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

2010 2010-03-16T13:26:27+0200 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

In February, the conflict between the two Unions of Poles in Belarus, one of which is recognized by the Belarusian authorities and the other – by the Polish authorities, reached the international scale. On 17 February the Valozhyn District Court obliged Tereza Sobal, Chairperson of the Ivianets Polish House, to pass the building to the administration of the pro-governmental Union of Poles. Mass detentions of civil activists were conducted during the court hearings on  confiscation of the Polish House. The UPB leaders were punished by courts on charges in organizing an unauthorized action of solidarity in Hrodna on 10 February. An urgent counsel of the Polish MFA was summoned in connection with these events. It was decided that the officials who were involved in repressions against the Belarusian Poles would be banned to enter the territory of Poland.

The Polish Embassy turned the attention of the Belarusian media to an inadequate character of the information presented by some Belarusian TV channels. ‘We treat the anti-Polish propagandist campaign of the Belarusian TV with a great concern and regret, and consider it as a bad policy in the dialogue between our states,' pointed Pavel Marczuk, First Secretary of the Polish Embassy. At the end of February, the European Investment Bank decided to stop issuing loans to Belarus because of pressurization of the Union of Poles. Marta Gajecka, Deputy Chairperson of the bank, stated in an interview to Gazeta Wyborcza that EIB loans were the only means of financial pressure on the Belarusian authorities from the side of the European Union. According to the information that was given to the Polish Agency of Press by Wladislaw Stasiak, Head of the Chancellery of the Polish President, in the middle of February Lech Kaczynski addressed Aliaksandr Lukashenka with a letter concerning the situation of the UPB. The Polish President expressed his full solidarity with the Union of Poles in Belarus headed by Anzhalika Borys and called on the European Union to demonstrate solidarity in this case. He pointed that Poland was defending not only the rights of the Polish minority in Belarus, but human rights in general and the rights of the opposition.

It was decided to establish a group of Belarusian and Polish experts for regulating the question of the Polish minority in Belarus. An oral agreement about it was reached by Radoslaw Sikorski, Polish Foreign Minister, and Aliaksandr Lukashenka at the meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine. The debates at the European Parliament took place on 24 February in Brussels. Representatives of the largest European parties condemned the persecution of the Polish minority and demanded that the Minsk authorities should abide by democratic standards. The voting of the resolution was postponed to March.

In February three mass actions of the democratic opposition were violently suppressed in Belarus. On 8 February riot police dispersed an action of solidarity with the arrested Vaukavusk entrepreneurs, Uladizmir Asipenka and Mikalai Autukhovich. Some people were beaten while being pulled to paddy wagons. The glasses of one of them were broken. At the Tsentralny District Police Department, the detained activists were lined in two columns facing the walls and  ordered to stand there for two hours. Then they were released. Those who were taken to the police station for the first time were mugged and fingerprinted. The journalists who covered the action were unable to implement their professional duties again because of the interference of people in mufti who were getting on their way and covered the objectives of their cameras with their hands.

The traditional youth action on St.Valentine's Day, 14 February, was dispersed as well. About 30 members of the youth democratic movement were detained. Tatsiana Shaputska, a Young Front activist who had been expelled from the Belarusian State University short before this, received a light cranial trauma (such diagnosis was given to her at clinical hospital #10).

19 persons including Yuliya Darashkevich, a photo correspondent with Nasha Niva, were guarded to the Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk in connection with the Solidarity Day that is held on the 16th each month to express solidarity with the families of the missing political activists and political prisoners. All detainees were released in three hours without getting any charges.

As a result of escalation of the repressions the Belarusian human rights organizations stated their intention to hold negotiations with the law machinery with the aim to find ways for normalizing the police actions aimed at securing the public order during peaceful assemblies. The negotiations were initiated by the Educational institution Center of Legal Transformation, the Human Rights Center Viasna, the Committee for assistance to the repressed persons Solidarity, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Human Rights House, the Center on Human Rights and the Legal Assistance to Population. The collective address of human rights defenders states that the necessity of the negotiations was urgent and was dictated by the situation of the Union of Poles in Belarus and actions of the law enforcement agencies during the peaceful assemblies of 8, 14 and 16 February. The meeting was appointed for 19 February and was to have taken place in the Europe hotel. Representatives of foreign embassies, the OSCE mission in Minsk, Representation of the European Commission and journalists were invited to the event to monitor the negotiations, provide openness and inform the public about its outcome. However, police and KGB ignored the invitation. Besides, at the last moment the administration of Europe broke the agreement for the rent of its hall and stated that it had been already rented by a delegation that 'arrived from Brazil'.

On 11 February human rights defenders presented a report for the procedure of the Universal Periodical Review of Belarus within the guidelines of the UN Human Rights Council. The Universal Periodical Review (to which Belarus was preparing) is a mechanism of the Human Rights Council on periodically reviewing the implementation of undertakings in the sphere of human rights by 192 state parties of the UN. This procedure was introduced as a result of the UN reformation: the establishment of the Human Rights Council and the elimination of the institution of special rapporteur on human rights for selected countries. The Republic of Belarus passed this procedure for the first time in 2010. The alternative report to the UPR was composed with the participation of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Human Rights Center Viasna, the Assembly of NGOs and the International Federation for Human Rights, and was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in October 2009.

1. Politically motivated criminal persecution

On 11 February Ivan Stasiuk, a Young Front activist from Brest, was issued with a prosecutorial warning for activities on behalf of unregistered organization. The warning reads that the materials confirming such activities of I.Stasiuk were received from the Brest Region KGB Department. The conclusion about his participation in the Young Front was made from the print-outs from the websites of the Young Front and Radio Racyja.

On 19 February the Kastrychnitski District Court of Vitsebsk sentenced Aleh Surhan, an activist of the Belarusian Christian Democracy and the Young Belarus, to six months of arrest and payment of 2.5 million rubles as compensation to police lieutenant Dudkevich under Article 364, ‘violence or threat of violence towards police officer'. In his last plea A.Surhan stated that the criminal case was instigated against him for hanging out a white-red-white flag in the city. However, the police report about this ‘violation' disappeared from the case materials.

On 24 February Tereza Sobal, Director of the Polish House in Ivianets, and Ramualda Miron, its accountant, were questioned at the Valozhyn District Police Department within the frames of the criminal case under Article 210, part 2 of the Criminal Code instigated against T.Sobal on 5 January 2010. The official reason for bringing the case was that at the end of 2004 Tereza Sobal had received 600,000 rubles as material encouragement from the Hrodna administration of the Union of Poles in Belarus. The investigator proposed her to drop the case because of the lapse of time. However, Tereza refused, being sure that the case was to be dropped because of the absence of the corpus of delicti in her actions.

2. Persecution of civil and political activists

On 15 February members of the disgraced Union of Poles in Belarus were punished in Hrodna and Valozhyn. Anzhalika Borys, Chairperson, was fined 1,050,000 rubles (about $355). Mechyslau Yaskevich (Deputy Chairperson of the UPB), Andrei Pachobut (Chairperson of the UPB Council) and Ihar Bantsar (the UPB press secretary) were sentenced to five days of arrest. The court found them guilty of participation in the unauthorized rally of solidarity with Tereza Borys that had taken place in Hrodna on 10 March. Ihar Bantsar kept a hunger-strike of protest during all five days of arrest.

Ales Halavan, an activist of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy, was tried in absentia and sentenced to 7 days of jail. He was informed about it by a court ruling that was sent to him by mail. Halavan was detained with Valery Ramanenka, another BCD activist, on 15 January in Vitsebsk. Police confiscated from them white-red-white flags and accused them of ‘being drunk and disorderly'. A.Halavan and V.Ramanenka were kept in jail for three days before the trial. At the trial they solicited for advocatory services, as a result of which the hearings were postponed. As it follows from the court papers, the trial continued in the absence of A.Halavan.

On 24 February the Frunzenski District Administrative Commission of Minsk fined Iryna Hubskaya, an activist of the organizing committee of the BCD, 175,000 rubles (about $59). The girl was detained in the night of 15-16 February at an action in support of the UPB headed by Anzhalika Borys during which white-red-white stickers with the inscription Wolna Belarus were posted in the metro station Lenin Square and on the buildings of the Belarusian State University and the Minsk City Executive Committee. The administrative commission found Hubskaya guilty of 'violating the rules of urban maintenance' and fined her.

3. Freedom of speech and the right to impart information

On 3 February in Minsk, policemen and people in mufti tried to burst in the apartment rented by Ivan Shulha, a journalist with the Polish TV channel BelSat. Some Belarusian journalists were present in the apartment during this attempt. On 4 February Aksana Reliava, Judge of the Savetski District Court of Minsk, sentenced Ivan Shulha to 10 days of arrest under Article 17.1, ‘disorderly conduct'. The first part of the trial was conducted in a closed regime. The judge dismissed the petition for summoning a witness of the defendant.

Bear in mind that during the assault on the apartment the journalist refused to open the door and shouted to policemen. They opened the door and guarded him to the Savetski District Police Department for an expertise of the blood alcohol content, the results of which didn't confirm the consumption of alcohol. Then the police accused the detainee of using obscene language during the conversation with them, and even of kicking one of them.

On 11 February Anatol Hatouchyts, a correspondent with the non-state information agency BelaPAN, and journalist Aleh Razhkou weren't let in the Savetski District Court of Homel because of carrying a TV and a photo camera. The incident took place before the beginning of the trial of draftee Yauhen Yakavenka who allegedly evaded from military service.

On 15 February the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) addressed another letter to Anatol Kuliashou, Interior Minister, requiring an answer concerning the intervention of the police into work of journalists. ‘At Your press conference on 28 January you promised to discriminate why BAJ received no answer to its appeal concerning violations of the rights of journalists by unidentified persons during the street actions in autumn 2009,' the journalists reminded.

On 17 February officers of the Leninski District Police Department of Minsk searched the working place of the BAJ member Maryna Koktysh, deputy editor of Narodnaya Volia. They confiscated the system unit of her computer and summoned the journalist to an interrogation within the framework of the so-called ‘hunters' case concerning the suspicion of a number MIA officers in abusing their duty powers. A criminal case under Article 188, part 2 of the Criminal Code, ‘libel in mass media', was instigated against the journalist.

On 26 February police searched the apartment of Sviatlana Kalinkina, a journalist with the Narodnaya Volia newspaper. Kaminski, an investigator of the Savetski District Police Department of Minsk, showed her a protocol from which it followed that police were looking for those who insulted the former chairperson of the Homel Region KGB Department. As a result, the system unit of her computer, flash drives and a telephone organizer were confiscated from the journalist. S.Kalinkina was deprived of an opportunity to contact her lawyer, the chief editor of Narodnaya Volia or BAJ representatives, as police officers ordered her to switch off the mobile phone. Sviatlana believes that the real reason for the search was not the ‘hunters' case', but the wish of the law enforcement agencies to intimidate private press.

On 20 February Unitarian trading enterprise Vitebskiy Korund, the founder of the private newspaper Nash Dom, lodged an appeal with the Supreme Economical Court at the refusal of the Ministry of Information to consider the documents that had been submitted for registering the newspaper with the state. Vitebskiy Korund demanded from the court to find the actions of the Ministry of Information unlawful, as the ministry could either register the edition or issue an official registration denial, but didn't have the legal right to return the documents.

Thus, according to the BAJ information, at least 8 socio-political editions faced registration denials (or were returned the registration documents) that month: Nash Dom (Vitsebsk), Mahiliouski Chas (Mahiliou), Soligorsk Plus (Salihorsk), Novaya Gazeta Bobruyska (Babruisk), Maryinahorskaya (Maryina Horka, Minsk region), Prefect Plus (Hlybokaye), Khimik.Dva Goroda (Navapolatsk) and one more edition (name withheld on request of the founders).

4. Freedom of peaceful assemblies

The Brest Region Court turned down the cassation appeal of pensioner Pavel Kazlou against the verdict of the Leninski District Court of Brest which confirmed the legality of banning his picket by the Brest City Executive Committee. The court motivated its verdict by the ruling of the Brest CEC on determining the only place for mass actions – the Locomotive stadium, situated on the city outskirts. The reason for the picketing was that the pensioner had spent four years trying to regain his unlawfully annulled license for expertise of road accidents. Kazlou has a 40-year experience in this profession. The license was annulled after he had conducted expertise of a road accident with and found that it had been caused by a road policeman. During the recent years the pensioner composed about 50 complaints against the annulment of the license, but it yielded no results.

5. Freedom of association

On 3 February the Union of Belarusian Writers adopted unanimously a statement concerning the persecution of its members. The reason was that the administrations of the state organs where some of the UWB members worked received a letter from Presidential Administration Destructive organization, the membership in which is incompatible with work in state institutions. As a result, the administrations summoned UWB members and put them before ultimatums ordering to step out of the UWB. Meanwhile, the Union of Belarusian Writers is officially registered with the state and includes such well-known poets as Nil Hilevich and Ryhor Baradulin and tens of other prominent literary workers.

About 3 months before this the Ministry of Justice requested from the UWB the list of its members including the surnames, nicknames, home addresses, the years of joining the UWB and the places of work. Ales Pashkevich, UWB Chairperson, didn't present to the ministry any information about the places of work of the organization members. However, the ministry learned their places of work from 'other sources'.

On 18 February the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of founders of the human rights association Brest Spring against the denial of the state registration. The main justice department of the Brest Region Executive Committee gave the organization one month to correct mistakes in the registration documents, but didn't inform it about these 'mistakes' (in particular, nothing was said about presenting a copy of the receipt of the state fee for the registration). That's why human rights defenders concluded that the authorities weren't interested in the activity of the regional human rights organization. Moreover, it was already the fifth registration attempt of Brest Spring since 2004.

On 18 February the Supreme Court didn't grant the appeal of founders of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party against the non-registration. Moreover, Vital Rymasheuski and Pavel Seviarynets, co-Chairpersons of the party, and Dzianis Sadouski, its senior secretary, weren't allowed to listen to the verdict. Only Michael Scanlan, Chargé d'Affaires ad interim of the United States in Belarus, Ernst Kress, representative of the German Embassy in Minsk, and Liubou Luniova, a journalist with RFE/RL, were admitted to the trial.

The BCD co-Chairpersons, in their turn, stated about an unprecedented pressurization of the party founders aimed at the withdrawal of their signatures from the constituent documents.

Siarhei Antusevich, leader of the Belarusian independent trade union, applied to the procuracy in connection with the pressurization of workers of the Hrodna Nitrogen enterprise by the administration. The heads of the plant workshops started to demand that workers left the independent trade union, threatening them with dismissal. S.Antusevich said that in the present economical conditions the authorities were afraid of independent trade unions that could explain the reasons of the hard situation to the workers and even bring them out in the streets.

On 28 February the Young Front again filed the documents for registering with the state. 86 delegates took part in the constituent assembly of the organization on 30 January. It was already the sixth attempt of the organization to legalize itself. In 2007 the Young Front was registered in Czech as an international youth association. Zmitser Dashkevich, leader of the organization, is convinced that the more registration attempts are taken the harder it will be for the authorities to continue persecution of the Young Front activists under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, ‘activities on behalf of unregistered organization'. He also emphasized that constituent assemblies of the organization would be held quarterly in the case the organization wasn't registered.

6. Violent and inhuman treatment

Activists of the European Belarus civil campaign applied to the Tsentralny District Procuracy in Minsk at unlawful actions of the police. Yauhen Afnahel, Palina Dziakava, Yuliya Hlyshytskaya, Palina Kuryianovich, Iryna Piatrova, Maksim Viniarski and Pavel Yukhnevich described their detention and beating during the peaceful assemblies of 8 and 16 February. The activists pointed at violation of their constitutional right to peaceful assemblies and reminded about the ban on torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

7. Freedom of conscience

On 1 February the Minsk District Court found draftee Ivan Mikhailau guilty of evasion from military service and punished him with three months of arrest, ignoring the fact that Mikhailau refused from performing military service because of his religious convictions and demanded to be assigned to alternative civilian service. On 15 December 2009 Ivan Mikhailau was arrested and placed to the pre-trial prison in Zhodzina. He was convoyed to the Minsk District Court in handcuffs. Aliaksei Shein, co-founder of the BCD, characterized the sentence to Mikhailau as a gross violation of the legislation on religious freedom.

On 11 February Alena Dzichkouskaya, Judge of the Savetski District Court of Homel, fined draftee Yauhen Yakavenka 175,000 rubles (about $59) on the basis of a report of the Homel City Military Enlistment Office. Yauhen was found guilty of evasion from military service, though he also refused to serve in the army on religious grounds. On 2 February he addressed the appropriate state bodies with the third request to be assigned to alternative service, but didn't receive any answer.

On 26 February Alena Shylko, Judge of the Maskouski district court of Minsk, fined the Protestant Church New Life on the basis of a lawsuit of the environmental protection committee of the Minsk City Executive Committee. According to the court ruling, the church was obliged to pay 263 million Belarusian rubles as compensation for allegedly inflicted harm to the environment, and 8,750,000 rubles fine. Siarhei Lukanin, the church lawyer, stated that officers of the environmental protection committee had taken soil samples near the church without witnesses, that's why there was no evidence that these samples had been really taken from this place. According to the state officials, the analysis of the samples showed an excessive concentration of oil products. Lukanin's arguments that an unauthorized garbage dump had been situated on this territory before it was bought by the church were ignored by the court. The church is unable to pay such a large sum of money which is equal to about $91,700.

8. Death penalty

The death penalty remained a topical issue for Belarus. On 22 February the first sitting of the working group of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus on the problem of the death penalty took place. As stated by its Chairperson, Mikalai Samaseika, this institution 'will seek its own ways for the abolition of the death penalty which is dictated by the geopolitical situation of the country'. The schedule of activities of the working group for the following six months was considered at the sitting. The group intended to use this period for analyzing the statistics, the court and law-enforcement practice of Russia and Ukraine and paying visits to the places where life convicts were kept. M.Samaseika also stated that there was reached a preliminary agreement for holding an international seminar on the death penalty with the participation of PACE deputies in Minsk.