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Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in June 2010

2010 2010-07-12T21:31:29+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

On 8 June representatives of the Human Rights Center Viasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee held a press-conference to analyze the situation during the first six months of 2010. They stated the absence of positive changes concerning the respect of human rights along with the deterioration of the general situation due to the approach of the presidential election.  What concerns the latest amendments to the Electoral Code, human rights defenders alleged that they had little influence on the latest local election, which didn't have significant differences from the previous ones.

Belarusian human rights defenders were especially concerned with the ongoing issue and execution of death sentences in the country.

On 18 June the Human Rights Center Viasna and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) adopted a joint statement concerning the hunger-strike of Vaukavysk entrepreneur Mikalai Autukhovich at pre-trial prison. They demanded that Autukhovich should be provided with the necessary medical aid. Representatives of the human rights community insisted that conditions in prisons and other places of forced detention remained a great problem in Belarus. This was also confirmed by Prosecutor General, Ryhor Vasilevich: during the press conference on the Day of Procuracy, 23 June, he stated that his agency had presented a report about the conditions in penal colonies and pre-trial prisons. Officers of the procuracy expressed the opinion that in many cases these conditions didn't correspond to residential, sanitary and medical norms. 'Violence, both psychological and physical, must be avoided in prisons,' said prosecutor.

In June, the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly adopted the law On amnesty in connection with the 65th anniversary of the Victory in World War II.  About 2,230 people were released as a result, including about 900 persons kept in open penitentiary institutions. Prison terms were reduced for 9,300 convicts. Belarus holds the second place in Europe (next to Russia) on the number of prisoners per capita. An average prison term in our country is also among the highest in Europe – 6.3 years. As Viktar Huminski, Chairperson of the National Security Commission of the National Assembly, confessed in an interview, 'amnesties are unable to solve the problem of large number of prisoners in Belarus, it is necessary to introduce changes to the legislation for it.' According to Huminski, Belarus needs to change the punishment for economic crimes in order to stop being a leader in the number of convicts per capita.

On 9 June US President Barack Obama extended sanctions against a number of state officials of Belarus for another consecutive year. ‘The actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Belarus and other persons to undermine Belarus democratic processes or institutions, to commit human rights abuses related to political repression, and to engage in public corruption pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,' Obama said in a message to the Congress. ‘For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency declared to deal with this threat and the related measures blocking the property of certain persons,' he said.

On 18 June Canada confirmed imposing economic sanctions on Belarus. Back on 30 April Canada Border Services Agency approved the amended Memorandum D19-11-1, according to which economic sanctions were imposed on 14 foreign states and two terrorist groups. 'Imposing economic sanctions against foreign states and non-state agencies is still an instrument for the international community to ensure respect to international norms and laws,' states the document.

Unilateral economic sanctions towards Belarus were imposed for the first time in December 2006. The Canadian side explained it with the wish to exercise pressure on the Belarusian administration due to regular violations of human rights and civil liberties of Belarusian citizens.

1. Persecution of civil and political activists

On 8 June the Pershamaiski District Court of Vitsebsk found a member of the Conservative-Christian Party Siarhei Kavalenka, guilty of disorderly conduct and fined him 105,000 rubles (about $35). On 10 June, his brother, Vital Kavalenka, was also tried there and fined the same sum of money on the same charges. Both brothers were detained on 8 May, on the eve of the Victory Day, 9 May. The Kavalenkas are convinced that it was done to keep them in isolation during the state festivities on 9 May. However, they didn't manage to convince the court in their innocence.

On 16 June Aliaksandr Kuzniatsou, Chairperson of the Vitsebsk organization of the BPF Youth, received an official notice that a fine of 35,000 rubles (about $12) had been imposed on him by the Pershamaiski District Administrative Commission of Vitsebsk, for alleged littering the streets of the city with agitation posters. The paper also insists that the activist didn't come to the commission's sitting and therefore was sentenced to a fine in absentia.

On 25 June Young Front activists Alena Makarevich and Zmitser Yasevich were detained for handing out white-red-white flags, stickers and leaflets within the guidelines of City Is Ours!, a civil campaign launched by the organization. The activists were guarded to the Savetski District Police Department of Minsk, where reports under Article 21.14, part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences, were drawn up on them, after which they were let go. The reports were passed to an administrative commission.

2. Death penalty

Human rights defenders received an answer from the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus to their inquiry concerning the numbers of the death sentences that were issued and executed in 1999-2009. The ministry didn't provide them with any information about the number of executed sentences, confining itself to statistics concerning the number of enforced sentences. As it follows from the answer, a total of 321 persons were sentenced to death during this period of time. The answer of L.Mialhui, Chairperson of the bureau of organization and analytical provision of judicial organs, reads: 'The Ministry of Information of the Republic of Belarus doesn't possess information about the results of the consideration of the cases with death sentences by cassation and review instances, and about the execution of the death verdicts and pardoning the persons who were sentenced to death. The functions of penalty execution are implemented by the Department of penalty execution of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus.' Bear in mind that human rights defenders had addressed the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court and the General Procuracy with similar inquiries before, but the aforementioned state agencies just passed the function of voicing the statistics on one another.

3. Politically motivated criminal persecution

On 4 June Tatsiana Shvets, Judge of the Tsentralny District Court of Homel, sentenced Yauhen Yakavenka, an activist of the organizing committee of the Party of Belarusian Christian Democracy, to a year of personal restraint for 'evasion from military service' (Article #415 of the Criminal Code). This happened athwart the positive tendency that manifested in the acquittals of conscientious objectors Dzmitry Smyk and Ivan Mikhailau. A round table Protection of Belarusian Language in Belarus: Yauhen Yakavenka was held by the Belarusian Christian Democracy on 15 June in Minsk. Human rights defenders, political and civil activists discussed all aspects of Yakavenka's case and signed an address to President, the Chamber of Representatives and the General Procuracy. Human rights defender Valiantsin Stefanovich stated at the round table that international human rights organization Amnesty International prepared a campaign for reversal of the verdict to Yakavenka.

On 9 June, a Kletsk democratic activist, Siarhei Panamarou, was questioned at the Kletsk District Procuracy as a suspect in a criminal case under Article 369, ‘insult of state official'. It wasn't the first attempt to bring a criminal case against the activist. This time, the investigation conducted expertise of the publications of his newspaper, Boiki Kletsk, for 2006-2007 and found traits of insult of state officials in more than 20 articles. The fact of insult was certain in seven cases, which served as the basis for the criminal case. Belarusian human rights defenders emphasize their critical attitude to the very existence of such articles in the criminal legislation of Belarus.

On 10 June the Assembly of Belarusian NGOs and the Human Rights House in Vilnius held a joint briefing Article 193.1: Criminal Punishment for Activity of NGOs in Belarus. The event was connected to the 4th Regional Congress of NGOs that gathered representatives of Central and East-European, Caucasian and Baltic NGOs. The briefing organizers called on the present people to join the campaign Stop 193.1, launched by the Assembly.

The Belarusian trade union of radio-electronic industry launched the campaign For Belarus Without Contracts. Henadz Fiadynich, Chairperson of the trade union, alleges that according to the international norms labor contracts can be concluded only with special categories of employees, whereas almost all people work on contracts in Belarus. The trade union leader is convinced that this problem needs to be solved before the beginning of the process of full-scale privatization, as otherwise the new owners can use the contracts to get rid of superfluous workers. The campaign includes informational and explanatory work among workers, organization of pickets, rallies and meetings. The trade union also intended to get some feedback by means of a questionnaire poll in order to know the public moods and opinions concerning the problem of mass contractization.

4. Prison conditions

Vaukavysk entrepreneur Mikalai Autukhovich had to keep a hunger-strike in pre-trial prison #1 in Minsk for a week in order to be provided with the necessary medical aid. The matter is that he lost almost all teeth as a result of his former and present conviction and therefore is unable to consume food in a normal way. He spent much a long time demanding to be provided with prosthodontic treatment. In particular, he addressed the MIA Department of Penalty Execution with a written application. However, his request was ignored and, according to the convict's information, the paper didn't even reach this agency. That's why Autukhovich had to resort to hunger-strike. He stopped hungering on 23 June, after a meeting with the chief medic of the pre-trial prison and the promise that his demand will be executed. The Committee to Protect Repressed Persons Solidarity and the Human Rights Center Viasna addressed the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture with an urgent joint statement concerning the treatment of Mikalai Autukhovich in jail. Copies of the official answers to his demands to be provided with urgent medical treatment were attached to this document.

5. Freedom of speech and the right to impart information

On 2 June the editorial board of a private socio-political newspaper Narodnaya Volia received the third warning from the Ministry of Information within a year. The warning concerns a series of publications by I.Kopyl, Niabyshchyna, War in March 2010. The Ministry of Information alleges (with reference to an appropriate conclusion of the Institute of History of the National Academy of Science) that some of the data presented in the publications don't correspond to the historical reality. The warning was signed on 31 May by the Information Minister Aleh Praliaskouski, and concerned violation of Article 4 of the Law On mass media that obliges media to present trustworthy information.

Following the warning to Narodnaya Volia, warnings were also issued to private socio-political editions Novy Chas and Tovarishch (newspaper of the Belarusian Leftist Party Fair World).

The warning to Tovarishch concerns the periodicity of its issue. According to the Information Ministry, the third edition of the newspaper for 2010 was issued as late as 7 May, while the newspaper had been registered as a monthly one. 'At the moment we are able to issue the newspaper only one time a year or once every two months', explained its editor, Siarhei Vazniak. 'But I think that Information Minister Aleh Praliaskouski understands perfectly well in which situation the newspaper exists, as we have been simply deprived of a possibility to earn money', the editor added. 'We have been thrown out of the system of Belposhta, which holds a monopoly in the distribution of newspaper, and have been eliminated from the system of subscription. All attempts of the newspaper to be printed in Belarus failed: printing firms simply refused to cooperate with us. We cannot even print advertising materials, as advertisers don't want to deal with our newspaper'.

Novy Chas received two warnings at once in June. One was issued by the Ministry of Information for omitting the patronymic of the chief editor, the bar code and the name of the organ of the state government in the sphere of the mass media in its imprint. The other warning was issued by the Ministry of Trade, which considered publication of information about the Polish TV channel BelSat as illegal advertisement, though the chief editor, Aliaksei Karol, alleged that the information was published free of charge. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Trade also composed a report on this fact and passed it to court.

On 7 June the editor of Vitebskiy Kurier, Aleh Barshcheuski, was tried in absentia by the Pershamaiski District Court of Vitsebsk for alleged unlawful distribution of printed media. The court sentenced the defendant to pay a fine of 700,000 rubles (about $232). In fact, the editor's car had been detained by the police and copies of the newspaper were found there. Strangely enough, transportation of the newspapers was qualified as ‘distribution'. Meanwhile, the appropriate article envisages punishment only for distribution of printed production in the aggregate with its production, that's why the verdict contradicts to the existing legislation.

A member of the Belarusian Popular Front and the For Freedom movement Aliaksandr Ramanovich and civil activist Krystsina Shatsikava were punished with fines on similar charges. On 16 June, the Pinsk Town Court found A.Ramanovich guilty of distributing the printed production without imprint which had been confiscated from his apartment during a search on 1 April, and fined him 1,050,000 rubles (about $348). On 28 June, the Kastrychnitski District Court of Mahiliou fined Krystsina Shatsikava 700,000 rules (on 4 May she had been detained near hear house with 12,000 copies of the Nash Dom newspaper, edition of the civil initiative Nash Dom.

On 15 June activists of the civil campaign Speak Truth! handed out leaflets with an address of the campaign leader, Uladzimir Niakliayeu, near the building of Belarusian State University in Minsk. Police detained journalists Nasta Krauchuk and Volha Zharnasek and guarded them to the Maskouski District Police Department. The journalists were let go without receiving any charges after the police had searched their belonging and established their identities. According to Nasta Krauchuk, a fight started during their argument with the university guards prior to the detention, as a result of which their video camera was damaged.

On 23 June riot police dispersed a picket on Svabody Square against presidential decree #60 About measures to improve the use of the national segment of the internet. The decree came into force on 1 July and was set to strengthen the control of the Belarusian authorities over the Belarusian internet space. Activists of the national-Bolshevik movement applied for an official permission, but the Minsk City Executive Committee dismissed their application. As a result, several participants of the action were detained and kept in the delinquents' isolation center in Akrestsin Street till trial. Five activists were fined by the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk the day after the action. The leader of the Belarusian national-Bolsheviks, Yauhen Kontush, was fined 875,000 rubles, and the others – 175,000 rubles (about $58) each.

6. Torture and other kinds of cruel and inhuman treatment

On 2 June Zmitser Parmon, the activist of the BPF Youth who had been diagnosed with fracture of a clavicle after being beaten by the police on 27 May, lodged a complaint with the Tsentralny District Procuracy of Minsk demanding to hold a prosecutorial check-up and bring the perpetrators to legal account.

7. Freedom of association

The main justice department of the Brest Region Executive Committee suspended the registration of the human rights organization Brest Spring. A month before, the appropriate documents had been filed for registering the association with the state. The founders are convinced that the reasons for the suspension were wire-drawn. Brest Spring has been trying to acquire a legal status since 2006.