Human Rights Situation in Belarus: April 2017
- the month was marked by a continuation of the negative trends observed since early March, indicating a decline in the overall human rights situation in the country and testifying to the return of the authorities of Belarus to the policy of the worst repressive practices;
- throughout the month, the authorities continued the practice of bringing citizens to administrative responsibility, including in the form of arrests, for participating in peaceful assemblies held in different cities of the country in March. In April, there were more than 30 administrative cases opened in connection with the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly, of which at least six cases resulted in administrative detention;
- there were cases of harassment of independent journalists and human rights defenders in connection with their professional activities;
- on April 6, the European Parliament condemned at a session in Strasbourg the repression in Belarus and urged the Belarusian authorities to respect the rights and freedoms of citizens;
- as of April 30, human rights defenders were aware of 18 persons charged in the criminal case of preparing riots and held in custody in the KGB prison and the Interior Ministry’s pre-trial jail. At the same time, 16 of them faced additional charges under Art. 287 of the Criminal Code (establishment of an illegal armed group). Earlier, human rights activists said that the criminal case was politically motivated;
- on April 21, Viachaslau Kasinerau, formerly declared a political prisoner by the country’s human rights community, was released from pre-trial detention under a written undertaking not to leave the place, and on April 27 the court of the Maskoŭski district of Minsk sentenced him to a fine of 115 rubles (EUR 56);
- on April 7, the Zavodski District Court in Minsk canceled the suspension of an earlier sentence handed down to activist Dzmitry Paliyenka and ordered a 18-month imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony. Human rights activists believe that the persecution of Paliyenka is politically motivated, clalling him a political prisoner and requesting his immediate release.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
On 21, 22 and 24 March, 32 persons were detained on suspicion of committing a crime under Part 3 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (training or other instructing of persons to participate in mass riots, as well as financing or other material support for such activities). All the detainees were held in the pre-trial detention center of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the KGB prison in Minsk.
On April 1, it became known that activists of the Young Front, Dzmitry Kremenetski, Raman Vasiliyeu, Artsiom Leuchanka and Uladzimir Yaromenak, were released from custody without charges. On March 15, Young Front leader Zmitser Dashkevich and activist Siarhei Palcheuski were released from detention. Several other suspects were released later during the month.
As of April 30, human rights defenders were aware of 18 persons charged in the criminal case of preparing riots and held in custody in the KGB prison and the Interior Ministry’s pre-trial jail. At the same time, 16 of them faced additional charges under Art. 287 of the Criminal Code (establishment of an illegal armed group).
On April 27, Siarhei Palcheuski wrote on Facebook that he was severely pressured during his detention. As a result of blackmail by the KGB officers, he was forced to sign an agreement on cooperation. Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich said that both he and other detained members of the organization were subjected to numerous threats, including of sexual violence.
On April 5, nine human rights organizations issued a joint statement to declare Viachaslau Kasinerau a political prisoner, while he was still in custody in pre-trial prison, and to demand his immediate release.
On April 21, Kasinerau was released from custody on his own recognizance. On April 27, the court of the Maskoŭski district of Minsk found Kasinerau guilty of committing hooliganism (Part 1, Article 339 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to a fine of 115 rubles (EUR 56). Despite the mild punishment, human rights defenders did not change their assessment of the authorities’ actions in the case.
On April 7, the Zavodski District Court of Minsk, having examined a report by the authority in charge of monitoring the behavior of convicts, canceled the suspension of the execution of an earlier verdict against activist Dzmitry Paliyenka. In view of the time spent in pre-trial detention last year, the period of imprisonment for the activist is 18 months and 13 days. Paliyenka was sent to serve his sentence to a penal colony in Babrujsk. On 12 October 2016, the court of the Centraĺny District of Minsk found Paliyenka guilty of committing crimes under Art. 364 (violence or threat of violence against an employee of the bodies of Internal Affairs) and Part 2 of Art. 343 of the Criminal Code (manufacture and distribution of pornographic materials or objects of a pornographic nature) and sentenced him to two years of suspended imprisonment. Paliyenka was prosecuted after his detention by police officers for participating in the Critical Mass cycling protest. Human rights defenders welcomed the release of Paliyenka after the verdict of the Centraĺny District Court, but at the same time, there was a lack of sufficient and convincing evidence in the criminal case on the part of the prosecution, both in terms of the alleged violence against the police officer and the dissemination of pornographic materials on the Internet.
In response to the cancellation of the suspension and the imprisonment of Paliyenka, human rights organizations adopted a joint statement to declare him a political prisoner and to demand his immediate release.
On April 21, the court of Barysaŭ district closed the proceedings in a suit that demanded the transfer of political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny to maximum-security prison, after the penal colony administration withdrew its claim from the court. Earlier, human rights defenders forced the authorities to secure an open trial of the case.
Belarusian human rights activists declared Zhamchuzhny a political prisoner.
After five months of compulsory treatment, Aliaksandr Lapitski was released from a psychiatric hospital by a decision of the court of Minsk’s Frunzienski district. Earlier, human rights activists made a joint statement to declare Lapitski a political prisoner and to demand his release from psychiatric hospital and, if necessary, ensuring his treatment in conditions not related to deprivation of liberty, as well as taking measures aimed at decriminalizing defamation offenses in the legislation of Belarus.
Harassment of human rights defenders
On April 26, Judge Viktoryia Shabunia of the Centraĺny District of Minsk found, despite convincing evidence of innocence, human rights activist Tatsiana Reviaka guilty of committing administrative offenses under Art. 17.1 (disorderly conduct) and Art. 23.4 (disobeying the lawful demands of police officers) of the Code of Administrative Offenses and sentenced her to a fine of 460 rubles.
Reviaka was detained on October 26 in Kastryčnickaja Square in Minsk during a rally of solidarity with the detained participants of the March 25 demonstration.
On April 17, the Kastryčnicki District Court in Vitsebsk completed the administrative proceedings in the case of local human rights activist Pavel Levinau. As a result, the court decided to subject Levinau to administrative detention of 15 days for his alleged participation in unauthorized meetings on March 25 and 26 (Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). It should be noted that Levinau did attend these meetings, but carried out human rights monitoring of their conduct. On March 15, Levinau sent a notification to the regional department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, saying that he, being a member of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, was going to monitor the mass events.
Violation of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression
On April 4, it became known that the Ministry of Justice issued written warnings to the BPF Party, United Civil Party and the Movement “For Freedom” for their involvement in the organization of a mass event on Freedom Day on March 25, 2017.
In April, the authorities continued repressing participants in peaceful assemblies.
Among those who were subjected to various administrative penalties were participants in a rally of solidarity with the defendants in the ‘rioting case’ that took place on March 31 near the KGB building; participants in a picket against the construction of a commercial building near the Kurapaty memorial forest; protests near the KGB building in Minsk on March 24, and in Kastryčnickaja Square on March 26.
On April 4, the court of the Centraĺny district of Minsk fined Vital Rymasheuski, co-chair of the Belarusian Christian Democracy, for his participation in the March of the Indignant Belarusians on February 17.
Some participants in peaceful assemblies were subjected to several subsequent administrative arrests: Maksim Filipovich, a famous video blogger in Homieĺ, who, since March 13 served three terms of 13, 5 and 7 days for taking part in ‘parasite tax protests’, was again convicted after being released to 7 days of detention. Thus, he spent more than a month in jail.
Maksim Viniarski received two jail terms in a row: 8 and 10 days; Leanid Kulakou was awarded the maximum possible term of administrative detention of 25 days.
Similar trials were held in Homieĺ, Brest, Polack, Mazyr, Barysaŭ, Pinsk, Orša, and Vaŭkavysk.
Meanwhile, human rights activists are campaigning to change the rules of holding mass events: on April 4, human rights activists in Mahilioŭ received an answer from the regional executive committee, which gave hope for a lightening of the conditions for holding rallies and meetings. According to the website mspring.online, deputy chairman of the regional executive committee Andrei Kuntsevich told local human rights defenders Barys Bukhel and Aliaksei Kolchyn that the city authorities were recommended to consider the issue of making changes to the decision "On Mass Events in the City of Mahilioŭ." They concern the submission to the city executive committee of agreements for the protection of public order, ambulance service and cleaning after the mass event.
On April 26, the Navapolack Court started the consideration of a complaint by human rights activist Dzmitry Salauyou against local restrictions on mass events, but closed the case after a representative of the city executive committee argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the claim.
On April 21, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" published an analytical review of detentions in Minsk in March 2017: from March 27 to April 13, Viasna collected 130 questionnaires from individuals whose rights were violated in connection with their exercise of the rights of expression and peaceful assembly.
On April 25, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" published an analytical review of administrative trials in the courts of Minsk on March 27. The text provided information on court hearings and access to justice during the trials following mass arrests on March 25 and 26.
In the run-up to the May 1 protests, the authorities attempted to limit the possible public activity: the organizing committee of the March of Solidarity in Minsk refused to hold the protest, after the Minsk city executive committee did not allow the demonstration, thereby reducing the program of the event.
In addition, information was received about preventive detentions of political leaders and journalists known for covering protests. On April 29, it became known that opposition politician Mikalai Statkevich was sentenced to administrative detention in an atmosphere of secrecy; a lawyer invited by his wife was not allowed to visit his client. Freelance journalist Yauhen Merkis was detained in Homieĺ on April 30. He was accused of using obscene language.
Harassment of journalists
On April 11, the court of Svietlahorsk district considered an administrative case of freelance journalists Kanstantsin Zhukouski and Andrei Tolchyn. They were accused of violating mass media legislation by allegedly filming a story for the Poland-based satellite television channel Belsat (Part 2, Art. 22.9 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). The court ruled to punish the reporters by a fine of 920 and 460 rubles, respectively.
Larysa Shchyrakova was fined 943 rubles for the same actions under Art. 22.9 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses and for failing to appear in court, under Article 24.6 of the Administrative Code.
On April 20, Judge Yury Garbatouski arbitrarily imposed a fine on Ales Liubenchuk, a cameraman for the Belsat TV channel, who was detained during a police radio on Belsat’s office and accused of disorderly conduct on the basis of false testimonies by police officers.
Journalists Yauhen Merkis, Milana Kharytonava, Ales Liauchuk and Vadzim Zdanovich were sentenced to heavy fines under Part 2 of Art. 22.9 of the Code of Administrative Offenses.
The website mspring.online wrote about the ill-treatment of protester Raman Mishchanka, who was detained in Minsk on March 25 and sentenced to 15 days of detention. He reportedly spent 6 hours with handcuffs on and was beaten by the police.
Pavel Liakh, another protester detained during the Freedom Day demonstration in Minsk, is preparing a complaint against police captain Vital Mazniou, who reportedly treated him cruelly. Liakh asks to investigate his claim and, if any signs of a crime are established, to open a criminal case under Art. 426 of the Criminal Code (abuse of authority).
On April 5, human rights defender Tatsiana Reviaka sent a complaint to the Minsk City Prosecutor's Office in connection with her arbitrary detention on March 26 and ill-treatment in the district police department, where she was brought after her detention. She was detained without a valid reason and forced to suffer moral and physical suffering from the actions of police officers in the police department. She and other detainees were held in harsh conditions that made them feel helpless: law enforcement officers kept her in the open air for more than three hours. She was forced to face the wall and keep her hands up.
The Human Rights Center “Viasna” was contacted by Pavel Kirlik, who was reportedly beaten and tortured for two days in police department No. 1 of the Maskoŭski district of Minsk.
The young man was arrested on suspicion of committing a crime and brought to the police department, where he was subjected to psychological pressure, including threats, insults, extorting a confession and self-incrimination. Psychological pressure was followed by a lasting and brutal beating.
The ill-treatment ended only after Kirlik’s wife hired a lawyer to meet with the detainee. Pavel Kirlik was taken to hospital, where he underwent an examination, which revealed the concussion of the brain, craniocerebral trauma, chest trauma, multiple bruises all over his body. The doctors offered hospitalization, but warned that in this case they will have to inform the police. The young man refused, but sent a complaint to the Investigative Committee against the illegal actions of police officers, asking to open a criminal investigation into the torture report.