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

2010 2010-04-16T20:21:32+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

The situation of human rights in Belarus in March showed the extent to which the Belarusian authorities weren't ready to follow the way of democratic reforms. Execution of two death convicts was one of the most important events that month. Human rights defenders are of the opinion that it was consciously done to thwart the requirements of the national legislation and the international undertakings that were ratified by the country. On 23 March, the Human Rights Center Viasna, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Amnesty International, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE adopted an official statement to condemn the actions of the authorities. The international community was indignant that the executions were performed against the background of negotiations between Belarus and the Council of Europe about introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty.

On 9 March the Human Rights Center Viasna presented its Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in 2009. The Human Rights Defenders Against Death Penalty campaign was launched in 2009, which was reflected in the book. Meanwhile, it was noted that the previous year hadn't become the decisive one for the abolition of the death penalty or introduction of moratorium on the death penalty in our country. Belarus still remains the only post-Soviet European country to issue and execute death sentences.

Human rights defenders treated as positive the intention of the authorities to adopt a law on alternative civilian service. Before this, the absence of such law provided the possibility of prosecution of the people who refused from military service on religious grounds. The latest events marked a considerable progress in this direction. In particular, on 10 March civil activist Ivan Mikhailau, a believer of the Messianic Jews' Church, was released from the Zhodzina jail. Before this, on 9 March, the panel of judges of the Minsk Region Court reversed the verdict of a lower court, according to which the believer had been sentenced to three months of arrest for evasion from military service. The case was returned for the second trial and the restraint to Mikhailau was changed to undertaking not to leave. By the way, the arrest term was to have ended on 15 March, which means that he served almost the whole term. On 12 March, the Homel Region Court reversed the verdict of the Savetski District Court of Homel on the case of Yauhen Yakavenka, an activist of the Belarusian Christian Democracy accused of the failure to appear at the military enlistment office on an official writ. The case was returned for the second trial as well. On 15 March, the Presidium of the Homel Region Court also reversed the verdict according to which Zmitser Smyk, a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses religious community was to be fined 3.5 million rubles (about $1,200).

The traditional street action dated to the anniversary of declaration of the Belarusian People's Republic took place on 25 March. The action went quietly despite the disagreement of its organizers with the route which was determined by the Minsk City Executive Committee to direct the participants from the Academy of Sciences to the Bangalore Square and an unfrequented Druzhby Narodau Park. At 6 p.m., it was discovered that the sound-enhancing equipment had been detained and taken to the Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk. Police told the action organizers that they allegedly had information that some citizens of the Russian Federation resembling those who had organized the explosion on 4 July were 2008 were present near the place of the gathering and could attempt to disrupt the celebration of the Freedom Day with the use of explosive devises. Moreover, some potential participants of the event were preventively detained in Minsk and in the regions of Belarus. Yury Karetnikau, Chairperson of the Right Alliance, was detained near the railway station. There was an attempt to detain civil activist Yauhen Afnahel near his apartment. In Asipovichy, policemen and an officers of the district procuracy searched the apartment of Ihar Simbirou, an activist of the Belarusian Popular Front Adradzhenne. The members of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party Taisiya Kabanchuk, Ihar Kazimirchyk, Yauhen Vishniakou and Maksim Charniak were guarded to the police station of the Babruisk railway and questioned about the possible drug trafficking. Short before the action, police confiscated from Andrei Krechka, Chairperson of the BPF Youth, 20 white-red-white flags 2x1 meters and 500 paper flags with symbols of the BPF Youth and the Pahonia emblem.

The action gathered less than 2,000 people. Political activists delivered speeches through a loudspeaker. After a short meeting, youth activists tried to proceed towards the National Library and Yakub Kolas Square, but the way was overlapped by riot police.

In March the authorities increased the pressure on freedom of speech, which manifested in the persecution of journalists. Several searches were held on 16 March in their offices and private apartments. In particular, searches were held at the office of the Charter'97 civil initiative (the police broke there using violence, journalist Natallia Radzina was punched in the face), in the apartment of Iryna Khalip, at the working place of Sviatlana Kalinkina, editor of the Narodnaya Volia, in the apartment of Maryna Koktysh, deputy editor of the Narodnaya Volia and the apartment of Natallia Radzina. Information carriers including computers, HDDs, CDs, USB flash drives and SD cards were confiscated in all cases. As it follows from the documents that were presented by police officers, the searches were conducted within the guidelines of the criminal case that was brought on 31 December 2009 under Article 188, part 2 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus concerning libel against Ivan Korzh, former Chairperson of the Homel Region KGB Department.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists addressed the Prosecutor General of Belarus in connection with the persecution of journalists. At the same time, the Interior Minister, Anatol Kuliashou, ignored the request for a meeting with the BAJ administration in connection with violations of journalists' rights by people in mufti during the street actions that had taken place in autumn 2009. As it follows from the answer received by BAJ, the minister didn't see any need to meet with representatives of the journalist community because 'interaction of officers of law-enforcement agencies and journalists is regulated by the Law On Mass Media'.

On 22 March Judge of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus Anatol Tserakh turned down the claim of the Belarusian Association of Journalists against a warning of the Ministry of Justice. The warning was left standing, which means that the BAJ was obliged to take all certificates of BAJ members with the inscription 'press' away from its members and prevent anybody from using them in the future. The Ministry also stated that activity of the Center for Legal Defense of the Media at BAJ was not provided for by the organization charter.

On 17 and 25 March police twice confiscated circulations of the private newspaper Nash Dom which was issued by the civil initiative of the same name. Moreover, a car with 10,000 copies of the Vitebskiy Kuryer newspaper that were transported by Viktar Ramniou, manager of the Vitebskiy Korund private enterprise, was detained by them on 25 March on the Russian border. The newspaper is registered in Russia and is printed in Smolensk. A report under Article 22.9, part 2 of the Administrative Code (distribution of periodicals without imprint) was drawn up on Ramniou, though he didn't distribute the newspapers, after which he was guarded to court and fined 1,225,000 rubles (about $415). Human rights defender and journalist Valery Shchukin was detained near Homel while transporting 24,000 copies of Nash Dom. A similar report was drawn up on him. The following day Shchukin was tried and fined 900,000 rubles (about $305).

On 25 March the registration of candidates for the Local Councils of the 26th Convocation came to an end. Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections monitored this stage of the pre-election campaign and presented a brief analysis and conclusions on its results. The number of the denials to register initiative groups decreased in comparison to the previous election to Local Councils (23 in 2010 compared to more than 100 in 2007). Violation of the principle of 'free participation in elections' was the main reason for the non-registration of electoral teams during the previous election, and there was no essential progress this time. According to the electoral legislation, the local authorities were to determine places for electoral pickets. In most cases, this provision was used to maximally limit the possibilities for collecting signatures in support of candidates in populous places. As a rule, the authorities determined unfrequented places that were often located quite far from town centers and major traffic lines. As a result, pickets were not used as a form of collection of signatures by the majority of pretenders.

On 10 March the European Parliament adopted a resolution to condemn the official Minsk for the crackdown on the unrecognized Union of Poles in Belarus. The document contains no calls to renew sanctions against Belarus. However, it is stated that further human rights violations can lead to cessation of the dialogue between the EU and Belarus. The European parliamentarians called on the Belarusian authorities to register the Union of Poles in Belarus headed by Anzhalika Borys and return all assets that had been confiscated from this organization. They also demanded to release political activists Andrei Bandarenka, Ivan Mikhailau and Artsiom Dubski and register the Human Rights Center Viasna and the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party who had been repeatedly denied in registering with the state.

1. Death penalty

The UN Human Rights Committee issued a press-release on the results of its spring session in New York, which noted that the Belarusian government ignored the request of the Committee to suspend the execution of the death verdicts to the Belarusian citizens Vasil Yuzepchuk and Andrei Zhuk till consideration of their case at the UN Human Rights Committee, and thus scandalously violated its international undertakings under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Lawyer Raman Kisliak, the human rights activist who prepared the individual communications to the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of the death convicts, is convinced that thereby the Belarusian authorities challenged the UN Human Rights Committee and the international community.

2. Persecution of civil and political activists

On 3 March a member of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Andrei Kasheuski, distributor of the private newspaper Narodnaya Volia, was detained in the Minsk metro. He was guarded to the Leninski District Court of Minsk, sentenced to 15 days of jail and fined 700,000 rubles (about $240) by Judge Navitskaya. The arrest was imposed under Article 17.1 of the Administrative Code, 'disorderly conduct', and the fine – under Article 23.4, 'insubordination to police officers'. The activist kept a hunger-strike of protest during the whole term of his arrest.

On 25 March the Valozhyn District Court fined Anatol Liabedzka, leader of the United Civil Party, 900,000 rubles (about $305) for 'insubordination to police officers'. The politician was detained on 15 February near the building of the military unit where Tereza Sobal, an activist of the disgraced Union of Poles, was tried at the time.

On 26 March the Maskouski District Court of Minsk turned down the complaint of Tatsiana Shaputska, press-secretary of the Young Front, against her unlawful expulsion from the juridical faculty of Belarusian State University after taking part in the Eastern Partnership Forum on 16-18 November 2009. The activist proved at the trial that the punishment was incommensurable with her violation (departure abroad for several days without prior agreement of the dean's office). However, the judge declared these arguments unconvincing and took the side of the university administration.

3. Freedom of word and the right to impart information

On 1 March it became known that the Ministry of Information refused to register a private political edition, Khimik.Dva Goroda for the third time. The first denial was issued in connection with allegedly insufficient qualification of the chief editor of the newspaper, the second – for the stated topics and the latest one – because of pretensions to the premises where the legal address of the newspaper was located.

On 2 March the editor of the Narodnaya Volia newspaper Sviatlana Kalinkina lodged a complaint with the Savetski District Procuracy of Minsk against actions of the policemen who had searched her apartment on 26 February. The journalist and the lawyers she consulted with are of the opinion that the search was conducted with a number of violations: the visitors didn't introduce themselves and the search was conducted by several persons at once. The journalist wasn't allowed to use her mobile phone and was ordered to turn off all telephones.

On 10 March court marshals paid a visit to the office of the private newspaper Borisovskiye Novosti and attached a sofa, a bookcase and a water cooler for compensation of 2 million rubles that were to be paid by the newspaper to Vera Pratasevich, editor of the district state-owned newspaper Adzinstva, according to a court verdict issued at the end of 2009. The reason for the trial was the article Belarusian Code of Honor by pensioner Valery Nitski, in which the author criticized the Barysau authorities for creating unequal conditions for state-owned and private press.

On 11 March it became known that the Ministry of Information issued the second warning to BelKP Press, editor of the private newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belorussii. The reason for the warning wasn't announced.

On 15 March Kseniya Stasiukevich, Judge of the Leninski District Court of Hrodna, fined the BAJ member Aliaksandr Dzianisau for 'unauthorized journalist activities', which was qualified as 'Arbitrary rule' (Article 23.39 of the Administrative Code). The journalist prepared a press release about the local core studies in secondary school #28 on official permission of the school administration.

On 18 March Junior European Federalists (JEF) and their partners held a traditional street action in different cities of the world under the slogan 'Give Voice to People of Belarus'. They tied mouths of statues with pieces of cloth. The action was dated to the fourth anniversary of a disputable presidential election in Belarus.

On 25 March Kseniya Stasiukevich fined Aliaksei Kirkevich, Deputy Chairperson of the local organization of the Young Front, 1,225,000 rubles for distribution of the newspaper Khrystsiyanskaya Abarona.

4. Politically motivated criminal persecution

On 19 March Volha Shupikava, investigator of the Tsentralny District Police Department of Homel, presented to Yauhen Yakavenka, the activist of the Belarusian Christian Democracy who demanded to be assigned to alternative civilian service, a ruling on instigation of a criminal case against him as an evader from military service. Meanwhile, on 12 March the Homel Region Court granted Yakavenka's cassation complaint on the administrative case that had been brought on the initiative of the Homel City Military Enlistment Office and abolished the fine to which he had been sentenced by a lower court.

5.  Freedom of peaceful assemblies

On 24 March the Leninski District Court of Minsk fined the members of the Human Rights Center Viasna Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich and Iryna Toustsik 15,000 rubles (about $5) each for holding an unauthorized picket. The human rights defenders used an innovation in the Administrative Code, paragraph 6 of Article 6.5 of the Administrative Code, according to which a minimal punishment can be issued for a misdemeanor. The matter is that on 23 March they came to the Presidential Administration and unrolled the transparency 'No to Death Penalty' to protest against the apparent execution of death convicts Vasil Yuzepchuk and Andrei Zhuk, whose cases were pending at the UN Human Rights Committee. In several minutes they were detained by the police and guarded to the delinquents' isolation center in Akrestsin Street where they spent the night before the trial.

6. Freedom of associations

On 2 March the Ministry of Justice refused to register the Assembly of NGOs for the third time. As it follows from the papers, the reasons for the registration denial had little difference from that of the previous times. At the same time, Siarhei Matskevich, Chairperson of the Assembly's Working Group, emphasized that this time the Ministry of Justice openly declared its position. 'They state that democratic organizations cannot form associations. It means that we are deprived of this right in Belarus,' commented Mr. Matskevich.

On 4 March the Supreme Court left standing the decision of the Hrodna Region Court concerning the non-registration of the Slonim NGO Zalaty Leu by the justice department of the Hrodna Region Executive Committee.

On 11 March the panel of judges on civil cases of the Minsk Region Court turned down the complaint against the verdict of the Valozhyn District Court about passing the Polish House in Ivianets to the pro-governmental Union of Poles in Belarus. It means that the disgraced Union of Poles, headed by Anzhalika Borys, lost this property for good.

On 30 March the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus turned down the complaint of the Young Belarus movement against its non-registration by the Ministry of Justice.

7. Freedom of conscience

On 26 March the Minsk City Court didn't grant the complaint of the New Life Church against the verdict of the Maskouski District Court of Minsk according to which the Protestant community had been sentenced to pay 8,750,000 rubles for environmental pollution. Bear in mind that according to the assessment of the Committee of Natural Recourses and Environmental Protection, the church was also obliged to pay about 263 million Belarusian rubles for the harm it had allegedly inflicted to the environment. Thus, the total sum of the sanctions against the Protestant community was 271,548,725 rubles (about $100). As said by Siarhei Lukanin, the church lawyer, the judges ignored the believers' arguments about the unlawfulness of actions of the committee's officers and also refused to discriminate in the extent of the guilt of the believers.

8. Electoral rights

On 25 March a Homel activist of the Belarusian Christian Democracy, Aliaksandr Sharypau, was registered as a candidate for the Homel Region and the Homel City Councils. The following day he was warned that his labor contract, expiring on 3 Mary, wouldn't be extended. A.Sharypau, chief engineer of the private enterprise Homelkaapdruhresursy, was informed that this decision had been taken by higher administration – at Homelablspazhyusayuz.