Human Rights Situation in Belarus: September 2019
- political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to serve his sentence. The prisoner will spend the next two or three months in a punishment cell;
- on September 25, the Minsk City Court was to open a closed trial in the criminal case of Dzmitry Paliyenka, an activist of the anarchist movement, charged under Part 3, Art. 339 (especially malicious hooliganism), Art. 369 (insulting a representative of authorities), Art. 130 (incitement to racial, ethnic, religious or other social hatred or enmity), and Art. 341 (desecration of buildings and destruction of property) of the Criminal Code. Due to the fact that the criminal case is of great public interest, and some of the charges constitute unacceptable restriction on freedom of expression and create a new dangerous form of persecution of citizens for public criticism of the activities of government bodies, human rights organizations in Belarus issued a joint statement to demand an open court hearing in the case in compliance with the principles and guarantees of a fair trial. As a result, the trial was adjourned due to the judge’s illness;
- on October 27, the judicial board on civil cases of the Brest Regional Court dismissed the appeal of the founders of a regional environmental human rights public association “EcoBrest”. On July 26, the Brest Regional Executive Committee refused to register the association on grounds not related to the permissible restrictions on freedom of association;
- the elections of deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly are taking place in a calm atmosphere and have not yet led to a deterioration of the overall human rights situation or an increase in the volume of repression against the political opposition and civil society;
- in general, the situation with human rights remained poor during the month, with no visible positive change.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
Political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to serve his sentence.
As it became known, Zhamchuzhny will spend the next 2-3 months in a punishment cell. This was reported to the Viciebsk Viasna by human rights activist Leanid Svetsik, who recently received a letter from the political prisoner.
The trial of activist Dzmitry Paliyenka was expected to open on September 25. It was reported that the hearing would be held behind closed doors.
Former political prisoner and Amnesty International’s prisoner of conscience, Dzmitry Paliyenka was re-arrested by police on March 20, 2019, on suspicion of committing particularly malicious hooliganism (using a pepper spray against a citizen after a conflict) and placed in jail.
It should be noted that in February 2019, Dzmitry was detained by police on suspicion of spraying anti-police graffiti on a building in Minsk as part of a criminal case under Art. 341 of the Criminal Code.
Later, he was charged under several articles of the Criminal Code: Part 3 of Art. 339 (especially malicious hooliganism), Art. 369 (insulting a representative of authorities), Art. 130 (incitement to racial, ethnic, religious or other social hatred or enmity), and Art. 341 (desecration of buildings and property damage).
It should be noted that some of the charges against Paliyenka, according to the human rights community, constitute an unacceptable restriction on freedom of expression and create a new dangerous form of persecution of citizens for public criticism of the activities of state bodies and officials.
In particular, Dzmitry Paliyenka is charged with inciting hatred, which, according to the investigation, targeted “other social group”, police officers.
The charge stems from an analysis of video footage in which unknown persons were seen spraying anti-police graffiti to the background song “Cops Kill the Young” by the Russian group Televizor. The video also features several posters and slogans targeting the police, including an image of the former Minister of the Interior Ihar Shunevich. Based on the same analysis, the investigation came to the conclusion that the footage was also evidence of insulting a public official, Ihar Shunevich, who was then Interior Minister.
Due to the fact that the criminal case is of great public interest and is politically motivated, Belarusian human rights organizations issued a joint statement demanding an open trial in the case in compliance with all the principles and guarantees of a fair trial. In a statement, the human rights activists reminded the authorities that, in accordance with the provisions of the Guidelines on the definition of political prisoners, approved by the Belarusian human rights community, imprisonment in violation of the right to a fair trial and other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the European Convention on Human Rights, in the presence of political motives of the prosecution, is the basis for qualifying such persons as political prisoners.
The trial was eventually postponed indefinitely due to the illness of the judge.
Freedom of association
On September 27, the judicial board on civil cases of the Brest Regional Court dismissed the appeal filed by the founders of the regional environmental human rights public association “EcoBrest” against a refusal of registration.
The NGO’s constituent assembly was held on May 26. The founders of the association were 12 inhabitants of Brest and Brest district. The main goal of social organization is wide public involvement in environmental issues, protection of human rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and international treaties.
On July 26, the Brest Regional Executive Committee refused to register the association. The grounds for refusal were violations of the law in the documents submitted for registration. These flaws, according to the registering authority, are irreparable.
According to one of the founders of the association, known Brest human rights activist Raman Kisliak, the regional executive committee did not like the style of the submitted documents. The founders intend to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
On September 11, the court of the Zavodski district of Minsk ruled that damages to the family of Dzmitry Serada, whose apartment was broken into by law enforcement officers, should be paid for at the expense of the state budget. The court ruling supported the plaintiff’s arguments about the illegality of the police raid, which exceeded their authority in the application of physical force and police gear.
The human rights defenders of Viasna in Mahilioŭ received a response to their complaints concerning conditions of detention in Babrujsk prison located in a 19th-century building. The prison administration argued that the absence of daylight was not a violation.
Violations of freedom of expression
On September 27, Maksim Urabnovich, an activist of the Young Front opposition group, was fined 510 rubles for “participating in an unsanctioned mass rally in Yanka Kupala Park on August 25”. The Centraĺny District Court of Minsk and the police argued that laying flowers at the monument to Yanka Kupala and photographing constituted an illegal protest.