Human Rights Situation in Belarus: August 2017
- in August, the authorities continued the policy of repression against civil society activists and the political opposition;
- on August 2, financial police raided the Minsk offices of the REP independent trade union and the office of the Belarusian independent trade union in Salihorsk. Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik, REP’s leader and accountant, were arrested as suspects in a criminal case opened under Part 2, Art. 243 of the Criminal Code (large-scale evasion from payment of taxes or duties). Later, Fiadynich was released on recognizance, while Komlik was taken into custody. On 10 and 11 August, both faced formal charges;
- representatives of Belarusian and international human rights organizations issued statements asking to put an immediate end to the harassment of independent trade unions and the dropping of all charges against their leaders. The Belarusian human rights organizations declared Ihar Komlik a political prisoner and requested his immediate release;
- the country’s prisons continue to hold Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Paliyenka, both earlier recognized as political prisoners by the Belarusian human rights organizations. On August 22, Amnesty International issued a statement to declare Paliyenka a prisoner of conscience and to demand his immediate release;
- the criminal case opened this spring against sixteen citizens under Art. 287 of the Criminal Code (creation of an illegal armed formation) has not been closed, and investigative activities are still underway;
- during the month, there were numerous cases of prosecuting citizens under administrative procedures, including in the form of detention, in connection with the exercise of their guaranteed rights to peaceful assembly and expression;
- the authorities stepped up pressure on independent journalists in the exercise of their professional activities;
- a wave of unscheduled recertification initiated by the Ministry of Justice against a number of lawyers is of particular concern to the Belarusian human rights community.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
On August 2, the offices of two leading independent trade unions, REP and the Belarusian independent trade union, in Minsk and Salihorsk were searched by employees of the Department of Financial Investigation in accordance with a warrant issued by the public prosecutor within a criminal case under Part 2, Art. 243 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (large-scale evasion from payment of taxes or duties).
Henadz Fiadynich, REP’s leader, and Ihar Komlik, the union’s accountant, were arrested as suspects in the case. Later the same day, Fiadynich was released on recognizance, while Ihar Komlik remained in custody.
On August 10, Ihar Komlik faced criminal charges under Part 2, Art. 243 of the Criminal Code and was transferred to pre-trial prison No. 1 in Minsk. On August 11, a similar charge was brought against Henadz Fiadynich.
On August 3, the country’s leading human rights organizations said that they view Ihar Komlik as a political prisoner, while the harassment of the trade union leaders is linked to their activities and the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of association.
The arrests stirred a significant international impact. The trade union leaders were supported publicly by the IndustriALL Global Union and the International Confederation of Trade Unions, which called on the Belarusian authorities to stop the persecution of Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik.
On August 10, a statement was issued by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), which also called on the Belarusian government to drop all charges against Ihar Komlik and stop the prosecution of the trade union organizations for their peaceful activities. On August 23, a statement asking to drop all charges against Ihar Komlik and Henadz Fiadynich was made by the Swedish human rights organization Civil Rights Defenders.
The Belarusian prisons continued to hold Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Paliyenka, who were recognized as political prisoners by the Belarusian human rights organizations.
On August 22, Amnesty International issued a statement to declare Dzmitry Paliyenka a prisoner of conscience and calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" received information about new acts of harassment against the political prisoners.
The criminal case opened this spring against sixteen citizens under Art. 287 of the Criminal Code (creation of an illegal armed formation) has not been closed, and investigative activities are still underway.
Harassment of human rights defenders
Aliaksei Loika, lawyer of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", received a negative reply from the Pieršamajski district department of the Investigative Committee to his request to open a criminal case against riot policemen who beat him during a raid on the organization’s office on March 25.
The letter that the riot police attack on the office of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and the subsequent detention of dozens of human rights defenders was entirely initiated by the KGB and conducted on the personal instructions of the leadership of Minsk police.
It is worth recalling that the arrest of representatives of human rights organizations in the office of the HRC "Viasna" disrupted the civil observation of the peaceful protest on March 25.
Violation of the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression
The rights to peaceful assembly and expression are still extremely limited by the authorities.
On August 1, the Pieršamajski District Court of Minsk heard the case of Leanida Kulakou charged with participating in a demonstration that took place on July 7. The same charges were brought against Volha Nikalaichyk. As a result, both activists were punished by a fine of 690 rubles each.
On August 2, the commission for juvenile affairs in Vaŭkavysk heard an administrative case of minor M., who was charged with attending an illegal mass event (Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code). As a result, the teenager received a warning. The commission was headed by deputy chairman of the executive committee Ihar Kashkevich. The meeting was preceded by pressure and threats by an employee of the Maskoŭski district police department of Minsk Andrei Ments, which aggravated the girl’s health.
The Centraĺny District Court of Minsk ordered 10 days of administrative detention for BCD coordinator in the Minsk region Pavel Prakapovich. The activist was accused of involvement in a protest that took place in Minsk on July 7. On that day, about a dozen opposition activists came to Kastryčnickaja Square to protest against the joint military exercises "West 2017" and a military alliance with Russia, as well as in support of Belarusians who suffered for political reasons.
Leanid Kulakou and Volha Nikalaichyk were sentenced to administrative detention for participation in a picket of solidarity with the persons involved in the ‘White Legion case’.
On August 4, the Lieninski District Court of Minsk considered the administrative case under Part 3, Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code (repeated participation in an unauthorized mass event with a year) against Maryna Adamovich. The court did not take into account the activist’s arguments and subjected her to a fine of 920 rubles.
On August 9, the court of Lieninski District Court of Minsk heard the administrative charges against opposition leader Mikalai Statkevich, who was accused of participating in a peaceful protest on July 3. The judge ordered to sentence Statkevich to administrative detention for 15 days; the police, however, chose not to execute the ruling immediately.
Later it was reported that on July 5 Judge Natallia Drachova of the Saviecki District Court of Minsk sentenced Mikalai Statkevich to a fine of 1,150 rubles for repeated violation of picketing restrictions during a rally at the Military Cemetery in Minsk (Part 3, Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code), which was held on May 8.
The opposition politician was arrested at noon on August 26 and taken to the detention center of the Minsk city executive committee’s police department. His wife Maryna Adamovich was not informed about the reasons for the arrest. It was assumed that the politician was held to serve a 15-day detention ordered on August 9. However, it turned out that he was arrested for five days for taking part in an unauthorized meeting on March 30. The court ruling was issued on May 15 and entered into force on May 23. At the same time, Statkevich was not notified of the administrative prosecution, nor of the court decision. The sentence has been appealed.
On August 28, police officers in Minsk detained European Belarus activist Maksim Viniarski. The arrest was the first execution of court rulings issued in late July by the Centraĺny District Court to opposition activists, who on June 22 came to Kastryčnickaja square in Minsk to express solidarity with the defendants in the ‘White Legion case’. The protesters were not detained, but the protest was videotaped by police officers.
On August 7, the court of Minsk’s Zavodski district heard the charges brought against Dzmitry Navumenka and Ivan Lisavets, who were arrested on August 5 for displaying a white-red-white flag at a concert of Krambambulya rock band. On the basis of false testimony by police officers, they were accused of disorderly conduct ("drunk obscene language, harassing citizens, ignoring remarks"),and eventually subjected to a fine of 230 rubles each.
At the same time, it is impossible to hold peaceful assemblies under the rules established by the government. In particular, Aliaksei Yauhenau and Aliaksandr Khamratau, both members of еру REP trade union in Mahilioŭ, were going to hold pickets of solidarity with their associates, who were accused of tax evasion. The pickets were expected to be held at two locations: the former stadium “Khimik”, a venue authorized for street protests by the city’s government, and a plaza outside the city executive committee building. According to Aliaksei Yauhenau, they were not allowed to hold pickets according to the law. For holding a picket at the former stadium the activists need a contract with the department of utilities and the healthcare service, which they refused to sign without the consent of the executive committee. As for the picket in the center of the city, the authorities once again referred to the fact that Mahilioŭ had only one allowed location for public events.
The local authorities in Kalinkavičy did not allow local REP activist Dzianis Rabianok to stage a picket in the city center, which was expected to express solidarity with the trade union’s leaders Ihar Komlik and Henadz Fiadynich, who are facing criminal charges.
Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
The Dziaržynsk District Prosecutor's Office considered a request by Siarhei Tkachenka, a resident of Fanipaĺ, who petitioned to quash the refusal to institute criminal investigation into his beating during the arrest by the police officers on May 9. District Prosecutor Eduard Sventukhouski came to the conclusion that the investigation was not properly conducted and ordered to cancel the refusal to initiate criminal proceedings. The probe file was forwarded to the Dziaržynsk district department of the Investigative Committee for an additional inspection.
Another appeal was submitted to the prosecutor’s office by Dzmitry Serada, a pediatrician in Minsk, who complained against the investigator's decision to refuse to initiate criminal proceedings into an incident, which took place on 4 August 2016, when he was badly beaten during a police raid on his apartment.
Zhanna and Iryna Ptsichkinas have not yet received the money awarded to them as compensation for the damage caused by the death of their son and brother Ihar Ptsichkin. The Ministry of the Interior argued that, firstly, the amount is too high, and, secondly, it must be paid by the Ministry of Finance, which forced it to appeal against the verdict to the Minsk City Court. The Minsk City Court considered the cassation appeal on May 25 and upheld the decision of the trial court. The court decision came into force on May 25, but the two women have not yet received a single ruble of compensation. The Interior Ministry said that the determination of the source of payment was incomprehensible to them. On August 22, a decision of the court of Zavodski district of Minsk clarified the verdict in such a way that the victim’s relatives received hope to receive compensation.
Pressure on journalists
The month was marked by a new wave of repression against independent journalists.
On August 24, the Lida District Court fined Stanislau Ivashkevich, a journalist of the TV channel "Belsat”, 420 rubles, according to the monitoring service of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. The charges stemmed from a story the reporter made for the Poland-based channel.
On August 25, the court of Centraĺny district of Minsk considered the case under Art. 22.9 of the Administrative Code (violation of the media legislation) against Ales Silich, Maryia Artsybashava, Siarhei Kavaliou and Katsiaryna Andreyeva, journalists whose reports appeared on the TV channel "Belsat". They were accused of illicit manufacture of media production and working without accreditation. As a result, the judge punished Siarhei Kavaliou and Katsiaryna Andreyeva by a fine of 1,150 rubles each. Maryia Artsybashava and Ales Silich were fined 805 rubles each.