Human Rights Situation in Belarus: June 2017
- the month was marked by a decrease in the number of administrative charges against people in connection with the exercise of their guaranteed rights, which is primarily due to a decrease in the level of protests.
- on June 2, two persons earlier arrested in the ‘rioting case’, Siarhei Kuntsevich and Andrei Bialiauski, were released from custody. After his release, Kuntsevich said that KGB officers used electroshock to torture him. Following this report, the country’s human rights organizations issued a joint statement demanding the release all the accused in the case.
- on June 13, rioting charges were dropped against all the six activists of the Young Front movement, Zmitser Kremianetski, Uladzimir Yaromenak, Zmitser Dashkevich, Siarhei Palcheuski, Raman Vasiliyeu and Artsiom Leuchanka, who were either suspects or accused in the case;
- on June 16, the Investigative Committee said that it closed the criminal case under Part 3, Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (‘preparation of riots’) and that it took over the case under Art. 287 (‘organization of an illegal armed group’), which was initially opened by the State Security Committee (KGB);
- on June 17, activists of the European Belarus campaign, Andrei Sharenda and Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk, were notified by the Investigative Committee that they were cleared of criminal charges of displaying a banner with an inscription, which, according to a linguistic examination, cynically insulted the head of state, which is an offense under Part 1, Art. 368 of the Criminal Code;
- on June 27-30, the authorities released all the 14 persons arrested in the criminal case of ‘organizing an illegal armed group’. The charges, however, remained in place.
- the closing of a series of criminal cases with clear political motives and the release of all the persons arrested on the eve of March 25, prompt cautious optimism, but do not testify to a change of the government’s policy in the field of protecting human rights as a whole and do not give grounds for claims of less repressive practices as an established trend;
- on June 23, the UN Human Rights Council voted at its 35th session in favor of a resolution on the situation of human rights in Belarus, and on June 27, PACE adopted a resolution on the situation in Belarus.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
On June 2, Siarhei Kuntsevich and Andrei Bialiauski, both facing charges of ‘preparing riots’, were released on recognizance.
After his release, Kuntsevich said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Belarus service, and later in a video testimony for the Human Rights Center "Viasna", that during his detention in the KGB prison (where he spent the first two weeks after his arrest) he was tortured with an electroshock weapon. He was thus forced to disclose the whereabouts of opposition leader Mikalai Statkevich.
In response to the torture report, the human rights organizations of Belarus made a statement to urge the authorities to investigate the allegations voiced by Siarhei Kuntsevich, as well as to release on recognizance the remaining defendants in the criminal case of ‘preparing riots’.
On June 13, the authorities dropped charges (preparation of riots) against all the six activists of the Young Front organization, which were previously held as suspects or accused in the criminal case. Zmitser Kremianetski, Uladzimir Yaromenak, Zmitser Dashkevich, Siarhei Palcheuski, Raman Vasiliyeu and Artsiom Leuchanka were cleared of charges due to lack of evidence.
On June 16, the Investigative Committee said that it had taken over the case of ‘creating an illegal armed group’, which was previously run by the KGB. At the same time, it reported that the criminal case under Part 3, Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (preparation of riots) had been closed.
On June 27-30, the authorities released the remaining 14 persons arrested in the criminal case of ‘organizing an illegal armed group’: Siarhei Strybulski, Aliaksandr Zimnitski, Uladzimir Fiodarau, Uladzimir Rumiantsau, Tsimur Pashkevich, Aliaksandr Yaudakha, Viktar Danilau, Andrei Komlik-Yamatsin, Dяmitry Novik, Aliaksei Abramau, Andrei Dundukou, Ivan Kavalchuk, Viktar Maroz, and Miraslau Lazouski.
All of them were released on recognizance, but they still faced charges in the criminal case.
On June 17, Andrei Sharenda and Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk, activists of the European Belarus opposition movement, were notified by the Brest Office of the Investigative Committee that the criminal proceedings against them had been stopped. The activists faced criminal charges over putting up a banner with an inscription, which, according to the conclusions of an examination, cynically insulted the head of state, which constituted an offense under Part 1, Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (insult to the President);
The country’s prisons continued to hold Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Paliyenka, both recognized as political prisoners by the Belarusian human rights community.
Harassment of human rights defenders
On May 30, police officers of the Pieršamajski district of Viсiebsk arrested Pavel Levinau, a member of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. After his arrest, he was taken to the detention center of to serve a 15-day administrative detention. On April 17, Judge Ina Hrabouskaya of the Kastryčnicki district of Viciebsk sentenced Levinau to 15 days in jail for taking part in illegal protests, which took place on 25 and 26 March. The trial was held in absentia, as Levinau was receiving treatment abroad. The Viciebsk Regional Court later confirmed the sentence.
On May 5, after returning to Belarus, Pavel Levinau was detained by police officers in Viciebsk, but was immediately taken hospital due to high blood pressure. A few days later, he underwent a scheduled surgery.
Following Levinau's arrest, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders issued a special statement to condemn the harassment.
On June 27, Aliaksei Loika, an observer of the HRC “Viasna” who was beaten during a police attack on the organization’s office on March 25, was notified that the police officers involved in the incident would not face criminal charges.
57 people were detained during a raid on Viasna’s office in Minsk on March 25. These included human rights activists, observers and journalists, including foreign ones, who attended a briefing ahead of monitoring the Freedom Day demonstration.
Torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
The mother of Aliaksandr Akulich, an inmate of the Svietlahorsk-based detention facility who died while serving administrative detention in 2012, received a message from the UN Human Rights Committee saying that her individual communication alleging the violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been registered by the Committee on June 12 under No. 2987/2017.
Numerous persons who served administrative detention following the March protests appealed against the inhuman and degrading conditions of detention in the penal facilities of Minsk. The detainees complained that they were served poor food, which did not take into account the special needs of separate people admitted to these institutions. The detainees were not able to indicate that they are vegetarians, vegans, allergic to certain foods or have eating habits for health reasons.
The reactions by the government bodies to these complaints were different. An inspection carried out by the Prosecutor’s Office of the Sluck district in the city’s temporary detention facility found violations, including those indicted in the complaints. The Prosecutor’s Office ordered to eliminate the flaws. The National Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology of the Interior Ministry’s Department of Finance and the Rear, which conducted a separate monitoring of the detention facility in Sluck, concluded that the violations, which were described in the complaint, had been partly confirmed. The administration of the facility was instructed to correct the violations and to strengthen compliance with sanitary and epidemiological standards. The chief of the Sluck district police department, however, found no violations in his own department.
The same body revealed violations in Minsk and sent proposals to improve the situation. The sanitary and epidemiological service of the Ministry of Interior was charged with implementing the proposals.
Siarhei Kuntsevich, earlier arrested in the ‘rioting case’ told the Human Rights Center "Viasna" shortly after his release on recognizance on June 2 that during a questioning in the KGB building, which took place in the absence of a lawyer, several persons in black uniforms and masks hit him several times, after the investigators left the interrogation room. After that, one of them three or four times used an electroshock weapon against the victim, applying it to his left leg for 30-40 seconds. This resulted in an acute physical pain. Moreover, during his stay in the KGB pre-trial prison, Kuntsevich was held in degrading and inhumane conditions: he was forced to sleep on the floor for 14 days, sitting on a narrow board during the day; the prisoner received no medical attention. He had to use a bucket instead of a toilet, which was placed in front of other detainees. All allegations of torture were documented on video and audio recordings.
Earlier, the chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Ales Bialiatski wrote to the Prosecutor General of Belarus asking him to investigate the possible use of torture against persons detained in the KGB’s and the Interior Ministry’s prisons. The Prosecutor General's Office, however, refused to launch a probe.
Later it became known that Siarhei Kuntsevich’s complaints of torture and ill-treatment had been forwarded to the KGB.
In violation of their international obligations, in violation of the established procedure securing the right to legal assistance, the Belarusian authorities handed over to the Russian special services a Russian national Murad Amriev, who was persecuted by the authorities of Chechnya, and was earlier a victim of police torture in Chechnya.
An activist of the Young Front group Zmitser Kremianetski sent an appeal to the State Security Committee (KGB) asking for compensation for his unlawful detention, including several interrogations during the night. In addition, he was brought to the questioning room wearing a black bag on his head, which was apparently done for the purpose of intimidation and psychological pressure. This caused particular suffering and humiliated his human dignity.
The family of Aleh Bahdanau, an inmate of the Žodzina-based prison No. 8 who died in January 2016, received, after almost eight months of complaints, a message from the Minsk regional office of the Investigative Committee saying that it had closed a preliminary investigation into the prisoner’s death due to lack of evidence.
Siarhei Tkachenka, a resident of the town of Fanipaĺ, complained to the Dziaržynsk district police department about an incident involving police officers, who badly beat him during arrest. Tkachenka says that he received numerous injuries, and his jacket was torn. A forensic examination found traces of at least 26 blows on the detainee’s body. However, a cursory probe failed to established the guilt of police officers in the incident.
Persecution for the exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of speech
On June 3, Aleh Larychau, curator of the street art project Signal, was detained together with his girlfriend Hanna Novik. They faced trumped-up charges of disorderly conduct and were eventually fined by a court.
Aleh Larychau was earlier fined 1,150 rubles for damaging a government-commissioned graffiti, before serving five days in jail for allegedly ‘waving his arms and swearing’. In early April, Larychau was beaten up by two unknown persons who have not yet been found.
The Saviecki District Court in Homieĺ refused to consider the administrative charges against vlogger Maksim Filipovich. On June 2, he was accused of illegally producing and streaming videos on social networks.
Uladzimir Laptsevich faced seven charges in Mahilioŭ for his contribution to a Belarusian minority weekly in Poland called Niva. He was accused of illicit manufacturing of media products.
The death penalty
On June 21, during a hearing of the so-called case of ‘black estate agents’ at the Mahilioŭ Regional Court the prosecutor asked to sentence to death the two defendants, Ihar Hershankou and Siamion Berazhnoi. The court's verdict will be announced on July 21.
On June 30, the Supreme Court considered an appeal against the death sentence earlier handed down to Aliaksei Mikhalenia by the Homieĺ Regional Court. The appeal was dismissed and the death sentence was confirmed.