories of unemployed citizens to pay a special fee for the reimbursement of government expenses in the social sphere. In the case of non-payment of such a charge, the person is subject to administrative responsibility, including administrative detention with compulsory labor;
- the authorities did not interfere with meetings, despite their unauthorized nature: the participants of the protests in most cases were not detained. However, later it was reported that some of the active protesters were summoned to police departments and faced administrative charges;
- on February 6, the European Parliament held a hearing on the issue of the death penalty in Belarus, which was attended by representatives of the HRC "Viasna" Valiantsin Stefanovich and Andrei Paluda, as well as Liubou Kavaliova, mother of Uladzislau Kavaliou, who was executed in 2012.
Political prisoners and politically motivated prosecution
The human rights defenders learned the date of a trial, which is expected to consider the transfer of political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny from penal colony No. 14 to prison. The trial will be held in the Barysaŭ District Court on March 2.
In late January, the administration of penal colony No. 14 in Navasady filed in the court a claim asking to send Zhamchuzhny to prison for the period of three years. The charges stemmed from a series of penalties handed down for alleged various violations he committed while serving his sentence, including his placement in the punishment cell and the cell-type premises.
Belarusian human rights activists recognized Mikhail Zhamchuzhny a political prisoner.
The death penalty
On February 3, President Lukashenka said at a meeting with representatives of Belarusian and foreign mass media in Minsk that the abolition of the death penalty or a moratorium on its application did not depend on him, though it could have a positive impact on his image, BelaPAN said.
“I have no right to abolish the death penalty or declare a moratorium on its use,” he said. “We held a referendum, I cannot go against the people. If we hadn’t had it, I could have at least somehow thought about it.”
The case of Kiryl Kazachok, who was sentenced to death by the Homieĺ Regional Court on December 28, will not be considered by a court of appeals. This was announced by Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders Against the Death Penalty in Belarus” after a meeting with the convict’s relatives.
After the verdict, Kazachok’s lawyer submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court and the Homieĺ Regional Court prepared the case file for consideration by the criminal division of the Supreme Court. According to human rights activists, the hearing was appointed for March 21. However, as it became known later, the convict refused to appeal against the sentence and therefore the case was removed from the court.
The death sentence is thus being prepared for enforcement, and Kiryl Kazachok will soon be transferred to Minsk jail No. 1, which holds convicts awaiting execution.
Meanwhile, as part of an urgent action launched by Amnesty International people from various European countries, including France, Germany, Switzerland and United Kingdom, continued to send appeals to the President of Belarus asking him to “immediately commute the death sentence to Kiryl Kazachok and all those sentenced to death in Belarus” and “to introduce an immediate moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.”
On February 6, the European Parliament held a hearing on the issue of the death penalty in Belarus, which was attended by representatives of the HRC "Viasna" Valiantsin Stefanovich and Andrei Paluda, as well as Liubou Kavaliova, mother of Uladzislau Kavaliou, who was executed in 2012.
Harassment of human rights defenders
On February 9, the court of Lieninski district of Mahilioŭ held a hearing of the criminal case against human rights activist Andrei Bandarenka, who is serving a sentence of imprisonment in prison No. 4. As a result, Judge Lanchava ruled to return the case file to the prosecutor to address the shortcomings of the preliminary investigation.
The charge was brought against Bandarenka on January 11 and a week later the case file was sent to the court. The charges stemmed from numerous violations of the prison rules allegedly committed by the prisoner.
If convicted under Part. 2, Art. 411 of the Criminal Code, Andrei Bandarenka will be recognized a political prisoner by the human rights defenders.
The country’s civil society organizations released an appeal to support the request of human rights defender Alena Tankachova to reduce the period of her exile. The request was submitted on February 21. According to lawtrend.org, this is the third attempt to reduce the extradition period. Tankachova earlier petitioned the authorities on January 6, 2016 and October 5, 2016. However, both requests were rejected.
Torture and ill-treatment
Zhanna Ptsichkina, the mother of Ihar Ptsichkin, an inmate of Minsk jail No. 1 who died in 2013, received a response to her complaint to the prosecutor of the Maskoŭski district of Minsk. The woman asked to review the decision not to institute criminal proceedings into the fact of injuries her son suffered during his stay in jail, as a result of which he died shortly afterwards following negligence from prison doctors. The response by Deputy Prosecutor Zhybul suggests that the decision of senior police inspector Dzmitry Krotau of the Maskoŭski police department has been canceled because the probe failed to take appropriate measures for the full and comprehensive investigation of the circumstances of the convicted person's death. The case file has been sent to the Maskoŭski district police department for an additional probe.
On January 9, the Minsk City Prosecutor ordered to open a criminal case against an employee of Internal Affairs under Part 1, Art. 426 of the Criminal Code following a complaint by Dzmitry Serada, who was badly beaten during a police raid on his apartment. However, the decision to initiate a criminal case was immediately quashed by the General Prosecutor's Office, while the Investigative Committee on February 6 once again issued a decision not to institute criminal proceedings. The decision was appealed by the doctor.
Violation of the right to peaceful assembly
Numerous activists faced administrative charges for campaigning against President’s Decree No. 3 “On the prevention of social dependency”; the case of at least one activist was considered by a judge who found him guilty of an administrative offense.
In the second half of February, a wave of peaceful assemblies against the Decree was held across Belarus. On February 17, a protest called “The March of Angry Belarusians” took place in Minsk; on February 19, a rally “Non-Parasites’ March” was held in Homieĺ; on the same day a march and a rally were held in Mahilioŭ; protests against Decree No. 3 were held on Sunday, February 26, in Babrujsk, Baranavičy, Brest and Viciebsk.
In all cases, the peaceful assemblies were not dispersed by the authorities; later, numerous protesters faced administrative charges for the violation of legislation on mass events in Homieĺ, Hrodna, Mahilioŭ and Minsk. In Viciebsk, police officers detained several protesters, including minors.
At the same time, earlier, the authorities did not allow the democratic coalition of Mahilioŭ to hold the Non-Parasites’ March on February 19. The reason for this was the fact that the alleged location of the march did not meet local restrictions on public events. This was not the first case when the authorities did not allow carrying out protests against Decree No. 3. In particular, on February 13, the Hrodna city executive committee banned a mass event scheduled for February 19. In Viciebsk, the authorities did not allow human rights activist Leanid Svetsik to hold a picket on February 15, during which he planned to clarify the provisions of the Decree. A series of pickets against the Decree, which were scheduled by the representatives of opposition parties and civil society activists, was banned in Brest.
On February 20, activists of the Young Front opposition group, set up a tent near the Kurapaty forest to prevent the construction of a new business center next to the memorial site of mass executions in the 1930-1940s.
On the night of February 22, the protesters were attacked by a group of 15 to 20 people: according to RFE/RL’s Belarus service, unknown persons wearing masks attacked the picketers with sharp sticks. They reportedly used foul language and chanted “Glory to Russia” and “White Race”. The attackers destroyed the tent, tore several white-red-white flags and overturned a burn barrel. Aliaksandr Kirkevich was wounded. Yury Lukashevich had to seek first aid.
On February 23, police officers refused to register a complaint by Aleh Dashkevich, Aliaksei Kliushnichenka and Yury Lukashevich who were among the victims of the night attack. Later, the activists were charged with administrative offenses for participating in an unsanctioned protest. The police officers insisted that the activists signed the document and threatened them with responsibility for disobeying police officers. As a result, the activists have signed the document, but indicated that they did not agree with the charges.
Aleh Dashkevich and Aliaksei Kliushnichenka were assisted by the HRC "Viasna" in sending an appeal to the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate for Internal Affairs with a request to investigate the actions of the police officers.
Despite the suspension of the construction works, the confrontation continues and the activists are still picketing the location.
Violations of social and economic rights. Forced labor
Human rights activist Valiantsin Stefanovich wrote to the Maladziečna district department of the Investigative Committee to complain about forced labor used at local enterprises and educational institutions in August 2016.
Stefanovich asked in his letter to check for elements of a crime the actions of Aliaksandr Yakhnavets, Chairman of the Maladziečna district executive committee, who ordered managers of local enterprises to assist the district’s agricultural farms in harvesting potatoes.
Stefanovich also asked to check the actions of Ina Drapeza, head of the department of education, sports and tourism of the Maladziečna district executive committee, who on the basis of the above order issued an instruction requesting the heads of ten local educational institutions to send employees and students to the Uschod-Agro agricultural enterprise.
It is in pursuance of the document that the management of secondary schools, including head teacher of School No. 11, ordered to send the students of grades 8to 11 to harvest potatoes during school hours. As a result, one of the students of the 8th grade, Viktoryia Papchenia, was killed by a truck while working on the field.
An order by the Investigative Committee’s Minsk Regional Department attached Stefanovich’s complaint to the criminal case opened against two teachers of the school, while the complaint itself was not considered on the merits in accordance with the requirements of Art. 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The decision was appealed to the Department’s head.
On February 23, Valiantsin Stefanovich was questioned as a witness in the criminal case.