Human Rights Situation in Belarus: November 2016
- in November, there were no significant changes of a systemic nature that would contribute to the qualitative changes in country’s human rights situation;
- on November 14, it was announced that Aliaksandr Lapitski, 80, had been sent for compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital, after the Court of Minsk’s Frunzienski district found him insane in relation to unlawful acts committed by him provided for in Articles 368 (“insulting the President of Belarus"), 369 ("insulting an official") and 391 ("insulting a judge") of the Criminal Code. In this regard, the country’s leading human rights organizations issued a statement urging the Belarusian authorities to release Lapitski from hospital and to take steps to decriminalize defamation;
- on November 16, the Court of Minsk’s Maskoŭski district started hearing the criminal charges against Uladzimir Kondrus accused under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code (“rioting”) for his alleged involvement in the events of December 19, 2010. The judge appointed a forensic psychiatric examination and the trial was suspended after the defendant attempted to slit his wrists. The human rights community of Belarus recognized Kondrus a political prisoner, urging the authorities to drop the criminal charges and to immediately release him from custody;
- during the month, the government continued to practice violations of the right to peaceful assembly, bringing peaceful protesters to administrative responsibility, which resulted in heavy fines, while the protests were not, as a rule, dispersed and their participants were not detained;
- human rights activists continued documenting facts of ill-treatment by law enforcement officers; investigations into such cases are usually of a cursory nature;
- according to information received by human rights defenders, death convicts Ivan Kulesh, Siarhei Khmialeuski and Henadz Yakavitski were executed on 5 November in jail No. 1 in Minsk. Since the beginning of the year, four people have been executed in Belarus;
- enforcement of the three death sentences is a major negative trend of the month, as it demonstrates the apparent reluctance of the official Minsk to abolish the death penalty in the near future.
Politically motivated criminal prosecution
On November 14, Aliaksandr Lapitski, 80, was sent to a psychiatric hospital, after a court decision in the criminal case against him entered into force.
On April 12, a ruling of the Court of Minsk’s Frunzienski district found that Lapitski committed socially dangerous acts provided for in Articles 368 (“insulting the President of Belarus"), 369 ("insulting an official") and 391 ("insulting a judge") of the Criminal Code. The court found him insane in relation to the alleged actions. Aliaksandr Lapitski will have to undergo compulsory treatment. All of his appeals against the verdict were rejected and the court’s decision came into force.
In this regard, the country’s leading human rights organizations issued a statement urging the Belarusian authorities to release Lapitski from hospital and, if necessary, to ensure that he is treated in conditions not involving deprivation of personal liberty.
Lapitski’s case once again stresses the need for the abolition of criminal prosecution for defamation offenses as a first step towards the abolition of Articles 367, 368, 369, 369-1, and 391 of the Criminal Code, a reform repeatedly requested by the human rights and journalistic community of Belarus.
On November 16, the Court of Minsk’s Maskoŭski district started hearing the criminal charges against Uladzimir Kondrus accused under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code (“rioting”) for his alleged involvement in the events of December 19, 2010. As soon as the defendant was locked in a cage installed in the courtroom and the handcuffs were removed, he lay down on the floor and refused to get up and answer any questions from the judges, saying that his actions were a protest against the trial.
As a result, Judge Sviatlana Bandarenka ruled to remove the defendant from the courtroom due to his refusal to follow the presiding judge’s legal orders. At this point, one of the guards shouted that the defendant had started cutting his wrists.
The guarded prevented the suicide attempt and, after a short break, the judge decided to appoint a forensic psychiatric examination, after which the trial is expected to be continued.
On November 23, it was reported that Uladzimir Kondrus had been transferred from prison to the Scientific and Practical Center of Mental Health for undergoing a stationary psychological and psychiatric examination.
Uladzimir Kondrus was taken into custody on June 14 in the framework of a preliminary investigation for his alleged involvement in the events near the Government House during the presidential elections in 2010. He is charged under article 293 of the Criminal Code (“rioting”), in which 49 people were convicted in 2011, many of them to various prison terms. During the investigation, Kondrus was held in jail No. 1 in Minsk.
The human rights community of Belarus recognized Uladzimir Kondrus a political prisoner, urging the authorities to drop the criminal charges and to immediately release him from detention.
The death penalty
On November 28, human rights activists learned about the enforcement of a death sentence handed down to Ivan Kulesh.
On 20 November 2015, the Hrodna Regional Court chaired by Judge Anatol Zayats sentenced Kulesh to death on charges of three murders, theft, robbery and attempted murder of another person.
On 29 March 2016, Kulesh’s appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court. During the hearing, Ivan Kulesh said that he fully agreed with the sentence because he had taken a human life. The convict chose not to request President’s pardon.
On November 29, human rights defenders learned from the family members of Siarhei Khmialeuski that the death convict had been executed.
Meanwhile, on August 3, the UN Human Rights Committee confirmed the registration of Khmialeuski’s individual communication and asked the Belarusian authorities to postpone the execution, while his case was pending before the Committee.
Later, it became known about the execution of Henadz Yakavitski, who was sentenced to death by the Minsk Regional Court on 5 January 2016.
All the three men were executed on 5 November in jail No. 1 in Minsk.
It is worth noting that this was the fourth execution in Belarus during the year.
Harassment of human rights defenders
On November 14, the Mahilioŭ interdistrict department of the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case under Part 2 of Article 411 of the Criminal Code (“willful disobedience to the correctional institution administration”) against imprisoned human rights activist Andrei Bandarenka, earlier known as the founder of the human rights institution Platforma Innovation. If convicted, he could face a sentence of up to two years in prison.
The decision to open a criminal case against Bandarenka stems from a series of disciplinary penalties, which he was not able to challenge in court.
Andrei Bandarenka was expected to be released on 31 March 2017. During his stay in prison, Bandarenka has been repeatedly subjected to pressure from the prison authorities.
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" says the harassment and the opening of a new criminal case against Bandarenka are linked to his earlier human rights activities.
It should also be noted that the presence in the Criminal Code and the practical application of Art. 411 have repeatedly evoked criticism from the human rights community of Belarus, as this article can be arbitrarily and selectively used by the administrations of correctional institutions in respect of disloyal prisoners, including for the purpose of politically motivated prosecutions.
Violations of the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression
On November 15, Minsk hosted a round table discussion on the subject “Peaceful Assemblies in Belarus”, which brought together representatives of human rights organizations and the legislature to debate on the drawbacks of the legislation in this area, as well as suggestions for improvement.
The event was attended by Anastasiya Loika, lawyer of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", representatives of Viasna’s regional offices in Mahilioŭ, Baranavičy and Navapolack, lawyer Dzmitry Charnykh of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, and members of the House of Representatives Hanna Kanapatskaya and Alena Anisim. The discussion was moderated by lawyer Yury Chavusau.
Meanwhile, the authorities continue to violate the rights of citizens to peaceful assembly.
The Court of Baranavičy heard charges against local activist Ryhor Hryk. He was accused of participating in an illegal mass event repeatedly within a year. Judge Aksana Kopach tried twice to conduct the hearing in the absence of Hryk, but local human rights defenders protested against the violation. At the third meeting on November 3, the judge said that Hryk had been notified by a text message, but the activist argued that did not receive any notifications. However, the judge ignored the argument and opened the hearing. As a result, not taking into account a number of essential circumstances of the case (picket was held according to the rules laid down in the electoral law), the judge ruled to punish Ryhor Hryk by a fine of 1,050 rubles.
On October 13, opposition activists Uladzimir Hundar and Yury Kazakevich campaigned in the streets of Baranavičy for registering the white-red-white flag as a non-material historical and cultural value. The police said that such actions violated the procedure for organizing mass events, as holding a picket should have been authorized by the executive committee. As a result, both activists were found guilty and fined 525 rubles each.
All attempts to hold peaceful assemblies under the official rules are still hampered by the government: a coalition of center-right politicians were not allowed to conduct a memorial procession on November 7 in Minsk. Earlier, leaders of the coalition submitted a bid to hold a mourning rally in memory of the victims of the Soviet regime. Among the applicants were chairman of the Movement "For Freedom" Yury Hubarevich, leader of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka and co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party Vital Rymasheuski. As told by Yury Hubarevich, the ban mentioned two reasons: first, two of the applicants (Liabedzka and Rymasheuski) were not eligible to apply due earlier administrative penalties; secondly, the Minsk City Executive Committee argued that the organizers advertised the event before obtaining a permit. Despite the ban, the organizers decided to hold the event.
In spite of the fact that the observers reported the peaceful nature of the event, the participants were brought to administrative responsibility.
On November 16, the Court of Minsk’s Maskoŭski district fined Maryna Adamovich 105 rubles on charges of taking part in an illegal mass event under Part 1, Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code.
The same court heard administrative charges against activists Leanid Kulakou and Uladzimir Yaromenak for taking part in a protest on October 29.
Human rights activists reported that the charges were heard without the participation of Leanid Kulakou. As a result, the activist was fined 1,050 rubles. Uladzimir Yaromenak also failed to appear in court.
On October 29, activists gathered outside the KGB building in Minsk to honor the victims of Stalinist repression. The action was organized by the public association “Young Front”. The activists lit about two dozen candles and held portraits of the repressed in their hands.
Andrei Sharenda, an activist from Brest, unexpectedly received a ruling by the court of the Maskoŭski district of Brest, which punished him by a fine of 420 rubles for participation in an unsanctioned rally in Minsk on September 12. Judge Raman Karaban examined the case without the participation of the defendant. The court decision said that Sharenda had been notified of the trial, while the activist argues that he had not received any messages from the court.
On November 16, the Court of Minsk’s Partyzanski sentenced Young Front leader Zmitser Dashkevich to a fine 210 rubles for “resisting arrest” and 945 rubles for “participation in an unsanctioned rally” during the unveiling of a monument to Lenin in Minsk on November 7. The total penalty was the maximum possible amount, 1,050 rubles. Dashkevich and his supporters were chanting “Disgrase!”, while the activist himself was holding a poster with Lenin’s quotation: “The more of the clergy we can to shoot, the better.” He was then attacked by Siarhei Klishevich, second secretary of the Central Committee of the pro-government Belarusian National Youth Union, then he and a few people started beating Dashkevich. After that, Dashkevich was dragged into a police bus, where he said he was severely beaten, mocked, and forced to suck a police baton. The doctors later found numerous bruises on the activist’s body. However, it was Dashkevich who stood trial. Riot policemen testified as witnesses and denied the fact the activist was beaten.
On November 17, the Court of Minsk’s Maskoŭski district heard three administrative charges against activist Viktar Kulak for participating in unauthorized mass events. He took part in actions of solidarity with imprisoned blogger Eduard Palchys, whose criminal case was considered in the Minsk City Court from 14 to 25 October.
The previous day, the Pieršamajski District Court of Minsk considered the administrative case of Leanid Kulakou. Judge Sviatlana Charapovich fined him 1,050 rubles. The activist insisted on his arrest, because he had no funds to pay the fine. Judge Dzmitry Tsykala ordered to punish the activist of European Belarus by a fine of 840 rubles. The Court of Maskoŭski district heard the administrative cases of Ales Makayeu and Viktar Kulak. Ales Makayeu was punished by a fine of 1,050 rubles, and Viktar Kulak — by a fine of 630 rubles.
On November 16, the Frunzienski District Court of Minsk fined Pavel Prakapovich, the BCD’s coordinator in the Minsk region, 1,050 rubles under Part 3, Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code for his involvement in an action of solidarity with Eduard Palchys on October 14.
At different dates, the actions of solidarity with Eduard Palchys involved dozens of public figures, politicians, and activists. Among them were Pavel Seviarynets, Zmitser Dashkevich, Ales Makayeu, Natallia Basalyha, Leanid Kulakou, Volha Nikalaichyk, Dzianis Sadouski, Maksim Viniarski, Viktar Kulak, Yauhen Afnahel, Artsiom Babounikau, Yauhen Bychkouski, Pavel Prakapovich, Uladzimir Yaromenak, Volha Mayorava, Anton Zhylko, Siarhei Palcheuski, Mikalai Dzemidzenka, Yuliya Fralova and others.
According to a co-founder of the unregistered Belarusian Christian Democracy party, Pavel Seviarynets, a total of 70 administrative violations under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code were reported by the police from 14 to 25 October.
The annual event commemorating the insurgents of Kastus Kalinouski, which is traditionally held in the towns of Svislač and Jakušoŭka, also traditionally ends with administrative charges against all the participants, while the police do not burden themselves with providing any substantial evidence. In particular, on November 24, the police department in Slonim summoned local activist Pavel Sevastsiyan. He was charged with participating in an unauthorized mass event. However, the activist said that he was late for the event and therefore did not attend it.
Activist Valery Mints of Lida was charged despite the fact of being away on October 30.
Hrodna activist Edward Dmukhouski received charges by mail. He was accused of violating Part 1, Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code. Allegedly, he violated the order of holding mass events by participating in a rally in Svislač.
Similar mails were received by bard Dzmitry Zakharevich and chairman of the BPF party Aliaksei Yanukevich.
Viasna’s Hrodna office said that activists Vitold Ashurka of Biarozauka and Viktar Marchyk of Slonim were also charged with illegal picketing.
On November 18, Chairman of the Svislač District Court Aliaksandr Shylin ruled to punish activist Yury Hlebik by a fine of 840 rubles, finding him guilty under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code ("violation of the order of organizing or holding mass events").
On November 25, Masty activist Vasil Klimovich was punished by a fine of 189 rubles for allegedly "participating in an unauthorized event". In reality, Klimovich was not in town on the day. However, Judge Aliaksandr Yarmolik did not take into account the activist’s explanation.
Aleh Korban, leader of the public association "Alternative", was fined 840 rubles under Part 1 of Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code ("violation of the order of organizing and holding mass events") for participation in an unsanctioned rally on November 10. This decision was taken on November 25 by Judge Andrei Kamushkin of the Lieninski District Court of Minsk.
Freedom of association
The founders of the public association "Committee for Entrepreneurship Support Solidarity" sent an appeal to the Supreme Court against a decision by the Ministry of Justice to refuse registration.
In their appeal, the activists said that the grounds for refusal of registration were minor inaccuracies in the documents submitted to the registering body, which could be removed in case of suspension of registration for a period of up to one month, and asked the Supreme Court to invalidate the decision of the Ministry of Justice as unlawful because it violates their right. They also asked to resume the registration procedure.
Torture and ill-treatment
The authorities are still investigating the death of Ihar Barbashynski, an inmate of prison in Žodzina.
In late August, while in the detention center, he voiced complaints about short-term loss of consciousness when examined by the prison doctor. Then, in mid-September, Barbashynski complained about a significant deterioration in his health: physical weakness, frequent dizziness, high temperatures and very low blood pressure. The prison doctor said that the patient's state was of moderate severity. However, he was unable to determine the diagnosis.
On the same day, late at night on September 16, Barbashynski’s condition deteriorated and an ambulance was called. The prisoner was sent to the city hospital with a diagnosis of cerebral circulation disorder.
He received treatment during three days, from 16 to 19 September. He examined more thoroughly and diagnosed with encephalitis. Barbashynski was then brought back to the prison hospital. However, in the morning on September 20, Ihar Barbashynski died.
Meanwhile, human rights activists learned that along with the above factors that could have caused the prisoner’s death, his body showed numerous injuries: bruises on the chest and legs. These injuries were formed by the action of a solid blunt object and were inflicted about three days prior to the date of death. The number of bruises, 17, corresponds to the number of contacts with the traumatic object. There were also scars on his head as a result of deep wounds inflicted a month before, presumably, during his stay in custody.
Barbashynski’s mother insisted on a probe and sent a request to the city department of the Investigative Committee, asking to prosecute the prison staff for the improper performance of their duties.
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" received a request for assistance from Tatsiana H, wife of Aliaksandr H, who was beaten by the police when being detained on suspicion of a theft.
Tatsiana told the human rights activists that near midnight on November 18 their apartment was broken into by unknown persons. The house was surrounded by several vehicles and masked men with guns and shields. Then about eight masked men ran into the apartment, one of whom, without saying anything, hit Aliaksandr in the face with a rubber truncheon. Then other attackers continued beating the suspect: they beat his face against the floor and after handcuffing the detainee kicked him outside the apartment.
The beating took place in the presence of Tatsiana, who is currently pregnant, and her sister, as well as in front of her minor son. In addition, the police officers who detained Aliaksandr push his wife and her sister. Then, the detainee was taken away.
The following day, Tatsiana was told that her husband was in hospital. However, she was unable to learn in which hospital Aliaksandr was being held and how she could visit her husband.
On November 23, she learned from an investigator that Aliaksandr was in the detention center in Minsk. The official provided no other information, including what he was suspected or accused of, and his physical state.
Tatsiana, together with the human rights activists, prepared a complaint to the Investigation Committee, which stressed that the actions of the police officers who detained and beat her husband constituted a crime under Part 3, Art. 426 of the Criminal Code. She asked to find and bring to justice those who inflicted numerous bruises, which caused physical suffering.
A court ruling against Aliaksandr Krylou, police officer formerly employed as a paramedic in jail No. 1 in Minsk, has finally entered into legal force. The doctor was found guilty of causing the death of prison inmate Ihar Ptsichkin in 2014. Human rights activists say the sentence is controversial. On the one hand, the sentencing of a detention center employee for violation of prisoners' rights could serve as an incentive for the staff of the Department of Corrections to preserve the rights of other inmates. On the other hand, the activists emphasize the imperfect nature of the prosecution procedure for ill-treatment of prisoners and the absence of mechanisms to counter torture and ill-treatment in places of unfreedom.
Violations of social and economic rights. Forced labor
On November 18, Valiantsin Stefanovich, lawyer of the HRC "Viasna", petitioned the prosecutor of Vilejka district, Minsk region, and the Minsk regional executive committee to highlight facts of forced labor where people were transported to harvest corn.
As nn.by learned from the by residents of Vilejka, heads of state-owned enterprises in the district received orders from the executive committee to send workers to harvest corn.
In his appeals to the prosecutor and the executive committee, Stefanovich doubted that this work was voluntary. He stressed that the staff of various enterprises were brought to harvest corn in the fields, which was confirmed by representatives of the ideology department of the enterprise "Zenit BelOMO".
Valiantsin Stefanovich asked the prosecutor's office and the executive officials to investigate the facts and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Later, Viasna received a document, which confirmed the fact of forced labor for harvesting corn in Vilejka district.