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Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in January 2010

2010 2010-03-05T15:23:58+0200 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

In January, the election to the Local Councils of the 26th Convocation started in Belarus. According to Presidential decree #21 of 18 January 2010, the election was appointed to 26 April. It was the first campaign carried under the amended Election Code. As soon as the decree was published, Belarusian human rights defenders started monitoring the electoral process all over Belarus within the frames of the campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections. One of their aims was to analyze the practical implementation of new provisions of the electoral legislation. According to these innovations, the subjects who nominated their representatives to election commissions received the right to appeal their non-inclusion in the commissions. A number of public and political activists used this right and applied to court.

The year started with escalating confrontation between the Belarusian authorities and the Union of Poles in Belarus which is not recognized by them. The confrontation has a long history. Pressurization of the UPB activists increased at the end of 2009. A criminal case under Article 210, part 2 of the Criminal Code, 'abuse of duty powers', was instigated against Tereza Sobal, Chairperson of the Polish House in Ivianets (one of the three houses that remained under the control of the disgraced Union of Poles). On 21 January the Belarusian authorities organized an assembly to elect a new administration for the Polish House. That day 43 activists of the Union of Poles who were heading for Ivianets were detained by the police. Meanwhile, the assembly of the UPB activists living in Ivianets unanimously voted for re-election of Tereza Sobal.

Another celebrated case this month was the case of teachers. On 15 January Taisa Danilevich, Chairperson of the education department of the Minsk City Executive Committee, summoned to her office six teachers who were members of different political parties and blankly demanded that they should either leave the parties or quit working at schools. Human rights defenders assisted the teachers in applying to the procuracy concerning the unlawful actions of the state official which rudely violated their constitutional rights.

In January, human rights defenders continued to struggle at courts for the right to peaceful assemblies in connection with the refusal of the authorities to sanction the 18 informational actions by which they intended to mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, the Biaroza District Court found the ban of the Biaroza District Executive Committee legal and didn't grant a claim of human rights defenders Siarhei Rusetski and Vasil Azaranka. This verdict was appealed at a higher court. On 25 January and 26 January cassation appeals against similar verdicts of other courts were lodged by Ales Dzerhachou, a human rights defender from Smarhon, and Maryna Statkevich and Aleh Matskevich, human rights defenders from Barysau.

The death penalty remained an acute issue for Belarus in 2010. In January 2010 the Human Rights Center Viasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, supported by Amnesty International, launched the campaign Human Rights Defenders Against Death Penalty. To provide objective information and to hold a free and open discussion on the merits of the problem of the death penalty – this was the conception the human rights defenders kept to in their work with the population. Abolition of the death penalty or introduction of a moratorium on it was a condition for normalization of the relations with Belarus set forth by the European Union. This was also an obligatory condition for returning to Belarus its guest status at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. As a result, Belarusian officials had to speak on the subject of the death penalty. In January, the internet portal published a number of articles in which this topic was covered by Ela Sarkisava and Anatol Sharkou, professors of the MIA Academy; Siarhei Pratsenka, Deputy Chairperson of the MIA execution department; and Mikalai Samaseika, Chairperson of the Regular Commission of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly on legislation and judicial affairs. All of them agreed that Belarus needed to get rid of the death penalty.

The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch published its yearly report on observance of human rights in the world. The situation of human rights in Belarus was described as deteriorating.

On 28 January it became known that the detention in custody of the Vaukavysk entrepreneurs Uladzimir Asipenka and Mikalai Autukhovich was extended for another month, till 28 February. According to Asipenka's daughter Liudmila, the sanction was issued by A.Tsiatsiukhin, Judge of the Supreme Court.

1. Politically motivated criminal persecution

On 10 January a prosecutor signed the ruling for two-month detention in the pre-trial prison in Vitsebsk of civil activist Siarhei Kavalenka, detained on 7 January for hanging out a white-red-white flag on the top of the main New Year tree of Vitsebsk. A criminal case under Article 339, part 2, 'hooliganism', was instigated against him. On 13 January the restraint to Kavalenka was suddenly changed to a written undertaking not to leave Vitsebsk. On 19 January S.Kavalenka underwent psychiatric expertise to which he was directed by investigator Aksana Muravitskaya. He wasn't informed about the results of the expertise. As Kavalenka learned from the case materials, the charges were changed to Article 339, part 1 and Article 363, 'resistance to police', was added.

On 11 January Valery Tsynkevich, Judge of the Navahradak District Court, found Yury Kazak, an activist of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, guilty under Article 339, part 1 of the Criminal Code, 'hooliganism', and fined him 8,750,000 rubles (about $3,017) for smearing with green paint the monument to Vladimir Lenin in the central square of Navahradak. At the trial, Kazak stated that his main aim was not to destroy the monument, but to draw the public attention to the problem of the criminal communistic heritage in Belarus.

On 5 January officers of the Ivianets District Police Department brought a criminal case under Article 210, part 2 of the Criminal Code against Tereza Sobal, Chairperson of the Polish House in Ivianets, a member of the disgraced Union of Poles in Belarus. The woman was charged with abuse of the duty powers, because in 2004 the Polish House had allegedly received material aid without paying the taxes. Andrei Pachobut, Chairperson of the main council of the Union of Poles, stated that such actions were a provocation of the authorities against T.Sobal.

2. Persecution of civil and political activists

On 5 January Kastus Smolikau, Chairperson of the Vitsebsk regional branch of the Belarusian Popular Front, was fined 70,000 rubles (about $25) by the Vitsebsk District Court. The reason for the fine was that on 29 October the BPF activist set five memorial crosses near the village of Paliai where victims of Stalin's regime had been shot. K.Smolikau decided to inform Yury Vosipau, Chairperson of the Voranava Village Executive Vommittee, about it and proposed to hold a memorial event. However, the official answered him with threats and applied to the district procuracy which instigated an administrative case against Smolikau, accusing him of arbitrary rule.

On 9 January Taras Surhan, an activist of the Young Belarus, was detained in Vitsebsk. Unidentified persons in mufti forcedly pulled him into a car when he went out of his apartment to take out the garbage. Surhan's friends said the detention could be connected to the detention of his comrade Siarhei Kavalenka who had hanged a white-red-white flag on the main New Year tree of Vitsebsk. Surhan was escorted to the Chyhunachny District Police Department of Vitsebsk where he faced administrative charges under Article 17.1, 'disorderly conduct'.

3. Freedom of speech and the right to impart information

The Ministry of Information refused to register a private newspaper Mahiliouski Chas once again. This time the officials stated that the premises where the legal address of the newspaper was situated didn't meet the legal requirements. The first registration denial was issued because the editor of the newspaper didn't have a higher education, the second – because of the failure to present a copy of agreement between the founder of the newspaper and the legal entity functioning as the editorial board. Mahiliouski Chas has been published as a socio-political newspaper with the circulation of 299 copies since 2007. The attempts to register with the state started on 10 September 2009.

The Ministry of Justice presented its pretensions to the Belarusian Association of Journalists concerning the member certificate, the status of the Center for Social Defense of Mass Media, and the BAJ tasks and aims, and issued an official warning to the organization. The order was signed on 13 January by Aliaksandr Simanau, Deputy Minister of Justice. The BAJ administration stated the intention to appeal the groundless warning.

On 19 January three state institutions refused to provide information to Anatol Mazgou, a correspondent with the newspaper Borisovskiye Novosti collecting information for the column Barysau: numbers and facts. One of the officials, Chairperson of the district registry office, refused to inform the journalist about the number of marriages and divorces during the week saying she had already given it to the local state newspaper and TV channel and advised Mazgou to look at the web-site of the district executive committee. On 21 January Anatol Bukas, chief editor of Borisovskiye Novosti, lodged a complaint with the local procuracy. He asked to hold a check-up and warn the officials about the possibility of punishment for violation of the law on mass media.

4. Death penalty

Activists of the campaign Human Rights Defenders Against Death Penalty in Belarus received an answer from the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, signed by Viktar Huminski, Chairperson of the National Security Commission of the Chamber of Representatives, reads: 'Belarus has come to the point where a detailed and open discussion on the abolishment of the death penalty needs to be started in the society. We, deputies, need dialogue with the people in this respect. This dialogue can have different forms. First of all, we will consider the opportunities of holding parliamentary hearings on this issue. I think they will allow an objective evaluation of the situation and the readiness of the society to look at the problem from a new viewpoint.' At the same time, V.Huminski referred to results of the referendum of 1996 and stated that deputies had no right to ignore its results.

5. Freedom of associations

On 14 January founders of the Association of civil organizations Assembly of NGOs tried to get registered with the state for the third time. By the way, the first registration attempt was made in 2002 and the organization founders had to wait for a negative answer of the Ministry of Justice for 18 months (whereas the legal term is just one month). In 2009 the Ministry of Justice refused to register the Assembly of NGOs more quickly. In particular, the officials stated that the aims of the member organizations didn't meet the charter aims of the assembly. Another reason for the registration denial was that the constituent agreement about the establishment of the association was invalid as the heads of the member organizations had ostensibly signed it without the consent of the governing organs of the organizations. Thirdly, the organization name allegedly didn't meet the legal requirements as it contained no indication of the subject of activities of its members.

At the end of January, the Ministry of Justice denied registration to the Belarusian trade union Razam, allegedly because a number of mistakes had been discovered in the list of founders during an appropriate check-up. Iryna Yaskevich, Chairperson of the trade union, stated in an interview with the BelaPAN that these assertions of the ministry didn't meet the reality and promised that the registration attempts would continue.

6. Persecution of civil and political activists

On 21 January a preliminary meeting of the sides in the case Lapitskis v. the Zhodzina Town Executive Committee took place. The case concerned the decision of the Zhodzina TEC to stop the education of the Lapitskis' son Yanka Lapitski in the Belarusian language at the Zhodzina gymnasium #1. The trial was scheduled for 8 February.

On 26 January the Leninski District Court of Brest turned down the complaint lodged by a Young Front activist Yauhen Skrabets against unlawful actions of the draft board during the autumn drafting campaign. Judge A.Karpava explained the verdict by saying that the court hadn't received the necessary papers in the due time. It wasn't the first attempt of the court to evade from considering Skrabets' complaint: at the end of October the judge refused to consider the complaint as it ostensibly needed to be considered by the intergarrison military court. However, later this decision was reversed.

7. Freedom of conscience

On 12 January the Minsk city Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Protection fined the Protestant church New Life 262,798,725 rubles (about $91,900). Prior to it, in December 2009, the committee officers took soil samples at the car parking near the church. According to Siarhei Lukanin, the church lawyer, the fine was imposed under Article 15.11 of the Administrative Code, for alleged 'environmental pollution'. The officials warned the community they would apply to the Minsk Economical Court for forced exaction of the fine if the church failed to pay it in time.

Ivan Mikhailau, 21, a member of Jewish-messianic community, was kept in custody starting from 20 December 2009. He was charged under Article 435 of the Criminal Code, 'draft-dodging'. I.Mikhailau considered himself not as an evading person, but as a conscientious objector on religious grounds and stated he was ready to perform alternative civilian service. However, the draft board refused to assign him to such service. On 31 December 2009, the criminal case against Mikhailau was passed to the Minsk District Court. The trial started on 29 January 2010. As it was found at the trial, Ivan Mikhailau was the eldest of seven children and helped his parents because the family was in a hard financial situation. Some of the children went to school and others studied at high schools on a paid basis. Witnesses from Mikhailau's work characterized him very positively. Ivan Mikhailau could be sentenced to six months of arrest for draft-dodging, though the civil right to alternative civilian service is enshrined in Article 57 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus.

8. Freedom of peaceful assemblies

On 22 January the Leninski District Court of Brest didn't grant Siarhei Vakulenka's claim against the decision of the Hrodna City Executive committee to ban a picket he intended to hold near the Belarus cinema to mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The court agreed with the motivation of the refusal stating that the only place for such actions that had been determined by the city authorities was the stadium Locomotive (situated in a lonely place).

Mahiliou authorities banned civil activists and historians to hold a round table in the town hall on the occasion of the 433rd anniversary of receiving the Magdeburg rights by Mahiliou. On 25 January the organizers of the event, representatives of the Social-cultural institution Strategy of Development and Peace applied to the authorities for the permission. By the way, participants of the event intended to discuss the local self-government.

9. Electoral rights

On 28 January political scientist Yury Chavusau lodged a claim with the Mahiliou City Court against the decision of the Minsk City Executive Committee and the Presidium of the Minsk City Council not to include him in the Minsk City Election Commission as a representative of the civil association BPF Adradzhenne. Chavusau thinks that he wasn't included in the commission on political grounds as there were no defects in the documents for his nomination to the election commission.

On 29 January the Barysau District Court received a complaint against the decision of the Barysau District Executive Committee and the Presidium of the Barysau District Council by which human rights defender Maryna Statkevich, a representative of the local electors, wasn't included in the Barysau district territorial election commission. No explanations were offered by the authorities concerning the non-inclusion of Maryna Statkevich in the commission.