Human rights situation in Belarus. May 2019
- Political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny remained in the penitentiary throughout the month;
- On May 16, 2019, human rights defenders learned of the mass detentions among Roma population during operative investigation measures to solve the murder of a road policeman in Mahilioŭ. According to numerous witnesses, the detentions were made solely on the basis of ethnicity and were accompanied by the unlawful use of violence, threats, and intimidation. As a result, 50 to 100 Roma men were administratively detained for three days allegedly for disorderly conduct and later released with no charges. Afterward, the representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Investigation Committee stated that the road policeman actually committed suicide and hadn't been murdered, head of the Presidential Executive Office Natallia Kachanava apologized to the Roma community of Mahilioŭ;
- On May 14, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus dismissed an appeal of Aliaksandr Asipovich who had been sentenced to death by the Mahilioŭ Regional Court. Thus, at the moment, there are three people awaiting the execution of the death sentence in remand prison #1 in Minsk.
- Throughout the month, the practice of holding participants of peaceful assemblies administratively liable has endured, including for refusal to pay the costs of holding an assembly;
- The month marked the ongoing harassment of journalists working for foreign media without accreditation;
- On May 8, Ingush civil society activist, blogger and journalist Ismail Nalgiev was detained in Belarus. On May 10, in violation of established procedures, being refused the opportunity to appeal the decision, he was expelled from Belarus, and on May 11 was transferred to a pre-trial detention facility in Nalchik (Russian Federation). Thus, actual extradition to the authorities of the Russian Federation of a citizen risking torture and ill-treatment in Russia took place. The extradition happened in violation of the procedure established by the criminal procedural legislation and international treaties;
- On May 22, representatives of the Viasna HRC – lawyer Pavel Sapelka and member of the organization's Board Valiantsin Stefanovich – took part in the conference on mechanisms of implementation of the UN HRC recommendations. The conference was organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus and OHCHR/UN Resident Coordinator’s Office. The event was attended by representatives of the human rights community, relevant agencies and ministries, international human rights organizations, the Human Rights House Foundation and CCPR-Center, as well as UN HRC expert Ilze Brands Kehris;
- In general, the human rights situation remained poor, with no visible positive change.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
On May 2, the Corrective Services of the Tsentralny District Directorate of Internal Affairs in Minsk acquainted leader of the REP Independent Trade Union Henadz Fiadynich with the changes in the conditions for serving the restraint sentence. The Corrective Services Department has mitigated previously established conditions for serving the sentence and took into account some petitions of Mr. Fiadynich.
Earlier, the petitions to change the established conditions for serving the house arrest have been repeatedly filed by both the REP trade union, and Henadz Fiadynich himself.
The Corrective Services established a new permitted distance within which the union leader can move around his flat – the area was expanded from the flat to the postbox (in spare time only). The ban on leaving the house now applies from 9 pm to 6 am (before Fiadynich was instructed to stay in his flat from 7 pm to 6 am).
On November 9, 2018, the Minsk City Court upheld the verdict of the Savetski District Court of Minsk: the leaders of the REP Trade Union Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik were adjudged guilty under part 2 Art. 243 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (fraudulent tax evasion). Both were sentenced to 4 years of restriction of freedom.
Ihar Komlik was registered with the Corrective Services of the Frunzenski District Directorate of Internal Affairs of Minsk in December 2018, Henadz Fiadynich was acquainted with the restraint conditions on January 4, 2019.
In early May, Viciebsk human rights activists received a letter from Mikhail Zhamchuzhny. The political prisoner informed his colleagues that the conditions of serving the sentence had relatively improved. He described his needs and some new opportunities for defending his rights in prison.
Mikhail Zhamchuzhny communicated that the change of the executive staff of the penitentiary brought some liberalization in his treatment – it became graciously polite, at least outwardly. The prisoner started receiving replies to his petitions in writing referring to relevant legislative acts.
Violation of the right to peaceful assembly
In Brest, the authorities keep on persecuting the participants of protest actions: on April 30, the Deputy Prosecutor of Brest summoned five activists of the campaign against the construction of the car battery factory. In the Prosecutor's office, they were officially warned against violating the Mass Events Act. The day before, a few hours after the information appeared in social networks and the media about Brest activists preparing the rally against the battery factory since they hadn't received any objection from local authorities, the Brest Executive Committee issued a statement that this information was incorrect. The applicants received a written notice prohibiting the meeting two days before the planned event, while statutorily they had to be notified at least five days before the event.
On May 11, an active opponent of the battery factory construction in Brest Dzmitry Bekaliuk was fined 40 base values (1020 rubles) for violation of the procedural arrangements of holding mass events under part 3 Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code. The same judge fined Aliaksandr Maracheuski 255 rubles. Liudmila Karcheuskaya was fined 20 base values (510 rubles) for participating in the "pigeon feeding action" on April 14.
On May 2, chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) Ihar Barysau, following the footsteps of other organizers of the Freedom Day celebration in Kiev Park in Minsk, was punished by a fine of 30 base values for refusing to pay the public order maintenance services rendered by the police during the rally and the concert in Kiev Park on March 24. Meanwhile, the organizers and the Chief Directorate of Internal Affairs have an unsettled dispute over the quality of services rendered and the raised payment sum as compared to the one stated in the contract.
On May 3, human rights organizations in Belarus demanded from the Belarusian authorities amending the Mass Events Act and bringing it in line with international standards in the field of human rights; canceling Decree #49 on approval of Regulations on procedure for payment for public order maintenance services provided by internal affairs agencies, the costs associated with medical service, cleaning the territory after conducting mass events; enforcing the possibility of exercising citizens' right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression; abandoning the practice of holding citizens liable for the peaceful exercise of constitutional freedoms, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
In late May, a few participants of the unauthorized antinuclear rally that took place on April 26 were fined. On May 17, Judge Siarhej Shatsila delivered a ruling on Siarhej Chaly (255 rubles), on May 24, Youth Front activist and participant of Chernobyl March-2019 Ivan Mironchyk received the ruling of Judge Viktoryia Shabunia fining him 20 base values (510 rubles). The same judge fined Julia Liashkevich for the same incident. Volha Kavalkova was fined 382,5 rubles. All in all, 12 persons were held administratively liable in May; the total amount of fines excessed 4000 rubles.
Violation of the right to freedom of expression
Hleb Rubanau was detained in the night on May 7 for sharing a picture as part of the online flash-mob #яэкстремист, and on May 13, Judge Vera Halaukova fined him 40 base values – 1020 roubles.
Violation of the right to a fair trial
On May 8, Ingush civil society activist, blogger and journalist Ismail Nalgiev was detained in the Minsk National Airport. He also heads the public organization The Choice of Ingushetia. He was detained at border control an hour before departure under the pretext that he was allegedly wanted. On May 10, in violation of established procedures, being refused the opportunity to appeal the decision, he was expelled from Belarus, and on May 11 was transferred to a pre-trial detention facility in Nalchik (Russian Federation). Thus, actual extradition to the authorities of the Russian Federation of a citizen risking torture and ill-treatment in Russia took place. The extradition happened in violation of the procedure established by the criminal procedural legislation and international treaties.
The human rights organizations made a statement and demanded the authorities to fully comply with its obligations in the field of protection and promotion of human rights, in particular, protection against torture and other cruel, inhuman treatment or punishment, protection from arbitrary arrest or detention, the right to protection, and the right to appeal against decisions. The human rights defenders also called for abandoning the practice of “fast track extradition” when addressing requests from the Russian special services and other states seeking the extradition of foreign nationals staying in the territory of the Republic of Belarus.
Mehrdad Jamshidian is an Iranian citizen who had lived in Belarus for 25 years, was released from the detention facility where he had spent over 11 months: the legislation of Belarus provides for the possibility of indefinite detention of aliens for purposes of "identification" if sanctioned by the prosecutor. Mehrdad Jamshidian who had repeatedly gone through all kinds of identification procedures for foreigners due to the long-term presence in Belarus was kept in detention for such a long time arbitrarily.
Persecution of journalists
In Belarus, the ongoing harassment of journalists working for foreign media without accreditation takes place. For a video shooting aired in the "Each of Us" show on Belsat TV channel, journalists Alena Shabunia and Viachaslau Lazarau were fined 1275 rubles in total.
On May 14, the Ministry of Interior published a homophobic statement on its website: on the International Day Against Homophobia, the agency, following its annual tradition, commented on the rainbow flag hung out by the British Embassy in Minsk and claimed the firmness of its stance: "The artificial fluttering about the topic of same-sex relationships is destructive, violates the standards of morality, leads to an increase of sexual crimes against children! We are for the genuine, they shall not pass!". The stigmatization of citizens on the basis of sexual orientation is of particular indignation for human rights defenders. The position and statements of the notoriously homophobic minister of internal affairs have previously caused human rights defenders to file a complaint to the Investigation Committee.
On May 15, civil initiative Romaintegration presented the report "Socio-Economic Situation of the Roma Population in Belarus." Among the problems, civil society activists and human rights defenders mentioned repeated denials of employment related to ethnic origin and ethnic profiling – the practice of singling out Roma people as a special precaution.
On May 16, due to the death of a road police officer in Mahilioŭ, local Roma men underwent massive repression: Roma houses were raided by the police who detained male family members using disproportionate force and ill-treatment. Noteworthy is the fact that all the detained on suspicion of committing a high crime that can be punished by death penalty were deprived of statutory procedural safeguards since their detention was registered as a consequence of an administrative offense.
Human rights defenders expressed their concern about the incident; human rights defenders from Mahilioŭ Viasna chapter Aliaksej Kolchyn, Barys Bukhel, and Aliaksandr Burakou filed a complaint to the regional prosecutor's office against actions of the executive staff of the regional Internal Affairs Directorate and police officers related to the mass detentions of Roma people. Chairman of the Viasna HRC Ales Bialiatski filed a petition to the General Prosecutor's Office requesting to make an inquiry into the legitimacy of detentions in Roma community in Mahilioŭ.
In his response to the petition, head of citizens' petitions management department Jury Karpitski informed that "the Order of the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Belarus created a working group which would assess the actions of internal affairs agency staff while detaining Roma persons in Mahilioŭ in May 2019."
Until now, the Interior Ministry has not admitted violations of its employees; at the same time, head of the Presidential Executive Office Natallia Kachanava apologized to the Roma community for the incident.
The death penalty
On May 14, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus considered an appeal of Babriusk resident Aliaksandr Asipovich who had been sentenced to death.
The verdict to Aliaksandr Asipovich was delivered at the visiting session of the Mahilioŭ Regional Court in Babruisk on January 9 this year. He was found guilty of a double murder committed under aggravating circumstances and sentenced to death.
Members of the judicial board – deputy chairman of the Supreme Court Ruslan Aniskevich, Judge Aliaksej Tsiatsiukhin, and Judge Andrej Jafremau – denied the motion of the accused to commission supplementary expert evidence and upheld the verdict.
Now the convict has the opportunity to appeal the verdict in a court of supervision and to ask the president for clemency.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) condemned the decision of the Belarusian Supreme Court to uphold the death sentence of Aliaksandr Asipovich. According to the PACE press service, the corresponding statement was made by PACE Rapporteur on the abolition of the death penalty Titus Corlatean and Chair of PACE's Political Affairs Committee Ria Oomen-Ruijten.
According to Viasna human rights activists, over the last 10 years, 23 people were executed by shooting in Belarus, and not a single clemency application has been approved.