Human Rights Situation in Belarus: April 2018
- The country’s prisons continued to hold political prisoners Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Amnesty International’s prisoner of conscience Dzmitry Paliyenka. Zhamchuzhny continues to be harassed by the prison administration;
- the authorities have not dropped criminal charges against activists of the independent trade union REP Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik;
- on April 16, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Belarus to demand, in particular, that the country's authorities to immediately releases the two political prisoners Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Paliyenka and restored the civil and political rights of all former political prisoners;
- during the month, there were instances of arrests and harassment of independent journalists and bloggers;
- on April 19, the House of Representatives of the National Assembly adopted in the first reading amendments to the Law on Mass Media, which, according to representatives of the independent media community and human rights activists, was aimed to further strengthen the government’s control of independent media and the Internet sphere;
- on 26 April, Minsk hosted the annual opposition march Čarnobyĺski Šliach. The protest was sanctioned by the Minsk City Executive Committee and was not marred by any incidents or arrests;
- on April 7, the Ministry of Justice for the seventh time denied registration to the BCD party. The reasons for refusal are in no way affiliated with the permissible restrictions laid down in Art. 22 of the ICCPR and constitute a violation of the founders’ right to freedom of association;
- on March 31, the Council of Ministers approved a regulation on permanent commissions in charge of promoting employment. Of particular concern to the human rights community is a rule, which entitles the commissions to send unemployed people with asocial behavior to so called LTPs (labor and treatment profilactoria);
- thus, in April, there were no significant systemic changes in the field of human rights.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
The country’s prisons continued to hold political prisoners Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Amnesty International’s prisoner of conscience Dzmitry Paliyenka.
Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to be pressured by the prison administration.
In particular, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" learned that on April 10 the administration of penal colony No. 9 in Horki imposed on the political prisoner another, 27th, penalty in the form of two months of imprisonment in so-called cell-type premises (PKT).
In addition, Zhamchuzhny was not allowed to be transferred to serve the rest of his sentence in another colony. Earlier, the Department of Corrections said that this issue was in the competence of the head of the colony.
Also, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" learned that Dzmitry Paliyenka returned back to the Babrujsk penal colony, after receiving treatment for his injured leg in a prison hospital in Žodzina.
Meanwhile, on April 16, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Belarus and urged the government to respect human rights and to release and rehabilitate all political prisoners.
It is noted that the country still practices intimidation and harassment of civil and opposition activists, politicians and journalists.
The European Parliament calls on the authorities to immediately release the two Belarusian political prisoners Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Paliyenka and to restore civil and political rights of all former political prisoners.
On April 4, the court of the Maskoŭski district of Minsk ruled to dismiss the claim of four former defendants in the case of preparing riots. Siarhei Strybulski, Viktar Maroz, Viktar Danilau and Andrei Dundukou asked the Ministry of Finance to compensate the moral damage which they received as a result of unlawful arrest, detention and pre-trial restrictions.
The UN reports that members of the Human Rights Committee found that the former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau, who was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in 2011, was the victim of unlawful deprivation of liberty, which infringed his right to privacy, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. During his imprisonment, he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.
In a statement, the Committee notes that the right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental human right and an important condition for the existence of a democratic society: the right includes the possibility to organize peaceful meetings in public places, even without notice, and to participate in them.
The Committee called on Minsk to conduct a thorough impartial investigation into allegations of torture and to bring the perpetrators to justice. It also expressed the need to cancel Sannikov’s conviction and to allow compensation for the sentence. Belarus should also take measures to prevent such violations in future. The experts noted with regret that, despite the duty of states to cooperate with the Committee, Belarus has not taken any part in the consideration of Sannikau’s case.
Freedom of association
On April 7, the Ministry of Justice refused for the seventh time to register the Belarusian Christian Democracy party, according to the BCD’s co-chair Volha Kavalkova.
The grounds for refusal of registration include absence of the phone numbers of several founders. In addition, the authorities referred to errors in the dates of birth of two founders and other minor mistakes, which, according to the Human Rights Center "Viasna", are by no means permissible restrictions on freedom of association laid down in Art. 22 of the ICCPR.
On April 25, at a meeting of the Political Affairs and Democracy Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Andrei Navumovich, chairman of the Standing Committee on Human Rights, National Relations and Mass Media of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly, said that debate was in progress about the appropriateness of abolishing criminal liability for activity on behalf of unregistered organizations or political parties (Art. 193-1 of the Criminal Code).
It should be noted that the human rights community has repeatedly urged the authorities to decriminalize the activity on behalf of unregistered organizations, viewing it as one of the priority measures of restorative nature.
Between 2006 and 2008, at least seventeen people were convicted under Art. 193-1 of the Criminal Code, of which five persons were sentenced to imprisonment of 6 to 24 months. Since 2008, the courts have not passed any sentences under this article, but the charges continued to be used as a tool of pressure on civil society activists; prosecuting authorities repeatedly issued official warnings about the possibility of criminal prosecution under this article.
In 2011, a formal written warning about the inadmissibility of activity on behalf of the unregistered organization Human Rights Center "Viasna" under the threat of prosecution under Art. 193-1 of the Criminal Code was issued by the General Prosecutor's Office to the Chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Ales Bialiatski.
A group of citizens in Viciebsk was penalized for arranging a discussion in a private apartment. The authorities viewed it as a violation of the law on mass events. The District Court fined the alleged organizer 490 rubles and issued warnings to the remaining members of the group.
Harassment of human rights defenders
On April 13, Tatsiana Mastykina, volunteer and observer of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", was questioned at the Saviecki District Office of the Investigative Committee over her unlawful fingerprinting and photographing, which was accompanied by violence on the part of police officers.
Earlier, the observer filed a complaint in the Investigative Committee, which pointed to the violation of her rights by employees of the district police department and requested an investigation into the illegal arrest, fingerprinting, photographing and videotaping before being convicted by the court.
The death penalty
On April 18, Minsk hosted a round-table discussion entitled “Legal aspects of the abolition of the death penalty in the Republic of Belarus”. The event, which was organized by the Council of Europe, brought together members of parliament and representatives of NGOs, including the Human Rights Center "Viasna".
The Supreme Court announced the date of hearing the appeal of Aliaksandr Zhylnikau, who was sentenced to death on May 29, according to Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus”.
Violation of the right to peaceful assembly
Belarus continued to violate the right to peaceful assembly: the permission-based procedure enables local authorities to arbitrarily ban assemblies, while exercising the right without authorization results in heavy fines or administrative detention.
On April 18, the Maladziečna district executive committee did not allow local activists to hold a picket dedicated to the 32nd anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. The ban refers to the fact that the picket venue was other than the only authorized location in the city.
During the month, police arrested and brought to administrative responsibility Ales Taustyka, Viachaslau Kasinerau and Piotr Markelau, participants in a peaceful rally for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of drugs, which took place in Minsk on April 3.
An activist of the BCD Raman Hancharou and blogger Eduard Palchys were sentenced to fines for campaigning in support of the Belarusian-language education. Earlier, similar charges were used to convict a dozen other activists.
Volha Nialaichyk and Maksim Viniarski were arrested and punished with administrative detention for holding a peaceful rally demanding the release of opposition activists, including political prisoners Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Paliyenka.
Violation of freedom of expression. Persecution of journalists
The House of Representatives approved in the first reading amendments to the Law “On Mass Media”, which restrict freedom of speech on the Internet. Reporters without Borders called on the Belarusian authorities to reconsider the draconian amendments, which cause deep concern, and to take into account suggestions from the media community.
Volha Chachyts, reporter for the Poland-based TV Channel Belsat, and the channel’s cameraman Andrei Kozel were again fined for working without accreditation. According to the channel’s press-service, the District Court of Kareličy convicted the journalists under Art. 22.9 of the Administrative Code (violation of the media legislation) and fined 980 rubles each.
Freelance journalist Dzmitry Lupach was fined 857 rubles for the same offense in Hlybokaje.
On April 19, Fiodar Babanau, a 17-year-old activist of an anarchist group, was detained by officers of the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption as a suspect in a case of distributing pornographic materials. However, the law enforcement officers questioned the activist about his involvement in the anarchist movement, including contacts and private life. Babanau, who is currently under travel restrictions, told the Human Rights Center "Viasna" about the psychological pressure that police officers used against him during his arrest and detention.
Artur Zhurau wrote to the Prosecutor’s Office of Minsk’s Saviecki district to complain about the actions of the district police department, who after his arrest for participating in an unauthorized march on Freedom Day arbitrarily detained the man in the police department, preventing him from taking medication and drinking water, thus grossly violating the person’s procedural rights.
At the 63rd session of the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva, the official delegation of Belarus submitted its periodic report within the fifth cycle. An alternative report prepared with the support of Freedom House and the FIDH was presented by Belarusian human rights activists — a lawyer of the HRC "Viasna" Pavel Sapelka, chair of Legal Initiative Viktoryia Fiodarava, a member of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Pavel Levinau and chair of the Belarusian Documentation Center Raisa Mikhailouskaya.
Social and economic rights. Forced labor
On March 31, the Council of Ministers approved a regulation on permanent commissions in charge of promoting employment. The decision, taken pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 3, established the procedure for creating and functioning of permanent commissions to coordinate the work to promote employment within district (city) executive committees (district administrations).
Among other things, the powers of the commissions, in accordance with para. 5 of the Regulation, include sending unemployed people with asocial behavior to so called LTPs (labor and treatment profilactoria). This provision is of particular concern for the Belarusian human rights community, which views the country's existing system of labor and treatment profilactoria and the practice of detention in these facilities of persons suffering from alcoholism as a form of forced labor and unacceptable deprivation of liberty, which are not related to the commitment of any criminal offense.
According to the Interior Ministry, the LTPs accommodate an annual average of about 7,000 people (in 2017 — 7,462 inmates). The practical application of extrajudicial detention in the facilities, as provided by the Council of Ministers’ regulation, will lead to further growth of the number of persons confined to the LTPs.