Human Rights Situation in Belarus: October 2018
- on October 8-9, at the 124th session of the UN Human Rights Committee, Belarus presented, for the first time in 20 years, its official report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). An alternative report was presented to the UN HRC by a coalition of twelve human rights organizations of Belarus. During the hearing in the Committee, representatives of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that the government did not intend to fulfill the Committee’s views adopted after hearing individual communications of Belarusian citizens and refused to observe other, including interim ones, procedures of the Committee. This statement was regarded by members of the UN Human Rights Committee as a refusal to cooperate with the Committee and a breach of the country’s obligations arising from the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which was ratified by Belarus;
- on October 24, political prisoner and Amnesty International’s prisoner of conscience Dzmitry Paliyenka was released from penal colony number 2 in Babrujsk after serving his entire sentence of nearly 2 years in prison;
- thus, only one political prisoner, Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, continued to be imprisoned in Belarus;
- the authorities continued to investigate charges against a number of journalists of independent online outlets TUT.BY and BelaPAN as part of a criminal case under Part 2, Art. 349 of the Criminal Code (illegal access to computer information committed out of a personal interest that caused significant damage);
- during the month, there were numerous facts of pressure on independent journalists and bloggers, freelancers, instances of arrests and detention of peaceful protsters;
- the month was also marked by new facts of pressure on human rights defenders in connection with the exercise of their human rights activities. In particular, Alena Masliukova, Viasna’s activist in Svietlahorsk, was convicted in an administrative trial, and human rights activist Raman Kisliak faced administrative charges in Brest;
- October saw the continuation of the traditional practice of involving government employees, including students and conscripts, in harvesting crops on state-owned farms;
- thus, the human rights situation failed to improve significantly during the month, as the negative trends observed in August remained in place and were further developed.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
On October 24, political prisoner and Amnesty International’s prisoner of conscience Dzmitry Paliyenka was released from penal colony number 2 in Babrujsk.
Thus, only one political prisoner, Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, continued to be imprisoned in Belarus.
During the month, the authorities continued to investigate charges against a number of journalists of independent online outlets TUT.BY and BelaPAN as part of a criminal case under Part 2, Art. 349 of the Criminal Code (illegal access to computer information committed out of a personal interest that caused significant damage).
Viasna’s human rights defenders learned that the Minsk City Court scheduled for November 9 the hearing of appeals by Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik, leaders of the independent trade union REP.
They appealed against the judgment of August 24, 2018, which found them guilty under Part 2, Art. 243 of the Criminal Code (tax evasion on a large scale). The Saviecki District Court of Minsk sentenced the REP leaders to 4 years of restraint of liberty without imprisonment and the prohibition to hold managerial positions for a period of 5 years. The union leaders asked to quash the sentence and to close the criminal case.
The same opinion is shared by the human rights community of Belarus, which calls on the authorities to reconsider the sentence and to stop the prosecution of Fiadynich and Komlik.
On 4 October, the European Parliament said in a resolution that the situation of media freedom continued to deteriorate in Belarus. The MEPs said this was manifested by the harassment of editors of independent news portals and journalists.
The European Parliament mentions the searches that occurred in August in the offices of tut.by and BelaPAN in connection with the “BelTA case”. The MEPs say the arrests of journalists and editors in the case are appropriate measures and calls on the Belarusian authorities to drop all charges against them.
The MEPs also called for the release of Belarusian political prisoners Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Paliyenka and expressed regret over the sentencing of the leaders of the independent trade union REP Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik.
Violation of the right to life. The death penalty
From 5 to 10 October, Belarus celebrated the annual Week Against the Death Penalty. During the week, human rights activists and supporters of the abolition of the death penalty drew public attention to the conditions of detention on death row. The campaign “Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus” held a series of events: concerts in Viciebsk and Minsk in the framework of the festival “Rock for Life”, a Catholic mass in the village of Višnieva dedicated to Saint Ambrose (340-397), who encouraged members of the clergy not to pronounce or carry out capital punishment. The events included screening of films on the subject of the death penalty with the discussion and the participation of the campaign’s activists and Viasna’s volunteers, as well as a presentation of the exhibition “Everyone has the Right to Know their Rights."
Harassment of human rights defenders
On October 9, after three hearings, Alena Masliukova, a human rights activist from Svietlahorsk, was fined 612.50 rubles. The District Court judge Ruslan Tsaruk said the activist was the organizer of a flash mob against a local bleached pulp factory and found her guilty of violating part 2 of Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (organizing an unauthorized mass event).
The trial of Alena Masliukova and environmental activist Anatol Zmitrovich began on September 24. They were charged with participation in the flash mob held on September 15 without permission of the authorities (Part 1, Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code). During the trial, the judge suddenly decided to hear witnesses and rescheduled the hearing for October 3.
On October 1, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders issued an urgent appeal asking to drop all charges against the Svietlahorsk activists.
Meanwhile, the protest was not in vain: the Ministry of Natural Resources responded to the appeal of local residents by saying that the harmful emissions from the factory were not provided by the project and ordered a new environmental impact assessment.
On October 24, the Court of the Lieninski district of Brest began its consideration of the charges under Part 1, Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code against human rights activist Raman Kisliak. He was accused of participating in an unsanctioned rally against the construction of a battery factory on October 14 in Brest’s central square. Police officers argued that Kisliak joined the crowd to support the protesters.
Later the same day, he was taken to the police station together with other detainees. The human rights activist was charged with participating in an unsanctioned rally and placed in a detention center. On October 15, an ambulance took him to the hospital after his blood pressure rose. The same day, Kisliak was released.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders called on the Belarusian authorities to put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Raman Kisliak.
On October 28, during the traditional procession to Kurapaty on Dzyady, a police officer briefly detained two members of ControlBY, a joint observation initiative of BHC and the Human Rights Center "Viasna".
The police officer argued that the observers prevented the police and could provoke them.
Violation of the right to peaceful assembly and expression
The authorities continued to persecute activists who picket outside the entertainment complex Poedem, Poedim opened in close proximity to the national memorial site Kurapaty, a place of mass executions and burial of the Great Purge era; they are subject to administrative liability in the form of heavy fines and administrative detention without justification of decisions by permissible restrictions on the exercise of the right. Meanwhile, police officers on duty nearby do not response to provocative actions of visitors.
On October 4, the Minsk District Court considered the administrative case of politician and public activist Pavel Seviarynets. Judge Viktar Shautsou fined him 1,225 rubles. On October 29, the court fined Vital Rymasheuski.
In Brest, the authorities intensified repression against residents protesting against the opening of a hazardous enterprise outside the city.
On October 4, peaceful protester Kanstantsin Astapuk was fined 343 rubles by Judge Sviataslau Kalina.
Similar trials were held in Brest on October 8, when the 3 protesters were convicted; 11 people were brought to administrative responsibility on 10, 15 and 16 October; on 22 and 26 October — 4 more persons were sentenced.
In Svietlahorsk, Judge Ruslan Tsaryk fined local activist Anatol Zmitrovich 450 rubles, after finding him the organizer of an environmental flash mob that took place on September 15.
The pressure on the activists in Brest and Svietlahorsk was aggravated by similar actions from district prosecutor’s offices.
On October 16, police arrested activists of the BPF’s youth wing during a protest outside the Defense Ministry’s building in Minsk. They held a picket against hazing in the army as part of a new social campaign “Ticket to Long Rest”. Dzianis Mandzik and Hanna Smilevich were punished by heavy fines.
Violation of the right to information. Harassment of journalists
On September 30, police detained blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin during a protest against the construction of a battery factory in Brest. On October 4, he was punished by a fine 1,102.5 rubles for participation in a peaceful assembly.
According to BelaPAN, the Court of Žabinka district fined journalists Ales Liauchuk and Milana Kharytonava 1,225 and 490 rubles respectively. They were accused of working for foreign media without registration. In particular, they filmed a report for the TV channel Belsat, which covered numerous cases of swine fever in late August. The Kamianiec District Court later fined them a total of 2,205 rubles for covering an agricultural festival. The sentence was passed by judge Aksana Skelia.
The same journalists and Yauhen Skrabets were also fined in Brest.
According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, more than 90 cases of administrative convictions of journalists have been reported during the year; the total sum of fines for the year amounted to 81,169.5 rubles.
Soldiers were forced to harvest crops on government-owned farms in Sianno district, according to a report on the website of the Viciebsk Regional Executive Committee.
On July 27, 45 conscripts arrived in Viciebsk region to transport grain, rapeseed and straw.
This is not an isolated case of military involvement in harvesting and Sianno district is not the only region where forced labor is used. This year, the Defense Ministry also “helped” in Minsk and Mscislaŭ districts where a total of 114 military personnel were engaged, and 70 units of equipment were involved.
In this regard, human rights activist Valiantsin Stefanovich sent a statement to the Prosecutor General requesting a prosecutor’s probe into the facts of forced labor and taking action to protect the rights of conscripts.
The website of the local government-run Voranaŭskaj Hazieta posted an article about the involvement of employees of various companies to harvest crops on a local state-owned farm.
90 people worked in a potato field, including employees of a local housing service, community center and school, the staff of the district center of social services and other government employees. People were digging potatoes for two days a week during a month.
Viasna’s human rights activists once again stress that agricultural work, which involves employees of other companies, is nothing but forced labor. As a rule, district executive committees issue illegal orders to send employees to harvest crops, which directly violate the labor laws of the Republic of Belarus and the international agreements ratified by the state.
Valiantsin Stefanovich sent another statement to the District Prosecutor's Office to complain about the fact of forced labor.