Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in September 2012
The situation of human
rights in Belarus remained stably bad in September. At the same time,
important changes in the situation of political prisoners took place
– two political prisoners were released: Vitsebsk activist of the
Conservative-Christian Party “Belarusian Popular Front” Siarhei
Kavalenka and an activist of the anarchist movement Pavel Syramalotau
(on 26 and 27 September respectively). Both political prisoners had
written pardon petitions for Lukashenka back in June 2012. However,
the decision about their release was taken only three months after.
Lukashenka's personal control over the cases of the political
prisoners is witnessed by his statements at the time of voting at a
polling station on 23 September: “If I am not mistaken, two people
applied a month ago,” he said, without mentioning the surnames,
“Sincerely speaking, I don't know, I am not well posted on it. If
the petitions have been received, they are at the commission on
pardoning. We will inform you.” Lukashenka's press-service
specified, that Siarhei Kavalenka and Pavel Syramalotau, released
several days after, were meant.
The release of S. Kavalenka and P. Syramalotau has been attributed to many reasons of geopolitical kind. Firstly, it may mark an attempt of the Belarusian authorities to return to the strategy of “geopolitical swing” – balancing between the West and Russia. This urgency was dictated by the tension between Belarus and Russia, starting in August-September due to pretensions of the Russian side to the export of Belarusian petrol, produced from the Russian oil, under the guise of dissolvents. In these circumstances, the need to settle the relations with Europe, which posed the release of political prisoners as the precondition of political dialogue, became more acute. As a result, the Belarusian authorities could make a doubtful concession by releasing two of them. The second reason for the decision to release the political prisoners could be the desire to “smooth away” the negative assessment which was given to the parliamentary election by the BDIHR-OSCE observation mission and their subsequent non-recognition by the European community. One more reason still could lie in the fear of the extension of the visa and economic sanctions against the Belarusian officials and businessmen who financed the regime, at the sitting of the EU Council of Ministers, due to take place on 15 October in Luxembourg. An important argument was the consistent demand of the European institutions to release political prisoners. In particular, on 10 September the president of the European Parliament Martin Schultz emphasized, that the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners must become the nearest step of the Belarusian authorities: “Further keeping of Ales Bialiatski, Mikalai Statkevich, Pavel Seviarynets, Siarhei Kavalenka, Dzmitry Dashkevich and other political prisoners in jail is unacceptable. We haven't forgotten!”
A very important symbolic support to the Belarusian political prisoners was given by the Catholic church: at the end of September the representative of the Pope in Minsk, apostolic nuncio Claudio Gugerotti visited A. Bialiatski, M. Statkevich, Dz. Dashkevich, P. Seviarynets, S. Kavalenka, P. Syramalotau and E. Lobau in prisons “as a sign of respect to the universal moral authority of the Pope and the humanitarian efforts of the Holy See within the framework of the mutual relations”. The prisoners' relatives expressed a great gratitude to Pope Benedict XVI and the apostolic nuncio for the attention to the prisoners and asked to foster their prompt release.
The release of a part of political prisoners was welcomed by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Catherine Ashton. She stated that further steps are expected from Belarus and called on the Belarusian authorities to release all political prisoners and remove all restrictions on the exercise of their civil and political rights. On 28 September the US Embassy in Belarus issued a statement on the occasion of the release of political prisoners: “The United States notes the release of Siarhei Kavalenka. We urge the Government of Belarus to immediately and unconditionally free its remaining political prisoners and ensure the full restoration of their civil and political rights. This position of the EU and the US meets the demand of the Belarusian human rights defenders to immediately and unconditionally release the remaining political prisoners of Belarus – Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Autukhovich, Ales Bialiatski, Dzmitry Dashkevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Aliaksandr Frantskevich, Vasil Parfiankou, Pavel Seviarynets and Mikalai Statkevich, as well as a repeated trial on the cases Artsiom Prakapenka and Yauhen Vaskovich, who are still kept behind bars. The fact that most of them have been declared “persistent violators of the prison regime” is alarming, they are subject to an incessant pressure by prison administrations with the use of threats and mockery. Moreover, torture and large-scale psychological pressurization is used towards Dzmitry Dashkevich.
The practice of arbitrary detentions and administrative punishments was applied on a continuous basis towards activists, public associations and movements and political parties throughout September. Journalists of independent media faced pressurization and persecution. A considerable restriction of freedom of expression was registered, which especially affected participants of the electoral campaign and advocates of the boycott of the parliamentary election. The activists seeking to express alternative views by holding mass events faced with considerable restrictions and prohibitions. The practice of pressurization of human rights defenders and persecution of human rights organizations persisted as well.
An important event was the appointment of the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus on 28 September. According to the decision, adopted at the 21st session of the Human Rights Committee, appointed to this position was Miklos Haraszti, who used to head of the OSCE mission for election monitoring in different countries of the world, was the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and has a considerable experience of work concerning human rights and civil society. This appointment was aimed at the implementation of the UN Human Rights Committee's Resolution of 5 July 2012, by which the mandate was introduced, according to which the Special Rapporteur can maintain a regular dialogue with the Belarusian side on the situation of human rights in the country. Despite the fact that the Belarusian authorities immediately stated their non-recognition of the mandate, the civil society expressed readiness to a close dialogue concerning the situation of the human rights and the ways to improve the realization and protection of human rights in the country.
Political prisoners. Politically motivated criminal prosecution
In the night of 3-4 September the imprisoned leader of the “Young Front” Dzmitry Dashkevich was transferred from Hlybokaye colony to Vitsebsk remand prison, where he was placed in a one-man cell in which 24-hour surveillance was established. On 12 September Dashkevich's counsel was not allowed to meet him. The prison administration referred it to having not received a copy of the ruling on enforcement of the penalty, and Dashkevich's having not composed a statement for a meeting with the lawyer. However, as his friends stated, he had written an application for a meeting at the Vitsebsk remand prison back at Hlybokaye colony, that's why they expressed the concern that the prison administration could be trying to hide some information about the prisoner. On 19 September the lawyer was again denied a meeting with his client – the prison administration stated he had been sent away to a colony. The following day it became known that Dz. Dashkevich was transferred to colony #20 in Mazyr where he immediately faced insults and pressurization from the side and administration. As a result, on 21 September he declared a hunger-strike and was put in a penal cell.
Dz. Dashkevich had been detained on 18 December 2010, the day before the presidential election, charged with malignant hooliganism within the framework of a fabricated case, and sentenced to two years of imprisonment. On 28 August he was sentenced to another year in jail on charges in insubordination to the administration of the correctional facility (Article 411, Part 1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus).
On 8 September friends of the former presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich who is kept in the Mahiliou prison shot fireworks at the prison entrance to mark the Belarusian Military Glory Day. Statkevich's wife Maryna Adamovich said: “He understood in whose honor it was done. And the prisoners did. They probably follow the situation, because they were shouting “Long Live Belarus!” for Statkevich again. On 29 September Mikalai Statkevich phoned to relatives. He confirmed being visited by the apostolic nuncio Claudio Gugerotti. The meeting took place in presence of the deputy head of the Penal Department Siarhei Pratsenka. Mikalai Statkevich said in his talk with the high guest he had confirmed his position, expressed in his last plea at the trial – the Belarusian authorities shall not be proposed any money for the release of political prisoners, as new prisoners would be taken otherwise.
On 10 September, after continued refusals for wire-drawn reasons, Yauhen Vaskovich's counsel was eventually allowed to meet his client at Mahiliou colony #4. As a result it became known that Yauhen had spent 30 days in the penal cell – three times since 2 August till 1 September. He was taken there for the first time for sleeping in the daytime and two more – for insubordination to the prison administration. He looked thin and exhausted after it. Yauhen also said that he was receiving letters only from mother and grandmother during the last six months. On 14 August Yauhen Vaskovich was visited by human rights defender Viktar Sidarenka. The reason for the meeting which was organized by the justice department was the complaints about infringement on the rights of the arrested activist concerning the correspondence with friends and relatives. In September Yauhen Vaskovich reportedly refused from the counsel's services.
As it became known on 17 September, political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok who is kept in Shklou colony #17 was deprived of all meetings, telephone calls and parcels. His father Aliaksandr Dziadok said that Mikalai continued being kept in a one-man cell and his penal term was extended for 5 days. The prison administration pressurized him, provoking violations and forcing to do the work which is considered as insulting among prisoners. He was still deprived of parcels, meetings and telephone calls. The relatives kept contacts with him only through mail. He had problems with digestion and internal organs. Though he applied for medical assistance, he didn't received any.
On 21 September the deputy head of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich received a letter from the “Viasna” head, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights Ales Bialiatski. According to the letter, the political prisoner received the ruling of the Supreme Court on the review appeal against the verdict, issued to him by Pershamaiski District Court of Minsk on 24 November 2011. In the letter from the Babruisk colony Ales Bialiatski wrote that “the appeal at the Supreme Court was considered with an examination of the criminal case... The arguments of the convict about the unlawfulness and groundlessness of the issued court verdicts weren't confirmed during the study of the case... The penalty, appointed for Bialiatski A.V. corresponds to the crime and his personality and is fair... There are no reasons to grant the appeal of the prisoner and issue a protest against the court verdict.” The answer is signed by the deputy head of the Supreme Court Valery Kalinkovich. On 25 September Ales Bialiatski celebrated his 50th anniversary in conviction. On 27 September there appeared the information that the administration of Babruisk colony #2 placed A. Bialiatski in a penal cell. However, this was not confirmed after Bialiatski when was visited by his counsel on 1 October. As it was later found from Bialiatski's letter, it was the visit of the apostolic nuncio Claudio Gugerotti which saved him from the penal cell. A. Bialiatski wrote that on 20 September he was issued with the sixth disciplinary punishment. The previous one was issued on 13 September. On 19 September there was issued an act of violation of the internal regulations. On 20 September he was taken to the medical department for an examination, which is usually done before placing a prisoner in the penal cell. However, in the afternoon everything ended with an “extra-schedule duty”. “The nuncio's visit was a complete surprise”, writes Ales. He passed blessing and support from the Pope and asked: “What shall I pass to the Pope?” I passed thanks for the care about political prisoners”. Later Valiantsin Stefanovich received a postcard from Bialiatski. There the human rights defender writes about having 7 reprimands for the seven months in prison, which means that another reprimand was issued yet after 20 September. The head of the HRC “Viasna” still bears the status of a “persistent violator of the prison regime”. A former prisoner of Babruisk colony told another political prisoner, Pavel Seviarynets, that the prison administration exercised a strong pressure on Bialiatski and it was hard even to approach him. Those who come up and talk with him are then caught up and talked with eye-to-eye in the prison brigade. The prison staff clings to him at every trifle. As stated by the prisoner, everyone understands that Ales stands up for the truth, but the people have to evade him, as it would be worse for him and for them otherwise.
As it became known on 21 September, the investigation into the criminal case against journalist of the Polish weekly “Gazeta Wyborcza” Andrei Pachobut was extended till 21 October. The case was instigated by the Hrodna Region Investigation Committee according to the results of a check-up, held by Hrodna Region KGB Department in June 2012 concerning the possible violation of Article 367, part 2 of the Criminal Code (defamation of President). “As it follows from the materials of the check-up, a number of the publications which were prepared by Pachobut and distributed through Internet resources, contain libelous expressions concerning president of the Republic of Belarus”, reads the press-release of the Investigative Committee. Bear in mind that on 21 June a search was conducted in A.Pachobut's apartment in Hrodna. The computers were confiscated. Pachobut was kept in the Hrodna remand prison till 30 June, after which he was released under a written recognizance. Pachobut refused to collaborate with the investigation.
On 24 September political prisoner Ihar Alinevich celebrated his 29th birthday behind bars. He had a short-term meeting with the relatives appointed on 26 September. However, when his mother Valiantsina Alinevich came to Navapolatsk colony #10 where her son is kept, she was told that both the meeting and the passing of a food parcel for Ihar were canceled. The reasons weren't explained. Ihar Alinevich has been deprived of food parcels and meetings with relatives for the last six months.
At about 8 p.m. on 26 September the political prisoner, activist of the Conservative-Christian Party “Belarusian Popular Front” Siarhei Kavalenka was released from Mahiliou colony and put on a train to Vitsebsk by the prison staff. At the end of June Siarhei Kavalenka had written a pardon petition for Aliaksandr Lukashenka. After his release S. Kavalenka explained to a journalist of “Nasha Niva” the reasons for this: “I have a family. They kept saying that if I wrote the petition I would enjoy life. In the penal cell, they were asking me for eight days to take the blame. Then they told me just to write: I ask to be released. At night, I thought it over and decided: if I asked judges and prosecutors to release me, why couldn't I ask Lukashenka? He is the same official as them. If you need a paper – you can have it. I didn't repent in anything.”
On 27 September in the afternoon another political prisoner, Pavel Syramalotau, was released from Mahiliou colony. He was put on a train to Babruisk. In his interview to RFE/RL he said that on 25 September he and Siarhei Kavalenka were summonsed by the head of the brigade and told they would be released this day. The prisoners were taken to the regime department, searched and told that soon the original document would come. However, there was a delay, as a result of which Kavalenka was released on 26 September and Pavel was taken out of the prison at about 1 p.m. The prison guards waited for the train to come, bought a ticket and sent him home. P. Syramalotau stated that the pardon petition was written by his counsel on 25 June on proposal of the prison administration, but the decision to do it was taken by him personally.
Torture and cruel treatment
In the beginning of September the results of a unique campaign held in the Vitsebsk region in July-August by the human rights defender Pavel Levinau were summed up. Levinau visited the regional and 25 district prosecutor's offices in order to familiarize their officers with the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee against Torture. As it was found out during these talks, the overwhelming majority of prosecutors have heard nothing of Belarus' accession to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The human rights defender sent the report of NGOs and the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee against Torture to the Republic of Belarus to the two district prosecutor's offices where he didn't manage to hold personal meetings. “The prosecutor of Haradok district, with whom there was no meeting, returned me these materials – they didn't arouse his interest”. The prosecutor of Vitsebsk district listened to me keeping silent. We had no dialogue – just my monologue instead. The prosecutor of Liozna district said he was trying to evade problems with torture and cruel treatment. That's why he told the police not to allow such things. However, with the exception of an officer of Sennitsa District Prosecutor's Office, who was aware both of the Convention and the Committee against Torture, the majority of the prosecutors were sincerely unaware of what I was talking about”, said Pavel Levinau. The human rights defender pointed that neither the regional, nor the district prosecutor's officers have ever applied to court to protect citizens' rights. Pavel Levinau received 14 written answers after his visits, and in almost in each of them it is stated that “the presented information contains no data concerning violations of rights of citizens”. However, the aim of the human rights defender was to remind about the duty of the prosecutor's office to exercise supervision over the respect of human rights.
On 13 September it became known that the UN Human Rights Committee registered a complaint of human rights defender Valiantsin Stefanovich. The complaint concerned a violation of Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In particular, Mr. Stefanovich complained about the improper conditions in the delinquents' isolation center in Akrestsin Street where he was put in 2010, following an action against the death penalty. In May 2010 Maskouski District Court of Minsk refused to consider his appeal against the bad conditions in the penal institution. Minsk City Court upheld this decision, after which the human rights defender applied to the UN Human Rights Committee. According to Article 7 of the ICCPR, “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The delinquents' isolation center is designed for isolation of the people who committed various misdemeanors or are awaiting trial. The incarceration conditions there don't meet the basic sanitary and hygienic norms.
On 28 September, after Dzmitry Dashkevich met with his counsel, the reasons for his hunger-strike of protest became known. The protest was an answer to actions of the prison administration and its head Yury Bahdanavich Zbarouski in particular. Fellow members of the “Young Front” said that during the first meeting the head of the colony asked Dz. Dashkevich about his confession. Having heard that he was a Protestant, he started insulting his religious beliefs with such statements as “All those your sects are planted by the West to destroy the Slavonic race!”, “You destroy the Slavonic race!”. When Dashkevich refused to clean the quarantine (the brigade, where the newcomers are kept for the first weeks), a commission of 7 people was summoned and Yury Zbarouski started shouting at him: “Will you swing the rights, Baptist, twice hypnotized against alcoholism, faggot? You are a pile of shit, not the prime-minister of France. Look, what a stupid mug he has! He must be a moron!” Dashkevich refused to talk to such a commission. This day he was deprived of all long-term meetings and issued with a reprimand. Later an official came to the barrack where Dashkevich had been just taken and where about 40 people were living, and found a blade lying on the table. He immediately addressed Dashkevich: “Have you decided to cut your wrists?” Dashkevich was taken to the head of the regime department. “Write, where you have taken it from!”, he ordered. “It's not mine”, Dashkevich answers. “It was found among your things! What do you think of yourself? You are a drunkard, below the plinth, a pile of shit, you'll leave your health in the black hole, you understand? I promise you will!” Instead of writing an explanation Zmitser wrote a statement that he started a hunger-strike. The head of the regime department crumpled it and threw away, saying: “I will take you to gangsters, and you'll be banged, clear? Write the explanatory note, I said!”. “I won't write anything for you”, answers Zmitser. “What? What have you said? I will write a report about improper behavior!." “One could think we're almost friends by the way you address me,” was the answer. Getting back to the quarantine, Dashkevich told to the head of the quarantine department: “It is a triple moronism after Horki”. That time a major was present in the room, who, having eavesdropped on the conversation, described this expression in his report as “foul language, insult of the administration”. As a result, a new commission awaited Zmitser Dashkevich in the morning. He was deprived of all short-term meetings. Dashkevich looked at it all and just kept silent... However, the head of the regime department would not leave him alone: “You must be keeping silent to provoke us?! Shall we put you on the psychologist's record?” “Yes, we should also register him as a suicidal, he was hiding a blade!”, assented the prison psychologist. After this and other incidents Dz. Dashkevich refused to obey any orders and was directed to another commission, where he was given another term in the penal cell. As a result Dashkevich went on a hunger-strike, which he intended to keep until the change of the attitude towards him.
On 28 September the educational institution “Platform” submitted urgent information to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez in connection with the cruel treatment of Dzmitry Dashkevich. In the information it is stated that after the transfer of the political prisoner to the Mazyr colony #20 he was subjected to cruel treatment by the prison administration. During the several days of his stay in the colony he was deprived of short- and long-term meetings and food parcels. Each day he was summoned to a commission which consisted of representatives of the administration and at which he was subject to rude insults (moron, drunkard, faggot, a pile of shit); threats to recognize him as psychically ill and appoint a forced medical treatment; put him in the penal cell, where he would be subject to sexual violence by inmates; threats of physical liquidation in the Mazyr penal colony #20.
On 26 September at the OSCE Human Rights Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw the OSCE Bureau for Democratic Institutes and Human Rights (BDIHR) presented a background paper – The Death Penalty in the OSCE Area 2012. The report states that the number of the member countries of the OSCE which abolished the death penalty reached 51 out of 56. Three more countries, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan, have the death penalty in their legislation, but there are moratoriums on the de-facto executions. Belarus and the US remain the only countries in the OSCE region where death verdicts are still executed.
On 28 September mother of the executed death convict Uladzislau Kavaliou filed a review appeal to the Supreme Court. Liubou Kavaliova demanded the reversal of the death sentence, according to which Uladzislau Kavaliou and Dzmitry Kanavalau were executed for having allegedly committed a terrorist act in the Minsk metro on 11 April 2012.
“The appeal lists the violations admitted during the investigation and the court proceedings, and I consider holding a new, fair trial of the case, as necessary. I understand that after the execution the only thing I can do is to protect the good name of my son. However, I also remember that it is important to find the real organizers of the explosion,” she says.
The volume of the complaint is more than 50 pages. It contains enumeration of violations of the Criminal-Process Code, the motions which were not granted by the court, violations of the right to defense (when the counsel wasn’t admitted to the investigative isolator), violation of the right to appeal (when Kavaliou wasn’t allowed to meet with his counsel on the eve of the execution), etc. Many photo and video materials and freeze-frames from recordings of the surveillance cameras in the metro are attached to the appeal.
Harassment of human rights activists and organizations
On 3 September the preliminary hearings concerning the liquidation of the informational and educational institution “Platform” took place at the Minsk City Economic Court. The case was brought on the lawsuit of the Savetski District Tax Inspection of Minsk. The trial was led by Judge Aleh Kliuiko. In July and August 2012 the head of the organization Andrei Bandarenka had been twice taken to the tax inspection by the police despite the fact that the meetings of “Platform” with the tax inspectors were agreed in advance. In August the organization had to pay a fine for the alleged failure to inform the tax agency about a change of its address. The human rights defenders stated that it was unclear how it was determined that the organization “was not located on its legal address” whereas it was there! In July “Platform” received administrative punishment for the allegedly untimely reporting about the income tax. In fact, the organization had presented all reports back in March, and the tax inspector allegedly found a defect in one of them only in July. In both cases “Platform” was obliged to pay fines, the total sum of which was 4 million rubles. A representative of the tax inspection stated at the trial that “Platform” “repeatedly and grossly” violated the legislation: untimely filed tax declarations, was not situated on its legal address – and was punished with fines for it. The head of the “Platform” Andrei Bandarenka, in his turn, stated that the tax declarations had been filed timely, but the tax inspection kept “losing” them. Moreover, he stated that the institution had been already punished for it with a fine, and two punishments cannot be issued for one violation. What concerns the pretensions to the legal address, “Platform” was located on its legal address. The head asked the court to summon the witnesses who could confirm it. During the hearing of 6 September Judge Aleh Kliuiko asked the tax inspection to present the office rent agreements of “Platform” for 2011-2012 and postponed the trial till 9 October.
On 21 September the tax organs joined to the harassment of a member of the Board of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, president of the Belarusian Human Rights House in Vilnius Tatsiana Reviaka. Pershamaiski District Tax Inspection of Minsk demanded that the human rights defender provided the income and assets declaration for 2004-2010. The demand was signed by the deputy head of Pershamaiski District Tax Inspection of Minsk Vasil Malashenka. These measures of the tax inspection were preceded by a sudden increase of interest to the human rights defender on the part of the KGB: 17 August Tatsiana Reviaka was summonsed for a talk to to KGB. At the same time, security services summonsed for talks participants of the summer human rights schools which are held at the Belarusian Human Rights House in Vilnius, asking who provided the organizational and financial sides of their stay at schools. Such cases took place not only in Minsk, but also in the provinces. Earlier, T. Reviaka had been questioned by the Financial Investigations Department as a witness in the criminal case against the head of the HRC “Viasna” Ales Bialiatski and confirmed having received financial means from Ales Bialiatski for human rights activities. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders this new act of harassment against Ms. Reviaka, which is considered by it as a part of a more general campaign of harassment against members of “Viasna”, aimed at impeding their legitimate human rights activities.
On 27 September Savetski District Tax Inspection of Homel demanded that the human rights defender Leanid Sudalenka, his wife and the son who was serving in the army, to present income and assets declarations for the last five years. Mr. Sudalenka considered it as politically motivated harassment. During the parliamentary election, he actively helped the candidates who weren't registered. He prepared more than 20 complaints to the Central Election Commission and the Supreme Court on their behalf. He also prepared many appeals, including to court, on the stage of agitation, when the printing houses refused to publish the electoral programs of the UCP candidates and state owned TV refused to broadcast their speeches. It's worth noting, that Leanid Sudalenka and his family members were also required to submit five-year income declarations after the parliamentary election 2008.
On 30 September Belarusian customs officers searched civil activists Siarzhuk Semianiuk and Iryna Smiayan-Semianiuk at the border crossing point “Novaya Huta”. The family was returning from the Ukraine after a visit with relatives. According to Iryna, at first they were detained for half an hour – most probably, the customs officers didn’t know what to do with them. Then customs officer Piatro Khamutovich said “You see, we don’t know where you travel” and added that their car would be examined. However, the customs officers searched not only the car, but also all personal belongings of Iryna and Siarzhuk and drew up an act of examination. Nothing illegal was found, though.
In the night of 30 September – 1 October member of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Zmitser Salauyou was searched at the border crossing point “Piashchatka” while returning home from Poland. His car and personal belongings were examined by border guards, customs officers and two men in plain clothes. According to Mr. Salauyou, he arrived at the border at about 12 p.m. His car was put in a special box. All its parts were thoroughly searched, including the hood and the bottom. The customs officers paid a special interest to a poster with a portrait of Ales Bialiatski, CDs of the campaign against the death penalty and a manual for election observers. No acts of examination and confiscation were drawn up. The reasons for such long detention weren’t explained.
Pressurization of social and political activists by security services
On 3 September Babruisk activist Halina Smirnova was summonsed to local KGB department. The talk with a KGB officer Pavel Silkou lasted for 2.5 hours and concerned the silent protests, the People's Assembly in 2011 and hanging-out white-red-white flags in Babruisk. The KGB officer also reminded about lighting candles on Hallowmas. H. Smirnova refused to answer any questions concerning her personal life and family. P. Silkou presented to her a warning about the possibility of criminal prosecution for violation of Article 342 of the Criminal Code, “Organization and preparation of actions which grossly violate the public order, or active participation in them”.
Administrative prosecution of social and political activists, arbitrary detentions
On 2 September civil activists of Smarhon marked an anniversary of the birth of the head of the national underground resistance movement in Smarhon and Vialeika Rastsislau Lapitski, whom the Soviet authorities had executed by shooting in 1950. Within the framework of the festive events a local artist Valiantsin Varanishcha, civil activist Uladzimir Shulzhytski and members of the artistic association “Pahonia” Henadz Drazdou, Ales Tsyrkunou and Ales Pushkin paid a visit to an Orthodox church and hallowed four portraits of Lapitski painted by Pushkin. Then the paintings were exhibited in the city park, after which the artists carried them to Valinatsin Varanishcha's house. On their way there they were detained by the police, who charged them with participating in an unauthorized mass event (Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). On 3 September Smarhon District Court fined Ales Tsyrkunou was fined 1 million rubles. The other detainees solicited for advocatory services, as a result of which the trials over them were postponed. On 10 September Judge Liudmila Piatrova fined Henadz Drazdou 3 million rubles, artist Valiantsin Varanishcha – 1 million rubles and activist Uladzimir Shulzhytski – 3 million rubles. On 24 September Ales Pushkin, who was found the organizer of the procession, was sentenced to ten days of arrest. He was also found guilty of non-subordination to the police. The verdict was issued by Judge Liudmila Piatrova.
At about 2.20 p.m. on 4 September a candidate for the parliament from the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) and activist of "Tell the Truth" campaign Leanid Padbiaretski was detained for “holding an unauthorized agitation picket” Mr. Padbiaretski was guarded to Leninski District Police Department of Mahiliou and kept there for about an hour. Then he was given a writ for 6 p.m. and was let go. As a result of the proceedings which took place at 6 p.m. the case was dropped as the police had no powers to draw violation reports against candidates for the parliament. The case materials were passed to the administrative commission of Leninski district for bringing an administrative case under Article 9.10 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, “Violation of the electoral legislation”.
On 5 September Brest activist Andrei Sharenda was warned by the prosecutor's office. As it was found out, the supervisory agency allegedly took into account some circumstances which allegedly witnessed violation of the requirements of the Law “On Mass Media” on his part during the participation in the post-election protest rally in Minsk on 19 December 2010. The warning “about inadmissibility of the repeated offense” states that on the day of the presidential election Sharenda “took an active part in the mass event which was accompanied with a gross violation of the public order, disobedience to legitimate demands of the authorities, which led to interruption of the work of public transport."
At about 1.30 p.m. police officers came to the apartment of an activist of the youth wing of “Tell the Truth” – “Zmena”, Yahor Viniatski. Printed production was confiscated from him as a result of the search. Ya. Viniatski, who was also an electioneering agent of the candidate Artsiom Liava, in whose constituency the “Boycott-101” campaign had been declared, was taken to Pershamaiski District Police Department of Minsk for questioning.
After 6 p.m. on 5 September riot police detained an activist of the “European Belarus” Aliaksei Tsioply near the metro station “Kupalauskaya”. Several copies of the informational bulletin “Charter-97” were found among his belongings. A. Tsioply was put on a bus and driven to Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk. There he was charged with insubordination to legitimate demands of police officers (Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative offenses). On 6 September the judge of Tsentralny District Court Yasinovich sentenced him to 5 days of arrest.
In the morning of 7 September the “Zmena” leader Pavel Vinahradau was detained in his apartment in Minsk. He was guarded to Maskouski DPD and charged with disorderly conduct”. The same the court returned his case to the police for revision. Nevertheless, Pavel was not released – he was taken to the delinquents' isolation center in Akrestsin Street instead. On 10 September Judge Yury Sezin sentenced him to five days of arrest.
At about 4.30 p.m. “Zmena” activist Aliaksandr Artsybashau was detained as well. At Kastrychnitski DPD he was charged with disorderly conduct and then placed to the delinquents' isolation center as well. On 10 September Artsybashau's relatives, who were waiting for him at court, were informed over the telephone that the trial over him had already taken place and Judge Maksim Lapko had returned his case for revising. In fact, as it was found later, Aliaksandr Artsybashau had been sentenced to 3 days of arrest and released from custody right in the court hall, having already served the whole term during the weekend.
On 7 September the administrative commission of Slutsk City Executive Committee found local activist Vasil Amialkovich guilty of posting stickers in the city and fined 1 million rubles. The case was considered by five members of the commission including the committee's main lawyer Yury Skryhan and the deputy head of the prophylaxis and public order department of Slutsk DPD Andrei Zayats. V. Amialkovich had been detained by the police near his house at midnight on 14 July. A policeman who didn't introduce himself told he had seen him posting stickers near a shop. At the police station, police inspector Verabei composed the protocol of questioning with gross violations. The surname of the police who accused him of posting the stickers was not called even during the sitting of the commission. When Amialkovich asked who accused him, Andrei Zayats answered: “Slutsk DPD does”.
The sisters Alena and Liudmila Paulouskis were detained in the afternoon of 8 September after writing “Long Live Belarus!” on the advertisement board of Kamsamolskaya and Revaliutsyinaya Streets of Minsk. At first they were taken to Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk, then to the delinquents' isolation center in Akrestsin Street. The girls were charged with insubordination to police officers. On 9 September the judge ofTsentralny District Court of Minsk Natalllia Vaitsiakhovich sentenced both of them to pay fines of 2 million rubles.
On 11 September in Khotsimsk a candidate for the parliament at Krychau election constituency #83 Valery Karanakevich was detained while holding an agitation picket. The picket was held in the place that had been determined by the district executive committee – the town stadium. At about 12.30 a.m. policemen arrived and forced the picketers to stop the action. Valery Karankevich was guarded to Khotsimsk DPD for giving explanations and was released after writing an explanatory note.
On 11 September the judge of the Leninski District Court of Mahiliou Aksana Ratnikava issued a verdict to the coordinator of the "For Fair Elections 2012" campaign in the Mahiliou region, Yury Novikau. The judge found him guilty of distributing mass media in the form of notebooks, manuals and an informational bulletin for observers. She ruled to destroy all this production. Novikau's car was stopped by the road police near the railway station at about 8 p.m. on 23 August. He was told to drive to Leninski DPD, where his car was searched by police. Printed production, which was found in the trunk, was confiscated, and an administrative case was brought against Yury Novikau.
On 12 September the administrative commission of Pershamaiski district of Minsk considered an administrative case against the activist of the “European Belarus” Andrei Mouchan. He had been detained on Astrashytskaya Street in the “Uruchcha” suburb on 14 July. Having searched him, the police found some stickers. At Pershamaiski DPD the activist was charged under Article 21.14, “violation of the urban maintenance rules”, and Article 17.1, “disorderly conduct”. On 12 September the administrative commission of Pershamaiski district considered a case that had been brought against him for violating Article 21.14 of the Code of Administrative offenses and sentenced him to a fine of 500,000 rubles. The commission was headed by A. Vankevich.
In the evening of 13 September an activist of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Zmitser Shurkhai was detained by police while receiving a parcel from Minsk. He was guarded to Leninski DPD together with the agitation materials calling to the boycott of the parliamentary election. The activist was released at 10 p.m., 5.000 leaflets were confiscated for examination.
On 15 September the chief editor of the “Arche” magazine Valery Bulhakau was detained during the presentation of the book “Sovetization of the Western Belarus” in Hrodna. He was released after receiving charges of unlawful business activity. As it was found later, the presentation was attended by officers of the tax inspections who made a so-called “control purchase” (about 20 books by Yan Shumski were sold at the presentation).
On 18 September four activists of “Zmena” were detained together with Belarusian and German journalists near “Pushkinskaya” metro station. The activists intended to hold a symbolic dispensation of borsch not far from the “Frunzenski” supermarket. However, they didn't manage even to set up – the police immediately detained all participants: Pavel Vinahradau, Yahor Viniatski, Aliaksandr Artsybashau and Hanna Kurlovich. Among the detainees there were also the journalists Aliaksandr Barazenka, Siarhei Hryts, Vasil Fiadosenka, Pavel Padabed and Tatsiana Ziankevich, as well as the cameraman and the journalists of a German shooting crew. The journalists were released the same day without being given any charges, whereas the “Zmena” activists were charged under Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative offenses, “participation in an unauthorized mass event”, and guarded to Frunzenski District Court of Minsk. Judge Lapo punished Hanna Kurlovich with a fine of 2 million rubles and Yahor Viniatski – with 7 days of arrest. Judge Dzmitry Lukashevich sentenced Aliaksandr Artsybashau to 10 days of arrest. Pavel Vinahradau was tried for violation of two articles – Article 23.34 and Article 17.1 - “disorderly conduct” (for allegedly shouting four-letter words in a loudspeaker). Judge Natallia Karovina sentenced him to 5 and 7 days of arrest for these violations – a total of 12 days in jail.
On 19 September Judge of the Kastrychnitski District Court of Vitsebsk Ina Hrabouskaya sentenced an activist of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Yauhen Hutsalau to 7 days of arrest. On 18 September the youngster had held a one-man action in support of the election boycott: he put on a mask of Lukashenka's face and went to the center of the city holding a poster “Boycott to the parliamentary election 2012”. He was detained somewhat later at a polling station where he was present as an election observer. At first he was taken to an interrogation, and then to the remand prison where he was kept before the trial.
On 19 September in Maladechna the police detained youth activist Ihar Liushtanh who decided to mark the day of the national symbols by a walk under a white-red-white flag. He was detained near a picket of the candidate Halina Lazouskaya and taken to the police station. Ihar's father was allowed to take his son away after a detention report was drawn up. The administration of the gymnasium where the boy studied was immediately informed about his deed.
At about 3 p.m. on 20 September “Young Front” activist Zmitser Kremianetski was detained and taken to Tsentralny DPD. On 21 September Tsentralny District Court of Minsk sentenced him to 5 days of arrest under two articles of the Code of Administrative Violations: Article 23.4, “insubordination to police” and Article 17.3, “consumption of alcohol in public”.
At about 3 p.m. on 21 September the police detained an activist of “Tell the Truth” Aliaksei Mikulich for distribution of leaflets calling to the boycott of the election on the territory of Frunzenskaya election constituency #101 which was chosen for the organization of boycott by activists of the “For Freedom” movement, the Belarusian Popular Front, “Tell the Truth” civil campaign and its youth wing, “Zmena”. The police guarded A. Mikulich to Frunzenski DPD, from which he was released without getting any charges.
In the evening of 21 September Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk, Andrei Sharenda and Viachaslau Barouski were detained in the Brest suburb “Kavaliova”. They were guarded to Maskouski DPD of Brest, where leaflets with calls to boycott the election and several dozens of “Charter-97” bulletin were confiscated from them. The boys were released without getting any charges, whereas Palina was charged with the illegal distribution of printed edition and insubordination to police. The trial was to have taken place on 24 September but was postponed due to the alleged loss of the case. On 28 September Judge Maryia Levanchuk returned the administrative case against Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk to the police for revising. According to her, there was no evidence to prove the charges. Moreover, the police witnesses failed to appear at court.
In the evening of 22 September Andrei and Aliaksei Dvaretskis were detained while posting boycott leaflets and guarded to Partyzanski DPD. There they were charged under Article 23.4, “insubordination to police” and Article 21.14, “violation of the urban maintenance rules”. They were kept in the delinquents' isolation center in Akrestsin Street till the trial. On 24 September the judge of the Partyzanski District Court of Minsk Maryiana Valchkova sentenced them to three days of arrest. The reports concerning the violation of the urban maintenance rules were passed for consideration by Partyzanski district administrative commission.
On 23 September in Minsk the police detained the head of the “Razam” movement Aliaksandr Makayeu who was driving to the funeral of Mahiliou activist Krystsina Shatsikava by his car, to which a white-red-flag was attached. The car was stopped and searched. Some boycott leaflets were found as a result. A. Makayeu spent the night at the delinquents' isolation center in Akrestsin Street. On 24 September the judge of the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk Aliaksandr Yakunchykhin found him guilty of insubordination to police (Article 23.4 of the Code of Administrative Offenses) and sentenced him to 6 days of arrest.
On 24 September several dozens of activists of the youth project “Election observation: theory and practice” who had observed the election on the election day, 23 September, were detained by the riot police near the Jazz Hostel in Minsk. Among the detainees there were Ales Herasimenka, Nasta Matchanka, Maryia Sliaptsova and Ales Zayats. All of them were taken to sentralny DPD and released after being photographed and fingerprinted. The reasons for the detention weren't explained, no charges were given.
Restrictions on freedom of speech and the right to impart information, persecution of journalists
On 6 September the administrative commission of Savetski district of Homel held a sitting to consider a police report about violation of the rules of trade, drawn up on Aliaksandr Protska on 20 August. The activist of the “For Freedom” movement concluded an official agreement with the editorial board of the “Novy Chas” newspaper. He sold the newspaper near the railway station of Homel. The commission punished him with a fine of 100,000 rubles for alleged violation of Article 12.17 of the Code of Administrative Offenses.
On 17 September Mikita Brouka, a journalist for the “Novy Chas”, got his journalist ID torn. He was shooting a street poll on video for “Novy Chas” near the Presidential Administration and then sat down on a bench, holding the camera and the microphone on his knees. At that time he was approached by a man in mufti who introduced himself as a guard of the Presidential Administration. He behaved aggressively – refused to show his ID, asked what was being shot there and demanded the journalist to show his ID. Having seen the title “Novy Chas” he stated that such edition did not exist, tore up the ID and went away.
On 18 September “Zmena” activists held a symbolic dispensation of borsch. Apart from them, the police also detained the journalists who elucidated the action, including independent cameraman Aliaksandr Barazenka, photo correspondents Siarhei Hryts (“Associated Press”), Vasil Fiadosenka (“Reuters”), Tatsiana Ziankovich (EPA), the BelaPAN correspondent Pavel Padabed and the shooting crew of the German TV channel “ZDF” - cameraman Dzmitry Rudakou and producer Aliaksei Akulau. During the detention unidentified persons in mufti smashed Siarhei Hryts' glasses and then started forcedly pushing all present people into a minibus. All detainees were guarded to Frunzenski DPD. The journalists were released without getting any charges. On 19 September Siarhei Hryts paid a visit to Frunzenski DPD to file a complaint about beating.
At about 4.30 p.m. on 18 September independent TV journalists Viachaslau Piashko and Valiantsin Mikhaltsou were detained near Kalinin Square in Minsk while shooting a video. At first the journalists were guarded to the police station on Kuzma Chorny Street for identification. At about 7.15 p.m. they were driven to Pershamaiski DPD, allegedly to put a seal on the report about the confiscation of the camera. At the DPD Valiantsin Mikhaltsou was fingerprinted and photographed. The detainees were released at about 8.15 p.m. As it follows from the copy of the protocol which was issued to them, the camera was taken away for a ten-day examination. The video recording was left at the police as well.
On 20 September it became known that a number of photo reporters for foreign editions and agencies hadn't been issued with accreditation for the “Dazhynki” agricultural feast which was held on 21-22 September. In particular, the accreditation denials concerned photo correspondent for “Nasha Niva” Siarhei Hudzilin, Siarhei Hryts (“Associated Press”), Tatsiana Ziankovich (EPA) and Viktar Drachou (AFP). “It was the demand of the presidential security service”, explained to the journalists the press secretary of the police department of Minsk City Executive Committee Aliaksandr Danilchanka. Only the shooting crews and photo correspondents who had an official registration were allowed to work at the feast.
On 21 September the chief editor of "Nasha Niva" Andrei Dynko received a letter from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which expressed apologies for having mistakenly put him on the list of restricted to travel abroad. The letter is dated 9 September. Andrei Dynko was set off the train "Minsk - Vilnius" on 14 March. The border guards didn't explain the reason for reason for limiting his freedom of movement, just advised him to apply to the citizenship and migration department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The citizenship and migration department, in its turn, issued him with a certificate that he had been put on the list of restricted to travel abroad for “evasion from measures connected with the call-up to the army”. The journalist filed complaints to various instances. His surname was removed from the list only after the sixth complaint.
On 21 September Amos Roberts, a reporter of the Australian TV channel SBS, was detained at “Minsk-2” international airport despite the fact he had official accreditation from the Belarusian MFA. The customs officials seized his camera and all data storage items.
On 22 September we learned that two representatives of the Swedish TV channel “TV4”, the journalist Stefan Borg and a cameraman, were denied Belarusian visas. Before this, denials were also received by the German journalists Gesine Dornblüth (“Deutschlandradio”) and Anne Gelinek (ZDF). According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, as many as six foreign journalists were denied visas.
On 22 September the head of precinct election commission #33 at Krychauskaya election commission Volha Yurenkova prohibited the editor of a small-circulation private edition Siarhei Niarouny to take photos at the polling station. The head of the commission had no pretensions to the journalist during the first day of early voting, but changed her mind on the election day.
On 23 September a photo correspondent for “Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belarusi” Dzmitry Lasko was detained for three hours by an officer of the criminal investigation department for refusing to erase the photos he had taken at a polling station. The journalist was released as soon as the question of his detention was raised at the press-conference of the Central Election Commission.
On 23 September, the main day of voting, the head of precinct election commission #752 located in the Minsk school #148 expelled “Novy Chas” journalist Mikita Brouka. He shot the polling station on video after its closure and planned to make a video recording of the poll. Despite the fact that he had been put in the register of journalists and managed to make video shooting at the polling station, Volha Smirnova didn't want to let him there at the end of the day. Nevertheless, Mikita managed to get to the polling station. However, soon Volha Smirnova explained that she allowed him to be present at the polling station without the video camera. Later she noticed him shooting a video and told the police to remove him from the polling station.
On 23 September Siarhei Balai, a photo journalist for “Salidarnats”, was detained while taking photos on Kastrychnitskaya Square. He was approached by people in mufti who asked why he was taking the photos and then called a police car. The presentation of a journalist ID had no effect – the journalist was guarded to Tsentralny DPD, allegedly for identification, and kept there for 2.5 hours. No explanations were taken, no charges given, but all photos were erased from the photo camera.
On 23 September, the day of the election, access from the territory of Belarus was restricted for a number of websites, including udf.by (the official partner of the “For Fair Elections” campaign) and the website of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy In the morning of 24 September these sites still didn't work. The UDF became accessible at about 11 a.m. As it was found out, the website was blocked on the territory of Belarus and could be opened abroad and through anonymizers. bchd.info was still unaccessible. On 23 September the access to the website of the “People's monitoring”, electby.org, was interrupted as well. It was still inaccessible in the morning of 24 September. However, one could access it through anonymizers, which witnesses an artificial blocking of the resource. The website of the Movement “For Freedom” and its subdomain, watch.pyx.by, created for uploading information from election observers, were inaccessible as well.
On 28 September the editor of the private newspapers “Borisovskiye Novosti” and “Reklamnyj BorZHoMi” Anatol Bukas stated the continuation of pressure on his editions. About 60 copies of the newspaper “Reklamny BorZHoMi” were removed from the stand of a shop on demand of workers of the health service. According to Mr. Bukas, workers of the health service implemented an oral order of Barysau City Executive Committee which was trying to liquidate the edition by economic means. It became also known that the prosecutor's office didn't grant the appeal of A. Bukas against the removal of a plate with the newspaper's name, “Borisovskiye Novosti” by workers of the housing service in August 2012.
Restrictions on freedom of assembly
On 29 August the hearings on an appeal of human rights defenders Aliaksei and Sviatlana Lapitskis against the prohibition of a picket in support of Belarusian political prisoners and including human rights defender Ales Bialiatski ended at Zhodzina City Court. The Lapitskis wanted to hold the action on 4 August. The trial was led by Judge Hrynkevich who dismissed the appeal.
On 1 September Brest Region Court didn't grant the appeal of the head of the regional branch of the United Civil Party against the prohibition of a picket under the slogan “For fair elections without Lukashenka” by the local authorities. Brest City Executive Committee stated as the official reason for the ban that a football match would take place at the place of the action (the “Locomotive” stadium, the only place that had been officially determined by the authorities for street actions). However, Mr. Vuyek is sure that the prohibition was groundless and the sports event and the picket would not have hindered each other.
On 1 September Brest Region Court upheld the prohibition of a picket of solidarity with political prisoners, appointed on 4 August, the first anniversary of the arrest of the head of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Ales Bialiatski. Brest City Executive Committee had banned the action referring to the failure of the applicants to conclude service agreements with the police, medics and public utilities. Dissatisfied with such decision of the authorities, human rights defender Uladzimir Vialichkin and the head of the regional branches of the United Civil Party and the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) Uladzimir Vuyek and Ihar Maslouski applied to court, which turned their lawsuit down.
On 1 September Homel human rights defenders Anatol Paplauny and Leanid Sudalenka received an information from the UN Human Rights Committee that their complaints about the prohibition of the pickets in support of pickets dated to an anniversary of the arrest of Ales Bialiatski, had been accepted for consideration by the Committee. According to the correspondence, the complaints of human rights were registered and sent to the Government of Belarus to express the official position of the Belarusian side concerning the violations referred to in the complaint. Bear in mind that on 4 August 2011, the day of the arrest of Ales Bialiatski, human rights activists applied to Homel City Executive Committee for permission to hold a series of pickets with the aim to draw the public attention to the politically motivated arrest of their colleague. The city authorities didn't authorize the pickets. The courts of all levels (the city, regional and Supreme) upheld the prohibition. In their complaint to the committee the applicants point out that the Homel authorities had determined only one place for holding pickets and meetings in the city with a population of almost 500,000 people. Moreover, according to ruling of the authorities those who hold mass events must pay to the police, medics and public utilities.
On 13 September the Civil initiative against lawlessness at courts and prosecutor's offices intended to hold a picket near Minsk Town Hall on Svaboda Square under the following slogans: “Bureaucracy, stop fooling the people and mocking at it!", "Let's bring the deceivers of the people to account!", "The Presidential Administration is an effective protector of lawlessness in the country" and "We demand that the officials respect the Constitution and the country's laws!". However, the organizers received a refusal, signed by the deputy head of Minsk City Executive Committee Ihar Karpenka. “He thinks that our application “doesn't meet the requirements of Article 9 of the Law “On Mass Events” and the action would create obstacles to the movement of pedestrians near the Town Hall,” said the leader of the Civil initiative Tamara Siarhei. However, the official didn't specify which requirements of Article 9 of the Law “On Mass Media” were allegedly violated in the application.