Human Rights Situation in Belarus: November 2019
- political prisoner Mikhail Zhanchuzhny continued to serve his sentence in prison;
- on November 21, the authorities suspended criminal proceedings against blogger Aliaksandr Kabanau. In early July, the criminal case against Kabanau under Part 1, Art. 211 of the Criminal Code (embezzlement) was discontinued by the Biaroza Department of Investigative Committee for lack of evidence, but in late October, after President Lukashenka’s public statement regarding the participation in the parliamentary elections of some of the campaigners protesting the construction of a battery factory in the city of Brest, the criminal case against the critical blogger was resumed;
- on November 12, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of Viktar Paulau, who was sentenced to death by the Viciebsk Regional Court on July 30, 2019. The death sentence has entered into legal force;
- during the month, there were cases of administrative charges brought against participants in peaceful assemblies;
- in November, there were cases of repression against journalists;
- on November 17, elections of members of the House of Representatives of the 7th convocation were held in Belarus. The only domestic citizen monitoring group, “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, came to the conclusion that the elections of deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the seventh convocation, in general, did not meet a number of key international standards for democratic and free elections, and the electoral legislation of the Republic of Belarus;
- the election campaign was not marked by a significant increase in repression, but shortly after voting day, active participants in the peaceful protests held during the elections faced administrative charges of illegal protesting; these included former candidates;
- in general, the human rights situation in November remained poor, with no visible positive change.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
Mikhail Zhanchuzhny continued to serve his politically motivated prison sentence.
On November 21, the authorities suspended criminal proceedings against blogger Aliaksandr Kabanau.
In March, investigators reported that in 2017 Kabanau received from the residents of a house in which he lives money for the state registration of a housing cooperative and the preparation of project documentation for the construction of basements, but the money, over 400 rubles, were allegedly taken by the blogger. Kabanau himself explained that he did not appropriate the funds. According to him, he had an agreement with the residents about the remuneration of his work as chairman of the condominium, with each apartment expected to pay 2 rubles a month; the donations formed the above amount.
In early July, the Biaroza district department of the Investigative dismissed the case against the blogger for lack of evidence, and in late October it resumed proceedings. It is indicative that the criminal case was reopened shortly after Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s public statement targeting opponents of the battery factory in Brest “striving for power”.
Blogger Aliaksandr Kabanau, together with his associate Siarhei Piatrukhin, were repeatedly brought to administrative responsibility. They were fined for contributing to the YouTube channel “People’s Reporter”, in which they cover the situation around the environment-damaging construction near Brest. They were also convicted over campaigning for the resignation of local officials, which the police and the court viewed as unauthorized mass events. The human rights community earlier demanded the cessation of persecution and pressure on bloggers Piatrukhina, Kabanau, and Pavuk.
Freedom of peaceful assembly and expression
November saw new episodes of confrontation between protesters against the opening of an entertainment facility in the vicinity of the place of mass executions in Kurapaty on the one hand, and the police and security — on the other. On November 3, the protesters were attacked by the facility’s security guards. The police, however, arrested the victims of the attack and took them into custody. The protesters faced charges on spurious grounds. Among them there was a minor Ilaryion Trusau, whose case was considered by a juvenile commission; the teenager us facing confinement to a special closed school.
On November 4, the District Court of Minsk considered the administrative cases of the Young Front members, Dzianis and Maksim Urbanovichs, Vital Tryhubau, and Valery Rabtsau, earlier detained and beaten in Kurapaty, near the Poedem poedim restaurant. Dzianis Urbanovich was fined a total of 1,657.5 rubles) for disorderly conduct and disobedience to a lawful request of an official. Maksim Urbanovich received a fine of 510 rubles. Judge Vadzim Kazei fined Valery Rabtsau 1,020 rubles under articles 17.1 and 23.4 of the Administrative Code, Vital Tryhubau — 1,020 rubles on the same charges. On November 18, Dzmitry Kazakevich, former candidate for Parliament representing the Belarusian Christian Democracy, was fined 510 rubles. Earlier, he was deregistered after being beaten in Kurapaty.
On November 11, students of the Minsk Innovation University announced a strike against the decision of the Ministry of Education to deprive the university of accreditation for training in some majors. The strike was attended by over 600 students.
On November 15, Minsk’s central Kastryčnickaja Square hosted a protest entitled “Meeting of Free People”, earlier announced by the opposition group “European Belarus”. In the morning, the area was fenced off with ribbons, and construction equipment was brought, allegedly to install a Christmas tree.
Human rights defenders learned that activist Volha Nikalaichyk was detained ahead of the protest. Several other activists were arrested on Kastryčnickaja Square, including Anastasiya Huseva, and European Belarus members Maksim Viniarski, Andrei Sharenda, Andrei Voinich, and Yauhen Afnahel.
On the eve, a few activists were summoned to the prosecutor's office and warned against joining the demonstration.
The protest had repercussions at the end of the month. On November 29, the court in Polack ordered 15 days of detention for activist Ales Krutkin. The sentence stemmed from a repost on Facebook advertising the November 15 protest in Minsk. Judge Viktar Balyka viewed it as a violation of Part 3, Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the order of holding mass events).
Other activists were also charged with being involved in the protest.
Former parliamentary candidate Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk and her husband Andrei Sharenda received heavy fines for staging several campaigning pickets, which the police and the district election commission said were violations of electoral laws. The couple was awarded a total of 3,952.5 rubles, or nearly $ 2,000. A European Belarus activist, Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk was running in the Brest-located electoral district No. 1, and her husband was her campaign activist. They were staging one of the brightest campaigns when Ms. Sharenda-Panasiuk was stripped of her registration. The district election commission found a violation of Article 47 of the Electoral Code in the candidate’s televised address, as well as in her street pickets. According to the commission, the pickets aimed at “other purposes”, rather than the purpose of promoting herself as a candidate. In particular, during the pickets, the candidate chanted “Lukashenka must go”, “Basta”, “Lukashenka stole the election”, “There is no Parliament in Belarus” and others. The speeches, according to the commission, contained insults of public officials, calls to take to the streets to change the constitutional system, and calls for inciting social enmity.
As a result, she was deprived of registration and also charged with violating electoral legislation (Article 9.10 of the Administrative Code) and laws on mass events (Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code). The same charges were brought against her husband.
On November 6, Andrei Sharenda was fined 1,275 rubles by the court of the Lieninski district of Brest. The charges were a violation of Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code and failure to appear in court (Article 24.6 of the Administrative Code). The second hearing was held on November 13. Then Sharenda received a fine of 1,402.5 rubles: for “unauthorized mass events” and for violation of the election legislation. On the same day, Judge Aliaksandr Semianchuk awarded his wife a 1,020-ruble fine under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code and an additional 255 rubles for violation of Article 9.10 of the Administrative Code. Thus, the total amount of fines for the family was 3,952.5 rubles.
At the end of the month, charges were brought against other activists involved in election campaigning.
The death penalty
On November 12, the Supreme Court considered an appeal by Viktar Paulau who was earlier sentenced to death by the Viciebsk Regional Court.
The appeal was dismissed and the sentence was upheld. Thus, the death verdict became final.
Persecution of journalists
On November 8, during a protest described as a meeting with bloggers, observers reported the arrest of a TV crew of the German ARD channel: Demian von Osten, Siarhei Siarheyeu and Aliaksandr Saldatau. They spent several hours in custody at the police department of the Centraĺny district of Minsk.
On November 16, journalists of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Belarus service were attacked by the police during the November 16 protest in Minsk. Equipment was reportedly damaged after police officers in civilian clothes attacked the protesters outside the Interior Ministry headquarters.
On voting day, November 17, Anatol Shevel, chairperson of polling station election commission No. 15 in electoral district No. 33 in Homieĺ, and director of the College of Railway Transport, which housed the polling station, prohibited journalist Yulia Sivets to cover voting procedures after he accused the reporter of showing a “Polish accent”. The official also expelled a BelaPAN reporter, demanding “accreditation”. After an oral complaint to the district election commission, the journalists were allowed to the polling premises.