Human Rights Situation in Belarus: June 2019
- political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to serve his sentence in a penal colony in Horki;
- on June 25, Deputy Prosecutor General Aliaksei Stuk said at a press conference that a specially created group investigated mass arrests of Roma people in Mahilioŭ on May 16. According to him, the police had every reason to target the minority and reportedly committed no unlawful acts during the raid. In response, FIDH and the Human Rights Center “Viasna” issued a joint statement in which they called on the Belarusian authorities to conduct a full investigation of human rights violations that took place in Mahilioŭ;
- on June 13, Viasna learned about the execution of Aliaksandr Zhylnikau, who was sentenced to death by a verdict of the Minsk City Court. The fate of the other convict in the same case, Viachaslau Sukharka, who was also sentenced to death, is still unknown, but, given the current practice of enforcing death sentences in Belarus, we can assume that he was also executed;
- during the month, there was continued persecution of journalists working with foreign media without accreditation;
- in June, there were more documented cases of administrative prosecution of peaceful protesters;
- on June 18, in Brussels, the European Union and the Republic of Belarus held the sixth round of the bilateral dialogue on human rights;
- in general, the human rights situation during the month remained poor, with no visible positive changes, while in June there were no cases of short prison terms for political reasons, which continues the general trend of reducing the number of cases of administrative detention characteristic for the first six months of the year. The trend was not affected by the 2nd European Games held in Belarus from July 21 to 30.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
Political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, who was earlier placed for 3 months in cell-type premises, refused to return to his unit citing safety considerations, for which he received another penalty. On May 21, he was placed for 9 days in a punishment cell.
Human rights defenders of Viasna learned that on May 14 Mikhail Zhamchuzhny submitted an appeal to the Horki District Court to challenge his being registered as “prone to extremism and other destructive activities.” But, given that the decision was taken by the administration of the penal colony in Navasady, the court refused to institute criminal proceedings due to lack of jurisdiction. Mikhail Zhamchuzhny is currently serving his sentence in prison No. 9 in Horki (Mahilioŭ region).
The death penalty
On June 13, Viasna learned about the execution of death row prisoner Aliaksandr Zhylnikau. Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus,” learned this from the convict’s family.
So far, the fate of the other person convicted in the case, Viachaslau Sukharka, is unknown. But, as recent practice shows, death sentences are executed simultaneously for all convicts involved in one case.
On May 30, Zhylnikau’s lawyer visited him on death row to prepare an appeal to the Prosecutor General’s Office. On June 13, the counsel went to the prison to continue work on the complaint, but there she was told that Aliaksandr Zhylnikau had “left under the verdict” (the phrase used to report execution). The lawyer clarified whether that meant that he had been executed, and received confirmation of this information. According to an established procedure, an official notice of the execution will be sent to the family by the Minsk City Court.
In addition, Zhylnikau’s complaint is pending before the UN Human Rights Committee. The complaint was registered on December 24, 2018 under number 3082/2018.
The Committee called on the authorities of Belarus to take interim measures and not to execute the convict while the complaint is being considered by the Committee.
On May 29, the Supreme Court held heard Zhylnikau’s appeal. The man initially received a life sentence, but after a re-examination of the case by the Minsk City Court, he was sentenced to death. However, the Supreme Court, his last resort at the national level, upheld the conviction. After that, human rights defenders helped Aliaksandr Zhylnikau to submit an individual communication to the UN Human Rights Committee.
It should be noted that the death penalty was carried out on the eve of the 2nd European Games hosted by Belarus. The execution was condemned by several international organizations, including the Council of Europe and the European Union. The latter urged the authorities to declare a moratorium on executions.
Amnesty International issued a statement to condemn the execution of another death sentence in Belarus.
A working group created to investigate reports of police brutality during a major raid on Roma houses in Mahilioŭ and several other cities on May 16 found no “illegal actions or abuse of power,” Deputy Prosecutor General Aliaksei Stuk said at a press conference on June 25. In particular, he claimed that the police had every reason to target the minority.
On May 21, Ales Bialiatski, chair of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", wrote to the Prosecutor General asking to investigate the arrests in Mahilioŭ.
A similar petition was sent to the regional prosecutor’s office by Mahilioŭ human rights defenders.
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization in Belarus, Human Rights Center "Viasna" called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately cease all acts of violence and harassment against Roma communities and to initiate an independent and impartial investigation into the human rights violations that occurred in Mahilioŭ, where 300 people were arbitrarily detained, including 100 last month as part of a special operation, which specifically targeted the ethnic minority.
Freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion and expression
In June, there was continued confrontation between the authorities and opponents of the construction of an environmentally hazardous factory in Brest. People staged weekly protests, and police officers arrested the most active protesters and charged them with committing administrative offenses.
On June 3, Judge Siarhei Maruchak fined environmental activist Eduard Silitski under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code. On June 5, Judge Dzmitry Shuryn ruled to fine Yauhen Sauchuk for his involvement in one of the Brest protests.
A known blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin was arrested and fined on trumped-up charges after covering a protest on June 2.
On June 10, a known artist Ales Pushkin was fined for staging a performance in support of the Belarusian language.
Viktar Kavalkou, a priest of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, was fined 382.5 rubles for participating in the Čarnobyĺski Šliach protest (art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code).
The restrictive legislation regulating public events also affects persons that are not involved in politics, human rights protection or environmental issues. In Viciebsk, a fine of 765 rubles was imposed on the organizer of a private art exhibition.
On June 20, the Lida court fined members of the Movement “For Freedom” Vitold Ashurak and Siarhei Pantus 255 rubles each for staging an environmental protest outside the executive committee building.
On June 21, police arrested three participants of a picket against integration of Belarus and Russia. The protesters were then taken out of the city and released. The arrests were not properly documented, the peaceful protest was stopped unreasonably, and the protesters were subjected to the groundless use of physical force.
At the same time, it is practically impossible to hold a peaceful protest by the rules established by the authorities: for example, a Homieĺ homemaker Mariya Tarasenka, known for her struggle with the anti-parasite law, has faced several bans on organizing peaceful protests. The protests were banned in Žlobin, Karma, Pietrykaŭ, Chojniki, and Rečyca.
The authorities continued to apply administrative penalties for distribution of extremist materials. Often, the qualification of certain content as extremist is clearly arbitrary. The excessive restrictions on freedom of expression have been repeatedly condemned by human rights activists.
On June 3, the Puchavičy District Court fined writer Slavamir Adamovich for a short story published in 2010.
On June 10, in Minsk, another fine for alleged extremism was imposed on Mikalai Dziadok, who posted on his account in the VKontakte social media an anti-police derogatory acronym. The slogan is recognized illegal in any of its manifestations. As a result, the publication cost the activist 1,275 rubles.