Human Rights Situation in Belarus: July 2019
- political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to serve his sentence in prison;
- on July 6, the Brest Regional Court rejected the appeal of a well-known blogger from Brest, Siarhei Piatrukhin, against an earlier verdict finding him guilty of defaming police officers. Thus, the sentence entered into force;
- on July 9, the authorities reported that they ceased criminal prosecution against another Brest blogger, Aliaksandr Kabanau. The country’s human rights community linked the persecution of bloggers Piatrukhin and Kabanau to their active public activities in the region, including the coverage of protests related to the construction of a battery plant in Brest;
- during the month, cases of harassment of journalists collaborating with foreign media without accreditation were documented, as well as cases of administrative prosecution of participants in peaceful assemblies;
- the practice of unlawful application of anti-extremist legislation continued, which constituted unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression;
- on July 18, Art. 193-1 of the Criminal Code (illegal organization of the activities of a public association, religious organization or foundation, or participation in their activities) was officially revoked. At the same time, Art. 23.88 of the Administrative Code was introduced, which provides for administrative liability in the form of a fine for carrying out activities on behalf of unregistered organizations;
- on July 30, the Viciebsk Regional Court pronounced another death sentence against Viktar Paulau;
- on July 2, at the 41st regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur for Belarus Anaïs Marin presented her first report on the situation of human rights in the country, and on July 12, a vote took place on the resolution “Situation in the field of human rights in Belarus”. As a result, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Belarus was extended for another year;
- in general, the human rights situation remained unsatisfactory, without any tangible changes, while in July, as before, there were no cases of administrative imprisonment for political reasons, which generally continues the general trend of the first half of this year.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
On July 6, the Brest Regional Court upheld the decision of the Lieninski District Court and turned down an appeal by local blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin. The verdict, therefore, entered into force. Piatrukhin has a month to pay almost 17 thousand rubles.
On April 18, the Lieninski District Court found Siarhei Piatrukhin guilty of public defamation and insulting police officers and sentenced him to a fine of 9,180 rubles. In addition, the blogger was ordered to compensate moral damage to the injured police officers (a total of 7,500 rubles) and the costs of a lawyer.
On July 9, it became known that the Biaroza district department of the Investigative Committee closed the criminal case against another critical blogger Aliaksandr Kabanau. He was suspected of misappropriation and embezzlement of more than 400 rubles (part 1 of Article 211 of the Criminal Code), which he received from the residents of the house in which he lives.
Kabanau, along with Piatrukhin, has been repeatedly brought to administrative responsibility. They were fined for posting videos on their co-run YouTube channel “People’s Reporter”, in which they cover the situation around the construction of a battery factory near Brest, and for campaigning for the resignation of the city’s top officials, which the police and the court viewed as unauthorized protests, etc.
Political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, who is serving his sentence in penal colony No. 9 in Horki, spent almost the entire summer in a punishment cell. As the human rights defenders learned in July, during June and July, several penalties were imposed on the prisoner, including a total of 30 days in solitary confinement: on June 10, June 30 and July 10.
During his stay in the penal facility, the political prisoner has been repeatedly subjected to severe penalties, including confinement to so-called “cell-type premises” and the punishment cell. Over the past two years, he has spent more than 400 days in extreme conditions. His age, isolation from people, the inability to be in the fresh air, poor nutrition — all this causes concern for the health and life of the political prisoner.
The death penalty
On July 30, the Viciebsk Regional Court pronounced another death sentence to Viktar Paulau, who was charged under Part 2 of Art. 139 of the Criminal Code (murder).
The preliminary investigation charged Paulau with robbery (Part 3 of article 207 of the Criminal Code), but the prosecutor suggested that the actions be requalified under Part 2 of Article 205 of the Criminal Code (theft).
The murder was committed on December 30, 2018 in the village of Prysušyna near Viciebsk. Viktar Paulau, 50, came to the house of two elderly sisters and severely beat them. He also stole money and several bottles of wine. A few days later, the bodies of women were found in the house.
The prosecutor argued that Paulau’s guilt was proven. His actions were qualified by the prosecution as “particularly dangerous recidivism”.
Given all the circumstances of the case, the prosecutor requested that an exceptional measure of punishment be applied to the defendant - execution by shooting (Part 2 of Article 149 of the Criminal Code).
Meanwhile, the Belarusian government was harshly criticized by UN officials for failure to fully comply with international human rights obligations.
The Republic of Belarus should suspend the execution of death sentences against individuals who have filed complaints with the UN Human Rights Committee, UN human rights experts said on July 1 after receiving information about the execution of Aliaksandr Zhylnikau, whose case was being considered by the Committee.
The Human Rights Committee, together with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, sharply condemned Belarus for its continued use of the death penalty in connection with media reports alleging that Zhylnikau was executed despite the Committee’s request to stay the execution. Until today, Belarus has ignored all the Committee’s requests regarding the suspension of the execution of sentences against persons whose cases were before the Committee. The Committee's procedure known as interim measures aims to stop the state from taking any action that would have irreparable consequences. Disregard of this procedure is a violation by the Republic of Belarus of its obligations under article 1 of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it acceded in 1992.
Freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion and expression
In July, Viasna’s human rights activists summarized information on documented cases of arbitrary detentions, administrative charges and other incidents related, among other things, to the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression.
A court of the Kastryčnicki district of Hrodna fined local historian Mechyslau Supron 127.5 rubles for displaying a banner with the inscription “The Neman is poisoned by housing and communal services” on a bridge in the city center on June 18.
On July 15, the court of the Minsk region examined the cases of Ryhor Asaula and Dzianis Urbanovich who were detained while protesting outside the controversial restaurant “Poedem, poedim” on July 13 and 14. The activists were fined 20 and 30 base units, respectively.
There was an ongoing confrontation between the authorities and opponents of the construction of an environmentally hazardous factory in Brest: protesters continued to arrange weekly meetings, while police officers continued to detain the most active demonstrators and charge them with committing administrative offenses.
The authorities continued to apply anti-extremist legislation with the aim of unlawfully restricting freedom of opinion and expression.
The court of the Centraĺny District of Homieĺ fined Aliaksandr Ivanou 127.5 rubles for allegedly distributing extremist content. Back in 2017, the man posted on his Facebook page an article containing the emblem of Nazi Germany, which was not done for the purpose of propagating Nazi ideology.
The Minsk City Court refused to consider an appeal against the ruling by an anarchist activist Mikalai Dziadok. According to the judge, Dziadok was not involved in the case and his rights and legitimate interests were not affected by the decision appealed. At the same time, the activist was repeatedly fined administratively for posting this particular inscription on social networks.
Almost three years have passed since the day when riot police burst into Dzmitry Serada’s apartment. The property in the apartment was damaged, special equipment and physical force were used against Serada, and injuries were caused. There was no investigation into the incident, as decisions were issued to refuse to open a criminal case, which were later canceled several times due to the unsatisfactory probes. The Partyzanski District Court in Minsk found a violation of the law and quashed the last of the decisions. The authorities of the Ministry of the Interior refused to compensate for the damage caused to the property and formally apologize to Dzmitry Serada and his family.
On March 25, 2017, a minor, Yana Yatsynovich, was detained by riot police during Freedom Day protests in Minsk. The girl claims that she was grabbed by the hair and dragged into a bus, where a law enforcement officer inflicted several severe blows on her neck. A week later, Yana’s health deteriorated: nausea, vomiting, frequent bouts of epilepsy. During the following year, she underwent several examinations and was periodically treated in various health care facilities. Yana's parents filed a statement about bodily harm by internal affairs officers, demanding that the perpetrators be found and punished. As a result, the Investigative Committee said there were no cause-and-effect relationships between the girl’s disease, epilepsy, and the blows to the back of her head. In July of this year, new evidence of the guilt of Interior Ministry officials appeared.
The Human Rights Center “Viasna” received information about the ill-treatment of prisoners in penal colony No. 22 in Ivacevičy: they are denied medical assistance and unreasonably punished in a disciplinary manner. Such treatment of prisoners was one of the reasons for the protest organized in the prison in November 2018, the consequences of which — the transfer of several dozen prisoners to maximum-security prisons (the most severe of the possible regimes for serving sentences) — only became known recently.
Persecution of journalists
Back on May 31, Raman Karaban, a judge of the Maskoŭski District Court of Brest, sentenced independent journalists Ales Liauchuk and Milana Kharytonava to fines of a total of 2,040 rubles, Belsat TV said. The reason for this fine was their coverage of a protest against the construction of a battery factory, which took place on April 7. The journalists, however, were only notified of the court rulings several months later.