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

2010 2010-11-15T16:30:37+0200 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

In October participants of the campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections observed the following stages of the electoral campaign – the collection of signatures in support of the potential candidates for President (ended on 29 October) and the nomination of candidates to precinct election commissions, one of the key mechanisms of the electoral process that directly organizes the voting and the counting of votes. 11 pretenders for presidency passed more than 100,000 signatures to territorial election commissions. 10 of them were registered as candidates and continued taking part in the electoral race. Observers of the campaign continued registering cases of violation of the electoral legislation by administrations of state enterprises and organs which manifested in collection of signatures during working hours and forcing in the process of collection of signatures. The nomination of candidates for precinct election commissions ended on 31 October. An insignificant number of representatives of oppositional parties were included in them (about 0.25% of the total number). Territorial election commissions denied observers in observing the verification of signatures for the nomination of candidates.

The European Parliament once again called on Belarus to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty. This is stated in the Resolution that was adopted on 7 October and dated to the World Day against the Death Penalty, 10 October. Peaceful street actions against the death penalty were held not only in Belarus, but also in some foreign countries that day. Representatives of the civil campaign Human Rights Defenders Against Death Penalty handed out booklets, stickers and leaflets. An informational chain was held by human rights defenders wearing T-shirts with the inscription ‘Say No to Death Penalty' in the center of Minsk, near the metro station Kastrychnitskaya. A concert against the death penalty was held in Vilnius. Such NGOs as Belarus Watch and the Belarusian Human Rights House joined the campaign. In October the petition against the death penalty was also signed by the Minister of State at the Foreign Office of Great Britain Jeremy Browne and the Apostolic Visitor for Belarusian Greek-Catholic faithful abroad, reverend Aliaksandr Nadsan. About 50 documents in Russian, English and German (books, brochures and periodicals) were presented at the topical book exhibition Death Penalty: Cost of Life and Limits of Law at the National Library of Belarus on 8 October. The exhibition Death Is Not Justice was held at the Museum of History of World War II the same day. Exhibited were 100 posters chosen within the guidelines of the contest under the patronage of Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland.

On 26 October the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization in Belarus, the Human Rights Center Viasna, adopted a joint statement to express their concern with the aggravation of repressions towards activists of the anarchist and antifascist youth movement. The statement emphasizes that the investigative organs grossly violated the rights of detainees. In particular, in some cases their right to defense was violated – the lawyer of Aliaksandr Frantskevich couldn't find about the whereabouts of his client for three days. Cases of psychological pressurization were registered as well. As a result, Tatsiana Semianishchava tried to cut her veins with a stationery knife during an interrogation in custody after a repeated detention. Pavel Charnyshenka and Siarhei Sliusar had been detained in September on suspicion in an assault on the Embassy of the Russian Federation, and in the night of 16-17 October they were detained on suspicion in relation to an attempt to set on fire the KGB building in Babruisk. The International Federation for Human Rights and the Human Rights Center Viasna demanded that the authorities stopped the unlawful actions and immediately released the detainees.

On 25 October the Council of Europe extended sanctions against 41 high-rank Belarusian officials including Aliaksandr Lukashenka till 31 October 2011. The moratorium on sanctions towards 36 officials was extended as well. Thus, the sanctions concern Chairperson of the Central Election Commission Lidziya Yarmoshyna, a former Prosecutor General Viktar Sheiman, former internal ministers Uladzimir Navumau and Yury Sivakou and a former commandant of the Minsk riot police Yury Padabed. These five persons aren't covered by the moratorium and cannot be admitted to the territory of the European Union. The document of the Council of Europe calls on the Belarusian authorities to hold the presidential election in line with norms and standards of the international legislation.

Belarus occupies the 154th out of the 178 places in the yearly rating of the international organization Reporters without Borders.

1. Freedom of association

On 15 October the Minsk City Economic Court suspended the registration of the informational-consulting institution Right Alliance. The lawsuit for the dissolution of this institution was filed by the Minsk City Executive Committee which accused the Right Alliance of holding actions that weren't set forth in its charter. The officials also presented to the court print-outs from websites in which it was stated that the organization pursued political objectives. Meanwhile, the Right Alliance is known by its social activities including pickets against alcohol and drug abuse.

On 12 October the Brest Region Court left standing the ruling of the main justice department of the Breast Region Executive Committee by which the regional human rights organization Brest Spring (Berastseiskaya Viasna) was denied registration because of a technical mistake made by the local internal affairs department. The founders of the organization consider it as an evident violation of their right to association.

On 12 October the Minsk City Economic Court granted the lawsuit of the Minsk City Executive Committee for the dissolution of the research and educational institution Movement Forward which carried out the civil campaign Speak Truth! The head of the institution and the pretender for President Uladzimir Niakliayeu stated that Speak Truth! would continue its activities anyway.

On 21 October the Salihorsk District Executive committee refused to register the primary organization of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of the Detla Styl Ltd. for the third time. The official referred to discrepancies in the filed documents and violations of the law. Deputy Chairperson of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union considers these reasons as far-fetched. The administration of the BITU decided to appeal this violation of the right to association at court and hold a picket in Salihorsk. The Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions also informed the International Labor Organization about this fact.

On 25 October the Ministry of Justice of Belarus refused to register the Party of the Belarusian Christian Democracy referring to alleged inaccuracies in the filed documents and the results of the phone questioning of the founders during which some of them had allegedly refused from the participation in the BCD. It was the third registration denial to the party. Co-Chairperson of the BCD Pavel Seviarynets called it politically motivated and stated about the pressurization of the founders of the party by the authorities. Moreover, the Ministry of Justice failed to answer the application for registration in the legally required terms – the BCD had filed the registration documents on 19 September and was to have received an answer by 19 October.

2. Politically motivated criminal cases

On 19 October the Savetski District Court of Minsk finished judging Mikhail Bashura for the alleged repeated forgery of the income certificate. Prosecutor Halina Korneva demanded to sentence Mr.Bashura to 6 months of arrests, while his counsel Tamara Sidarenka asked the court to justify him because of the absence of evidence of his guilt. However, the court found the defendant guilty under two parts of Article 380 of the Criminal Code and fined him 17,500,000 rubles (about $5,833). Human rights defenders consider this case as politically motivated.

On 26 October the Minsk City Court considered the appeal against the verdict of the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk concerning a student of the European Humanities University Mikalai Dziadok. The appeal was turned down and Dziadok was left in custody. Moreover, the investigation extended the term of his detention till 24 December. Mikalai Dziadok had been detained in the beginning of September on suspicion in an assault on the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Minsk. However, on 1 October he was charged with participation in the rally near the Joint Staff of the Ministry of Defense which was held to protest against the joint military training of the Belarusian and the Russian military troops West-2009. On 24 September M.Dziadok was transferred from the detention center in Akrestsin Street to the pre-trial prison in Valadarski Street where he is awaiting trial. The Human Rights Center Viasna is convinced that though this rally was accompanied by an insignificant violation of the public order (throwing of a smoke pot to the territory of the Joint Staff), it was essentially peaceful. That's why human rights defenders disagree with the qualification of these actions as a violation of Article 339, part 2 of the Criminal Code, 'hooligan actions by a group of individuals', and consider the detention of M.Dziadok and other suspects on this incident as arbitrary. They especially emphasize the fact that Mikalai Dziadok was re-detained for 3 days (during which one can be kept in custody without getting any charges) 7 times! The Human Rights Center Viasna considers such indefinite detention as a gross violation of the process legislation and legal rights of the detainees.

A former Ambassador and Minister of Foreign Economic Relations Mikhail Marynich, participant of the presidential electoral campaign in 2001 and political prisoner, received an answer from the UN Human Rights Committee. According to this document, the trial of Marynich in 2004 for alleged theft of computer equipment that belonged to the Embassy of the United States in Minsk wasn't fair and independent. The committee believes that the court proceedings were vigilantly watched by security services, the judges gave a tendentious assessment of evidence and testimonies, and the whole case was a political lynching. Moreover, the Committee states that M.Marynich was subject to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and obliged the Belarusian State to provide Mikhail Marynich with the necessary medical treatment, including the payment of an appropriate compensation, and initiate criminal proceedings for bringing to legal account those who are guilty of the improper treatment.

3. Persecution of public and political activists

Yauhen Yakavenka, a member of the Belarusian Christian Democracy who had been sentenced to 1 year of personal restraint in June 2010 for refusing to serve in the army because of his pacifist views and then - granted parole in connection with the 65th anniversary of the victory over the Nazi troops, passed medical examination in October on demand of the military enlistment office. The authorities were again trying to draft him into the army. That's why Yakavenka lodged applications with the Ministry of Defense, the Chamber of Representatives and General Procuracy to turn their attention to the fact that the practice of criminal punishment of persons who would like to be assigned to alternative civilian service instead of military service continued in Belarus. Yauhen asked the officials to discriminate in the situation and take adequate measures, referring to an order of the Prime Minister about the preparation of the draft law On alternative civilian service. He was answered with usual runarounds. For instance, the military commissioner of the Homel District Executive Committee, colonel Yafimchyk, wrote that 'correspondence with you on the given matter is stopped' as an exhaustive answer had been given earlier.

Ya.Yakavenka also filed a complaint with the Savetski District Court of the Homel City Military Commissariat, asking to ensure his legal right to be assigned to alternative civilian service. However, on 21 October the court refused to bring civilian proceedings referring to Article 246, part 2 of the Civil Process Code as 'the order of the extrajudicial resolution of the case hasn't been implemented'. In the letter from the Chairperson of the Commission on labor, social defense, affairs of veterans and a disabled Laurukevich it is stated that the Commission has no information about the placement of the draft law On alternative civilian service on the agenda of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly.

On 2 October in Nezalezhnastsi Square near St. Symon and Alena Church the police detained four activists of an unregistered youth organization Young Front who were handing out invitations to the everyday actions in defense of St. Joseph Church. The detainees were guarded to the Maskouski District Police Department, allegedly for 'identification'. There they had to give explanations and were kept for more than 3 hours without being given any charges. Moreover, police summoned their parents and threatened them and their children with trouble at places of work and study. The detained activists lodged complaints at the unlawful actions of the police.

4. Freedom of word and the right to impart information

On 1 October Judge of the Leninski District Court of Mahiliou Stanislau Shandarovich found human rights defender and journalist Valery Shchukin guilty under Article 22.9, part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, 'production, delivery and distribution of printed materials that were produced with violations of the Belarusian legislation' and fined him 1,050,000 rubles (about $350). Shchukin had been detained on 8 August. Police searched his car and confiscated 24,000 copies of the newspaper Nash Dom and 5,500 brochures dedicated to women's rights.

On 8 October the police detained the car of the chief editor of the Vitebskiy Kuryer Viktar Ramniou near the town of Liozna and confiscated from him 11,000 copies of the newspaper he transported to Vitsebsk from a printing house in the Russian town of Smolensk. Vitebskiy Kuryer is registered in the Russian Federation, but is distributed in the Vitsebsk region. On 12 October Judge of the Liozna District Court Antanina Afanas'eva found Ramniou guilty of unlawful distribution of the newspaper (Article 22.9, part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). During the trial she declined more than ten motions of the defendant and didn't let human rights defender Pavel Levinau represent his interests. V.Ramniou and his comrades left the court hall in protest, as a result of which the verdict was read in their absence. Ramniou was fined 1,225,000 rubles (about $408). Bear in mind that he had been fined large sums of money for the 'distribution' of private socio-political editions several times already, though he just transported them in his car.

On 27 October in Zhodzina the police came to the working place of civil activist Andrei Zubra and guarded him to the police station, and then – to court. A month ago Zubra had been detained with 216 copies of a private socio-political edition Tut I Tsiaper and received charges under Article 22.9 of the Code of Administrative Offenses as a result. Judge of the Zhodzina District Court H

rynkevich considered the case and ruled that the police report didn't correspond to the essence of the offense set forth in Article 22.9, part 2. As a result, the case was returned for revising by the Zhodzina Town Police Department.

5. Freedom of peaceful assemblies

The Belarusian authorities banned non-state trade unions to hold street actions dated to 7 October, the World Day for Decent Work. In particular, the Mahiliou City Executive Committee explained the ban by saying that the places that were chosen for the pickets didn't belong to the list of the places that had been determined for such actions by the Committee. Free Trade Union of Steelworkers intended to hold a street action in Vaneyeu Street, near the 50-hoddzia Kastrychnika Park in Minsk. However, the Minsk City Executive Committee prohibited the action alleging that the picket could hinder the movement of pedestrians. Polatsk became the only Belarusian town where trade union activists were allowed to hold a street action.

On 11 October gays and lesbians of the world mark the Coming Out Day – the day when representatives of sexual minorities voluntary reveal their sexual orientation. Belarusian gays and lesbians marked this day by holding a street action in Minsk. Though they had applied for an official permission on the eve of the action, the Minsk City Executive Committee didn't sanction the rally. Ten representatives of sexual minorities walked with a rainbow flag from the metro station Kupalauskaya to the metro station Niamiha and back. Siarhei Pradzed remained in Kastrychnitskaya Square. He told passers-by about the situation of human rights in Belarus. In about 30 minutes he was approached by riot policemen. The picketer was detained and guarded to the Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk, where he faced charges under Article 23.34, part 3 of the Code of Administrative Violations, 'violation of the order of organizing and holding mass events'. After an interrogation he was taken to the delinquents' isolation center in Akrestsin Street, where he spent the night. In the morning he was tried by the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk and fined 700,000 rubles (about $233).

6. Freedom of conscience

On 14 October the Protestant Church New Life held a round table to protect freedom of conscience. The event was attended by the church administration, lawyers, human rights defenders, politicians and journalists. Participants of the round table adopted a resolution which urged the Belarusian authorities to stop persecution of Pastor Viachaslau Hancharenka and the church parishioners and ensure realization of the constitutional right to freedom of conscience. International community and human rights organizations, in their turn, were called to express solidarity with the believers and all Belarusian citizens who struggled for freedom of conscience. Participants of the round table decided to pass the resolution to the Presidential Administration, the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assemblies, the commissioner on religious and nationalities, the European Parliament, the Minsk OSCE office and international human rights structures.

7. Death Penalty

On 4 October Sviatlana Zhuk, the mother of an executed death convict Andrei Zhuk, appealed at the Leninski District Court the refusal of the Penal Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to inform her about the place of the burial of her son. The Department referred its refusal to Article 175 of the Criminal Code, according to which 'the body is not given out for burial and the place of the burial is not announced'.

On 5 October activists of the campaign Human Rights Defenders Against Death Penalty Palina Stsepanenka and Iryna Toustsik were detained at the frontier point Kamenny Loh. They were set out of a bus Vilnius-Minsk. Officers of the Ashmiany customs office seized from them informational booklets and stickers concerning the death penalty and said that these items would be directed for a check-up. However, nothing has been returned so far.

A resident of Brest Sniazhana Neudakh, mother of three children, submitted two written applications to President asking him to help Sviatlana Zhuk in receiving information about the place of burial of her son. She is convinced that it could be a demonstration of humanity from the side of the authorities.

A Brest human rights defender Raman Kisliak received a negative answer from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus to his request to abolish the law about the secrecy of the time of execution and the places of burial of death convicts.

8. Electoral rights

On 16 September the civil campaign Human Rights Defenders Against Death Penalty started an independent monitoring of the electoral process to find whether presidential election 2010 corresponded to the national legislation and international standards of free and democratic elections. The campaign imparted information about the registered violations and its conclusions both in Belarus and abroad. The most important conclusions of the monitoring were presented in the weekly reviews and reports about each stage of the election which were placed to the websites of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Center Viasna.

Since the beginning of the electoral campaign, lawyers of Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections helped to file 238 complaints, just 9 (3.8%) of which were granted as of 31 October, including some complaints concerning the rulings of the local administrations to determine the places which were banned for picketing. Neither the Central Election Commission, nor any lower commissions granted any complaints concerning violations of the electoral legislation by members of the campaign team of Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

9. Prison conditions

Political prisoner Mikalai Autukhovich who is currently serving a five-year prison term still hasn't received prosthodontic treatment despite all his applications to the administration of the penal colony. Human rights defenders learned it after his meeting with wife: she even passed him a blender as he can't chew food on his own.

10. Labor rights

On 20 October the administration of a private newspaper Vecherniy Bobruysk offered a member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Dzmitry Rastayeu to write an application for going on vacation. The reason was an 'insistent wish' of the Babruisk Town Executive Committee. The Deputy Chairperson of the Babruisk TEC on ideology showed to the founder of the newspaper a selection of printouts from Rastayeu's account in the social net LiveJournal and the private newspaper Belhazeta where Rastayeu's articles were published as well. 'You should understand: either Rastayeu will stop publishing anything anywhere except your newspaper, or... Think about the newspaper', said the official.

On 25 October an accident happened at a woodworking plant of the Holding Company Pinskdreu. According to the press-service of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, an explosion of the mixture of dust and air at the workshop of fire-wood granules occurred as a result of violations of the regime of equipment operation. The Brest Region Procuracy brought a case under Article 302, part 2 of the Criminal Code, 'violation of the rules of industrial and technical discipline and safety regulations at enterprises with a high risk of explosion'. According to workers of the enterprise, they repeatedly applied to the administration with questions about the safety of their work, pointing at a high concentration of wooden dust in the air. However, workers of the laboratory insisted that the norms weren't exceeded and the indicators corresponded to them. As of 1 November, 14 people died and 6 continued getting medical treatment in hospitals.

On 1 November the Council of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions issued an official statement titled National Tragedy Against Background of Silence of Authorities. 'We don't consider this tragedy as a mere coincidence. We conduct a continuous monitoring of the safety conditions at various enterprises and have all reasons to state that Belarus is on the brink of a man-caused disaster,' reads the statement. The BCDTU also paid respects to families of the dead.