Human Rights Situation in Belarus: August 2016
- in August, there were no significant changes of a systemic nature that would contribute to a qualitative change in the human rights situation in the country, at the same time there were a number of negative trends indicating the deterioration of the overall situation compared with the previous months;
- according to information received by human rights defenders, on July 14 the law enforcement officers detained Uladzimir Kondrus, a resident of the town of Rudziensk, Minsk region. Kondrus was taken into custody and charged under Part 2, Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (rioting). On August 10, the country’s leading human rights organizations issued a statement to recognize Uladzimir Kondrus a political prisoner and to demand his release;
- as a result of pressure from the security services of Belarus and a propaganda campaign that followed in a number of state-run media, the Independent Institute for Sociological, Economic and Political Research (IISEPS) announced the closure of its activities in Belarus. The country’s human rights community links the acts of harassment to the parliamentary elections currently underway in Belarus, as well as attempts to restrict the right to receive and impart information, in particular the results of independent sociological studies on various aspects of political and social life;
- on August 16, the criminal case against the founder of the 1863x.com website, Eduard Palchys, who is charged with publishing articles that incite ethnic hatred and contain pornography (Part 1, Article 130 and Part 2, Article 343 of the Criminal Code), was submitted to the court. On August 25, the court of the Centraĺny district of Minsk found the publications to be of extremist nature. The hearing was held behind closed doors, which constituted a violation of fair trial principles. The Human Rights Center "Viasna" insists on an independent examination of Palchys’ texts and does not rule out political motives for his prosecution;
- prison No. 14 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;
- Dzmitry Paliyenka, an activist detained by riot police as a result of the violent dispersal of the Critical Mass peaceful assembly on 29 April 2016, continued to be held in custody in a detention center in Žodzina. The Human Rights Center "Viasna" views the persecution of the participants of this protest as an illegal restriction of their right to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly, calling for the release of Dzmitry Paliyenka until the completion of the investigation.
Politically motivated criminal prosecution
Human rights defenders learned that on July 14 the Investigative Committee ordered the arrest of Uladzimir Kondrus, who is charged with being involved in the events of December 19, 2010.
Kondrus is charged under Part 2, Art. 293 of the Criminal Code, namely participation in the riots at the Government House in Minsk. After he was arrested, Kondrus’ physical condition significantly deteriorated due to a hunger strike that he declared soon after being taken into custody. In this regard, he was first placed in the prison infirmary, and after a meeting with his parents — in the republican prison hospital, which is located in the same jail. According to a doctor, Kondrus agreed to stop his hunger strike.
On August 10, Belarusian human rights organizations issued a joint statement to recognize Uladzimir Kondrus a political prisoner. The statement stresses that Kondrus’ actions could not be qualified under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (rioting), while the statute of limitations for other Criminal Code articles, under which they might be qualified, have already expired.
It is worth mentioning that all the persons convicted of involvement in the events of December 19, 2010 have either been amnestied or pardoned by the president and eventually released from prison. To date, one person is known to be charged in the case, former presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich, whose case has, however, been suspended.
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" learned that on July 21 the administration of penal colony 14 imposed disciplinary penalties on political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, as a result of which he was deprived of a short visit.
According to Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, a certification commission did not confirm his former status of a “person who have taken the path of correction.” The prisoner remains under tight control by the prison authorities; he is still subjected to four daily checks as a person “prone to extremism and other destructive activities.” But, at the same time, Zhamchuzhny enjoys improved detention conditions.
In July 2015, Mikhail Zhamchuzhny was sentenced to 6 years’ imprisonment for allegedly committing numerous offences, including inciting the intentional disclosure of secret information, unlawful acquisition and selling of special technical means, and bribery. On October 23, the verdict was stiffened and the human rights activist was sentenced six and a half years in prison.
Belarusian human rights activists recognized Zhamchuzhny a political prisoner.
Violation of the right to peaceful assembly and expression
The Belarusian authorities continue to violate the right to freedom of assembly and the right to freedom of expression. The legislation and practice allows local authorities to ban street protest without sufficient reasons.
In particular, members of the unregistered National Bolshevik Party filed a request to the Minsk city executive committee for holding a picket in Minsk. The executive committee replied that the venue would be occupied with election campaigning events.
Referring to Art. 9 of the Law “On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus”, which prohibits staging several events at the same time in one place, the Minsk city executive committee did not allow the NBP activists to hold their picket.
The Salihorsk District Court dismissed an appeal by a BCD activist Uladzimir Shyla against a ban imposed by the city authorities on a rally scheduled for late June. Uladzimir Shyla intends to defend his right to freedom of peaceful assembly by appealing the ban to the Minsk Regional Court. Shyla stresses in his appeal that Belarus undertook to comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights regarding the protection of the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
The Salihorsk District Court said that the executive committee could arbitrarily restrict the rights of citizens to peaceful assembly under Article 6 of the Law "On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus". Uladzimir Shyla, in turn, believes that, in accordance with the article, the officials are only entitled to change the time, date and venue of the peaceful assembly, and only for the sole purpose of ensuring the rights and freedoms of citizens. Meanwhile, a ban on a meeting restricts the rights and freedom of citizens.
Staging unauthorized events entails administrative prosecution of their participants.
In particular, Judge Siarhei Herasimau of Barysaŭ imposed a fine of 840 rubles on Aliaksandr Abramovich, local leader of the Social Democratic Party (Hramada) and a member of the organizing committee for creation of the independent trade union of entrepreneurs "Solidarity". The total amount of fines imposed on the activist 4,557 rubles.
On August 10, the court of Minsk’s Maskoŭskí district heard the administrative charges brought against the participants of a protest held on July 17 outside detention center No. 1 to support activist Dzmitry Paliyenka, who is held in the jail in Valadarski Street. Charges of “participation in an unauthorized mass event” were brought against Maksim Viniarski, coordinator of the European Belarus opposition group, as well as activists Natallia Harachka, Volha Mayorava and Volha Nikalaichyk.
Natallia Harachka, Volha Mayorava and Maksim Viniarski were punished by a fine of 50 basic units each.
On August 18, Judge Tatsiana Rak of Minsk’s Centraĺny District Court fined opposition activist Viachaslau Kasinerau 40 basic units on charges of participating in a rally in support of imprisoned activist Dzmitry Paliyenka.
Judge Dzmitry Tsykal of Minsk’s Pieršamajski District Court sentenced Leanid Kulakou, an activist of the European Belarus group, to a fine of 40 basic units on charges of participating in an unauthorized street protest on July 27 in Minsk.
Imposing heavy fines on the activists for participating in unsanctioned events result in material claims from sentence enforcement authorities, which arise from the convicts’ inability to pay the fines.
In particular, an activist from Barysaŭ, Aliaksandr Abramovich, was notified of prohibition of alienation of property owns by him. This decision stems from the activist’s failure to pay fines imposed on Abramovich for his involvement in unauthorized mass events, including rallies of entrepreneurs, which took place in May and June in many cities of Belarus.
In late July, bailiffs demanded that activist Nina Bahinskaya to vacate her summer cottage near Minsk, which was arrested in May for failure to pay several fines imposed by court orders. Earlier, the bailiffs took a microwave oven and a washing machine from the activist’s Minsk apartment after Bahinskaya refused to pay the fines. The bailiffs also seized several land parcels owned by the activist. However, an auction held in Smaliavičy to sell the cottage did not attract a single buyer. The starting price was 10,000 rubles.
On the same day, the Smaliavičy executive committee was picketed by Nina Bahinskaya and several supporters. Bahinskaya displayed a white-red-white flag. Activist Volha Nikalaichyk held a banner reading “Cottage Seized Illegally. No to Sales!”. The participants in the unauthorized street protest were charged with administrative offenses.
On August 4, it became known that a ban was imposed on the alienation of property owned by Tamara Siarhei, lawyer and activist of a civil initiative against lawlessness in the courts and prosecutor's office.
According to the website of the Belarusian Documentation Centre, one of the leaders of entrepreneurs’ movement and a member of the organizing committee of the trade union of entrepreneurs "Solidarity", Aliaksandr Makayeu, said that on August 3 another part of his property was seized to cover the fines imposed on the activist for involvement in street protests.
Violations of the right to receive and impart information
On July 31, TV channel Belarus-1 aired a special report entitled “Opinion Polls in Belarus: True or Fake?”. The story argued that IISEPS (International Institute for Social, Economic and Political Studies) did not actually carry out polls in Belarus, and therefore their studies are falsified and should not be trusted. The report also said that the ‘investigative materials’ could be submitted to the law enforcement agencies. A few hours later similar reports were published in major state-run media of the country, the Sovetskaya Belorussia daily and the website of the BELTA news agency.
Until July 2006, IISEPS had been headed by its founder, Doctor of Social Sciences, Professor Aleh Manayeu. In April 2005, the Institute was closed by a decision of the Supreme Court of Belarus and then registered in Lithuania as a public institution. Currently, the executive director of the Institute is a PhD Algirdas Degutis.
As a result of harassment on some of the Institute’s employees, IISEPS founder Aleh Manaeu announced the termination of its activity in Belarus.
The human rights community definitely links the harassment of IISEPS to this year’s parliamentary elections.
Harassment of journalists
On August 12, Kanstantsin Zhukouski, a freelance journalist in Homieĺ, received by mail a police report from the police department of Lojeŭ. Earlier, the journalist was detained by police who beat him and charged with disorderly conduct (Article 17.1 of the Administrative Code). Zhukouski was also accused of "illegal manufacture of media products" and insulting the police officers. However, the latter charges were sent back for revision.
On August 13, the police department of Lojeŭ charged Kanstantsin Zhukouski with an administrative offense under Art. 9.29 of the Administrative Code, carrying out public opinion polls and publication of results without accreditation. This article provides for a fine of up to 20 basic units.
On August 20, Human Rights Watch issued a statement to demand that the Belarusian authorities released Turkmen dissident and journalist Chary Annamuradov, who was detained in the Minsk airport on July 19. He is being held in the detention center in Minsk. Annamuradov may be extradited to Turkmenistan, where would face torture and ill-treatment in custody.
Belarusian border police arrested Annamuradov on July 19, 2016, when he arrived at passport control in the Minsk airport. He was traveling from Sweden to Minsk on vacation with his 16-year-old daughter. Annamuradov’s family told Human Rights Watch that the police held both of them for four hours, then released his daughter but told Annamuradov he was under arrest. His daughter subsequently returned to Sweden.
Annamuradov’s family has learned that Belarussian authorities arrested him because he is wanted in Turkmenistan in connection with criminal fraud charges filed in 2006.
Torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment
As part of monitoring places of detention, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" continued to monitor the circumstances of the death of Aleh Bahdanau, who died from heart failure in the hospital of Žodzina prison.
According to the victim’s mother, the doctors and prison staff improperly performed their professional duties. Ms. Bahdanava wrote to the city office of the Investigative Committee asking to investigate the improper performance of professional duties by the medical staff of prison No. 8. However, the authorities refused to open a criminal case, saying that the death occurred as a result of the prisoner’s disease, which was not caused by the actions of third persons.
The woman later submitted two more requests, but the Investigative Committee again refused to open a criminal case again. As a result, Ms. Bahdanava appealed against the decision to the Prosecutor's Office of Minsk region.
On August 4, three years after the death of Ihar Ptsichkin, his mother was notified that a criminal case against paramedic Krylou of the prison hospital in Minsk had finally reached court.
In May 2016, Zhanna Ptsichkina disagreed with the decision of the Investigative Committee, which closed the preliminary investigation into the prisoner’s death. She then appealed to the Prosecutor General's Office, which reversed the initial decision and reopened the investigation. The investigation was completed in mid-July.
Ihar Ptsichkin died on August 4, 2013, a few days after he was sentenced to three months in jail for driving his car without a valid driver’s license. The prison administration said that the young man died of heart disease, but the family found bruises on the body. As a result, a criminal case was opened, which was suspended several times, but eventually reached the court.
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" received a complaint from pediatrician Dzmitry Serada, residing in Minsk with his wife and minor daughter. He told human rights activists that on 4 August, when the whole family was still asleep, his apartment was raided by masked men: without explanation they broke into the apartment and broke the glass balcony doors in the kitchen.
The man asked them for the reasons of the brutal raid. However, Dzmitry Serada was pushed with his face to the floor, his arms were twisted and handcuffed.
He was taken to the police department and beaten in the police bus. Dzmitry was held in the police station for a few hours and then taken to the Investigation Committee, where the detainee was held for questioning. Dzmitry was suspected of committing a non-violent crime, not representing big public danger. The victim could not identify Serada as the person who committed the crime, and a witness said that the detainee did not look like the criminal.
However, the man was left in custody for the night and then held a whole day in the police department. During this time, Dzmitry Serada was never served any meals. During his stay at the police station, he felt an acute colic. Police officers offered him paracetamol, but later called an ambulance. The doctors said that the symptoms could be caused by a two-day starvation, but did not diagnose any acute pathology.
He was released only on August 5. After that Dzmitry Serada was diagnosed with mild concussion and contusion of the front abdomen.
The man is on sick leave. His daughter had to undergo a medical examination at a psychiatric clinic where the psychologist found that the girl was under stress. Dzmitry and his wife also plan to ask for psychological assistance, because they are still in a state of shock and stress.
Dmitry Serada sent a complaint to the Office of the Investigative Committee, head of the Main Department of the Interior and the Prosecutor's Office, in which he asked to find and bring to justice those who gave the order to storm his apartment and forcefully arrest him as a suspect in a criminal case, as well as those who beat him in the apartment and in the police bus during his transportation to the police department.
The Prosecutor's Office of Homieĺ quashed a decision of the city department of the Investigative Committee, which refused to investigate illegal actions against Vital H., a seventeen-year-old prisoner. His foster mother Maryna K. had repeatedly asked to launch a probe into sexual violence against Vital, which took place in the Homieĺ remand prison in February 2016.
Responding to the mother’s complaint, which was prepared with the help of Viasna’s human rights defenders, deputy city prosecutor said that the case file would be forwarded to the Homieĺ city department of the Investigative Committee for further inspection.
Guarantees of a fair trial
On August 16, the case file against Eduard Palchys, the founder of the 1863x.com website, was submitted to the court. Palchys is charged with publishing materials that incite ethnic hatred and contained pornography (Part 1, Art. 130 and Part 2, Art. 343 of the Criminal Code).
On August 25, the court of Centraĺny district of Minsk considered the case and found 9 publications posted on the website to contain signs of extremist. The trial was held behind closed doors.
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" said that the trial was held with violations of international fair trial standards, as well as the applicable national procedural law.
It should also be recalled that after Palchys was extradited from Russia to Belarus and taken into custody, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" made a statement, in which it demanded the implementation of all the procedural guarantees, including the right to legal protection, and to ensure adequate conditions of detention and treatment which would not constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, but would meet international standards of detention.
In addition, the human rights activists insist on the need for an independent analysis of Palchys’ texts and do not rule out the political motives for his prosecution.
The death penalty
On August 3, the United Nations Human Rights Committee confirmed the registration of an individual communication by Siarhei Khmialeuski, who was sentenced to death on February 15.
According to Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus", Siarhei Khmialeuski’s complaint was registered under number 2792/2016. Earlier, the Committee said that it had registered the communication of another death convict from Belarus, Henadz Yakavitski.
In response to the communication, the UN Human Rights Committee asks the Belarusian authorities to postpone the execution of Siarhei Khmialeuski while his case was pending before the Committee. The HRC also sent a copy of the notice of registration to the State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with a request to report within six months of any information or observations in relation to both questions of admissibility and the merits of his communication.
The Minsk Regional Court sentenced Siarhei Khmialeuski, 31, to death for the brutal murder of two and more persons. This sentence was imposed after a review of the criminal case, in which Khmialeuski was initially sentenced to life imprisonment.
On May 6, of the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court considered the convict’s appeal and upheld the death sentence.
Following the sentencing of Siarhei Khmialeuski, Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal to President Lukashenka with a request to stop executions in Belarus.
Recently, the UN Human Rights Committee received a complaint from Tamara Sialiun, mother of Pavel Sialiun, who was executed in April 2014. The mother says that she was not notified of her son’s execution for over a month.
After repeated requests sent to the Ministry of the Interior, Department of Corrections, and the Supreme Court asking to disclose the burial place, to return his belongings and to return his body for burial in accordance with the traditions of the family, Tamara Sialiun received a reply from the Hrodna Regional Court, which said that the sentence against her son had been executed, the body would not be given for burial, and the place of burial could not be disclosed. At the same time, Tamara Sialiun received her son’s prison clothes marked "ИМН" (isklyuchitelnaya mera nakazaniya, “exceptional measure of punishment”), which her son wore for over a year during his stay on death row. Seeing these clothes, Tamara Sialiun suffered a strong psychological stress. The woman chopped them with an ax and burned the remains near her house. Until now, she is still under the strong psychological impression and argues that the memories of this situation cause her strong psychological suffering.