Human Rights Situation in Belarus: May 2016
- May was not marked by any systemic changes demonstrating the authorities’ commitment to improving the country’s human rights situation;
- during the month, there were some negative trends indicating the deterioration of the human rights situation in comparison with the previous months;
- on April 29, the Critical Mass peaceful cycling event was forcibly stopped by the police. Several participants, as well as Kiryl Karatseyeu, an observer of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, were detained with a clearly disproportionate use of violence. Two participants, Dzmitry Paliyenka and Stanislau Kanavalau, faced criminal charges under Art. 364 of the Criminal Code (violence or threat of violence against a law enforcement officer). Dzmitry Paliyenka was taken into custody and placed in a detention center in Žodzina;
- on May 6, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" issued a statement to demand the release of activist Dzmitry Paliyenka until the end of the investigation, as well as to stop the persecution of peaceful protesters and observers;
- the prison in Barysaŭ district continued to hold Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, whose sentencing was viewed by the country’s human rights community as politically motivated harassment. Human rights activists demand an immediate reconsideration of Zhamchuzhny’s criminal case in an open trial in compliance with the guarantees of a fair trial, which includes a wide range of legal measures, such as a pardon, amnesty, and parole;
- despite the fact that none of the unauthorized peaceful assemblies held during the month was intervened by the law enforcement authorities or forcibly stopped, the participants and organizers of these gatherings continued to be brought to administrative responsibility in the form of fines. At the same time, local authorities still banned public events across the country;
- on May 6, human rights defenders learned that death convict Siarhei Ivanou had been executed. He was shot on the night of April 18 in jail No. 1 in Minsk;
- on May 6, the criminal board of the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by death convict Siarhei Khmialeuski. Thus, the death sentence handed down by the Minsk Regional Court entered into force;
- on May 19, the Homieĺ Regional Court issued another death sentence against Siarhei Vostrykau, 33;
Politically motivated criminal prosecution
On 29 April 2016, during the Critical Mass cycling event, police officers detained civil society activists Dzmitry Paliyenka and Stanislau Kanavalau. They faced criminal charges under Art. 364 of the Criminal Code (violence or threat of violence against a law enforcement officer). Later, Stanislau Kanavalau was released on recognizance, while Dzmitry Paliyenka was taken into custody and placed in a detention center in Žodzina. According to investigators, he had resisted the traffic police officers who stopped his actions, and tore the clothing of one of the policemen.
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" considers the pre-trial detention of Dzmitry Paliyenka as an excessive measure.
The monthly events of the Critical Mass cycling movement is a form of expression and should be viewed as peaceful assemblies in the context of articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the event of April 29. Based on these facts, the Human rights Center "Viasna" considers the prosecution of the participants of this protest to be the result of exercising their freedom of expression, which constitutes a restriction on the right to peaceful assembly. It also highlights the disproportionate use of violence by police officers while dispersing the protest.
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" demands to release Dzmitry Paliyenka until the end of the investigation, as well as to stop the persecution of peaceful protesters and observers.
The prison in Barysaŭ district continued to hold Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, whose sentencing was viewed by the country’s human rights community as politically motivated harassment. Human rights activists demand an immediate reconsideration of Zhamchuzhny’s criminal case in an open trial in compliance with the guarantees of a fair trial, which includes a wide range of legal measures, such as a pardon, amnesty, and parole.
Violations of freedom of association, pressure on human rights defenders
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has not yet replied to an appeal by Ales Bialiatski, chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and FIDH vice-president, and Antoine Bernard, FIDH Director General.
Late last year, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Uladzimir Makei asking him to respect the requirements made by the Un Human Rights Committee in the case of Ales Bialiatski. The rights activists’ appeal reminded about the essence of the Committee’s Views. The Committee said that the prosecution of Ales Bialiatski was a violation of his right to freedom of association, since, according to the Committee, it were the repeated refusals to register the HRC "Viasna" that empowered the authorities to prosecute the organization’s head.
In its decision, the Committee urged the Belarusian government within 180 days from the date of the adoption of its Views, to undertake steps that would result in an effective and enforceable remedy to Ales Bialiatski, including (a) the reconsideration of the application for registration of the Viasna Association, based on criteria compliant with the requirements of Article 22 of the Covenant; (b) annulment of the criminal conviction from his criminal record; and (c) adequate compensation, including reimbursement of the legal costs incurred. Belarus is also under the obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations in the future. In this connection, the State should review its internal legislation to ensure its compliance with the requirements of Article 22 of the Covenant.
On May 12, Belarusian border guards detained Liliya Shibanova, founder of the Russian Association of non-profit organizations “In Defense of Voters’ Rights GOLOS”, as she was crossing the Lithuanian border on a train to Moscow. The incident happened at the Hudahaj station. Mrs. Shibanova was travelling to Moscow via Belarus to take part in a meeting of the Russian Human Rights Council scheduled for May 16. She was forced to leave the train and offered to undergo a body search.
On April 29, during the Critical Mass cycling event in Minsk, police officers detained Kiryl Kazhenau, an observer of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. After Kazhenau and other detainees were thrown into a police bus, riot police officers put them on the floor, struck them in the stomach and face. It should be noted that the observer was marked with a blue cape with the word "Observer" on the back, a badge with a photograph, as well as an official accreditation from the BHC. Besides, he was moving on the sidewalk.
Kiryl Kazhenau faced administrative charges under Art. 23.4 (disobedience to the lawful demands of a police officer) and Part 1, Art. 18.23 (violation of traffic rules by pedestrians) of the Administrative Code.
On May 11, Kiryl Kazhenau was fined 210,000 rubles on administrative charges of violating traffic rules.
On May 12, the Centraĺny District Court of Minsk sent the case of Kiryl Kazhenau (resisting detention) for revision.
Violation of the right to peaceful assembly and expression
On May 3, the Minsk Traffic Police Department started hearing the charges brought against participants in the Critical Mass event, Aliaksei Adamovich, Dzmitry Pakhomau and Kiryl Padabed, who were accused of violating traffic rules.
However, due to the lack of explanations, the case files were sent back for revision and the hearing was postponed to May 12. On May 12, they were punished for violating traffic rules.
On May 5, Judge Valery Yesman of Minsk’s Centraĺny District Court sent back for revision the case file of the BHC observer Kiryl Kazhenau.
On May 12, the cases of Aliaksei Adamovich and Kiryl Kazhenau were again heard by the judge, and sent back for revision again. On May 19, Judge Victoria Shabunia sent back for revision the cases of Dsmitry Pakhomau and Kiryl Padabed.
A similar cycling event held on May 27 was not accompanied with any obstacles or arrests.
On May 2, Andrei Haidukou was fined 2.1 million rubles for displaying a banner saying "Work is a Right, Not a Duty."
On May 6, Chairman of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka, as well as party activists Volha Mayorava and Dzianis Krasachka were fined by the Court of Minsk’s Zavodski district 10.5, 6.3 and 6.3 million rubles respectively for "distribution of information material aimed against the government" on April 14 near the entrance of the Minsk Automobile Plant. The UCP members were found guilty of violating the order of organizing or holding mass events (Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code).
On March 31, activists of the REP Trade Union in Minsk, Brest, Baranavičy, Hrodna, Babrujsk and Smaliavičy demonstrated near the entrances to their factories in order to support associate M. Soshka, who had been earlier dismissed for his trade union membership. The picket lasted for 25 minutes. As a result, the trade unionists were charged with holding an unsanctioned event. On April 26, a court in Brest issued a warning in this case to deputy chairman of the trade union Zinaida Mikhniuk. The hearing took place without her participation. On April 29, a fine of 210,000 rubles was imposed on the trade union’s press secretary Mikalai Herasimenka. On May 5, union activist Artur Eshbayeu was punished by a fine of 420,000 rubles under Part 1 of Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code.
On May 16, Judge Pavel Zhachko of the Maladziečna Court sentenced activist Pavel Siarhei to 7 days of arrest. The activist was found guilty of violating Part 3, Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code, "violation of the order of organization or holding mass events, repeated within one year after the imposition of an administrative penalty for the same violation". This was the first administrative arrest for participating in a peaceful assembly over the last nine months.
On May 16, the Polack District Court heard the administrative charges against deputy chairman of the Free Trade Union of Belarus Mikalai Sharakh and head of the Trade Union’s office at the Polack- Šklovalakno enterprise Viktar Stukau. Viktar Stukau was fined 5.25 million rubles for staging an unauthorized picket, while Mikalai Sharakh was also accused of disobedience to police officers under Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code and fined 6.3 million rubles. It should be noted that the Free Trade Union’s office in Polack was last allowed to stage a picket back in 2010 and in 2012 the activists received seven bans from the Polack City Executive Committee.
On May 17, the Court of Minsk’s Centraĺny District fined Volha Mayorava, an activist of the United Civil Party, 10.5 mln rubles for involvement in the protest stage don March 21 at the Russian embassy in support of Nadiya Savchenko and for participation in the Freedom Day demonstration on March 25. Earlier, the hearing was postponed due numerous flaws in the case file.
On May 19, Aleksa Klimenka was punished by a fine of 12.6 million rubles under Part 3 of Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code and Art. 23.4 of the Administrative Code for a picket near the Russian embassy in Minsk in support of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, which took place on April 18.
On May 19, Judge Volha Ramaniuk in Baranavičy fined Aliaksandr Shved 4.2 million rubles under Part. 1, Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code for participating in an unauthorized mass event. On March 31, several activists the REP Trade Union arrived in Slonim to support their associate Mikhail Soshka, whose employment contract was cancelled just three years before retirement. The activists demonstrated at the entrance to the factory. Aliaksandr Shved did not hold any posters, but only handed out free newspapers that were properly published.
On May 24, a number of courts in Minsk heard the administrative cases of dozens of people involved in the founding meeting of the Belarusian National Congress, which was held on May 15 in the city's Yanka Kupala Park. About 20 people were accused of participating in an unauthorized mass event and disobedience to lawful demands of police officers. Among those who have already been fined or are yet to stand their trials are key opposition politicians and activists, including Uladzimir Niakliaeu, Stanislau Shushkevich, Viachaslau Siuchyk, Mikalai Statkevich, Henadz Fiadynich, Leanid Kulakou, and Maksim Viniarski.
On May 23, the Žodzina Court heard the administrative charges brought against activists detained during a rally of solidarity with entrepreneurs on May 21, including Ales Makayeu, Pavel Prakapovich, Pavel Staravoitau and Mikhail Latyshau. The activists spent the weekend in a temporary detention facility. Another participant of the meeting, Ales Abramovich, was released for health reasons. Judge Mikalai Samoila imposed fines ranging from 15 to 50 basic units.
On May 21, lawyer Tamara Siarhei was fined 8.4 million rubles for organizing a peaceful picket in central Minsk on March 31. Earlier, V. Kavalenka was fined 4.2 mln rubles for involvement in the same picket. The case files of L. Stankevich and K. Charniauskaya were returned to the police for revision. On May 20, another court hearing was to be held, but it was postponed after Barys Babok, whose case was expected to be heard, had been hospitalized.
As before, local authorities still denied permission to hold events of peaceful nature.
Activists of the Belarusian Social Democratic party (Hramada) in Viciebsk, Homieĺ and Brest regions were not allowed to hold public events with social slogans.
According to the party’s press-service, the Social Democrats intended to hold a protest rally under the slogan "No to tax for the unemployed", "Retirement age — 55/60!", "We want army, maternity leave and universities back in service record!".
The Homieĺ authorities banned a picket by the independent trade union that was expected to address social and economic issues.
Violation of the right to information
The Belarusian courts returned to the practice of prosecuting people for distributing publications of socio-political content. Charges under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code were brought against UCP activists who handed out the party’s newsletter at the entrance to the Minsk Automobile Plant, as well as trade union activists in Baranavičy. Such an approach violates the right to disseminate and receive information guaranteed by the Constitution and the international obligations of the state.
Torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment
The Prosecutor General's Office considered a complaint by Zhanna Ptsichkina, mother of Ihar Ptsichkin, who died in jail No. 1, in which she disagreed with an earlier decision of the Investigative Committee to close the preliminary investigation into her son's death. The victim’s mother said she did not believe that her son died of heart failure, and wanted the tragic accident to be investigated and those guilty to be brought to justice. As a result, the initial decision was overturned, and the investigation was reopened by the Prosecutor General's Office.
The police reopened a probe into the beating of a ‘graffiti case’ defendant Viachaslau Kasinerau. The activist learned this from a letter he received from the Maskoŭski regional office of the Investigative Committee.
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" received a complaint from a resident of Homieĺ named K, who said that her adopted minor son suffering from dementia was subjected to violence and ill-treatment in the city’s pre-trial detention facility. His detention on suspicion of committing a crime was accompanied by a violation of his rights, including procedural ones. During his stay in the detention center, where he was kept in a cell with other teenagers, he was sexually assaulted by other inmates. K does not ruled out that the ill-treatment was orchestrated by police officers and claims that police officers urged her not to initiate a probe into the incident. K says that her child was forced to sign a confession, and later rejected it. As yet, there has been no separate investigation into the case of sexual violence against the, while the criminal investigation is focused on proving his guilt, instead. None of those involved in the intimidation of the minor prisoner has been suspended from work.
The death penalty
On May 6, the judicial board for criminal cases of the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of death convict Siarhei Khmialeuski. Thus, the death sentence handed down by the Minsk Regional Court came into force.
During the consideration of his appeal, Siarhei Khmialeuski said that during his stay on death row he shared the cell with another death convict, but then the latter was taken away, and Khmialeuski never saw him again. Therefore, he believes that his cellmate could have been shot.
Later, this information was confirmed by the relatives of death convict Siarhei Ivanou, who was executed on April 18. In March 2015, the Homieĺ Regional Court found Siarhei Ivanou guilty of murder and sentenced him to death. Ivanou’s complaint was registered by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, who informed the authorities of the Republic of Belarus about this and asked to suspend the execution of the sentence while the case is being considered by the Committee.
On May 19, the Homieĺ Regional Court handed down another death sentence to a 33-year-old resident of Homieĺ Siarhei Vostrykau, who was accused of raping and murdering two women. The sentence has not entered into force and may be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The European Union condemned the imposition of another death sentence in Belarus and urged the authorities to join a global moratorium on the death penalty.
Michael Georg Link, head of the OSCE’s Bureau for Human Rights and Democratic Institutions (ODIHR), also once again called on Belarus to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty in response to reports on the enforcement of the death penalty against Siarhei Ivanou and a decision of the Supreme Court to confirm the death penalty for Siarhei Khmialeuski.
Amnesty International strongly condemned the shooting of 22-year-old Siarhei Ivanou in Belarus.
Three people are currently awaiting execution on death row in jail No. 1 in Minsk: Ivan Kulesh, Henadz Yakavitski and Siarhei Khmialeuski.