Human Rights Situation in Belarus: August 2019
- Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to serve his politically motivated prison sentence. The prisoner’s recent letters suggest that his health has deteriorated significantly;
- on August 19, bailiffs seized the property of a known Brest blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin, who was earlier sentenced to a fine of 9,180 rubles by the court of the Lieninski district of Brest for defaming and insulting police officers. The Belarusian human rights community views the judicial harassment of Piatrukhin as politically motivated persecution;
- on August 5, President Lukashenka signed a decree to officially announce the elections of members of the House of Representatives of the seventh convocation. Representatives of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Center “Viasna” announced the launch of a campaign of non-partisan election observation “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”;
- during the month, there were more cases of administrative prosecution of peaceful protesters;
- on August 20, President Lukashenka sharply criticized representatives of the Interior Ministry and investigating authorities. Among other things, he mentioned facts of illegal methods of investigation, he unlawful use of violence against citizens and falsification of criminal cases. Remarks by the President received great public attention, but the legal consequences of Lukashenka’s statement are not yet known;
- on August 27, Minsk hosted a conference “Public Opinion and the Death Penalty in Belarus” organized by the Council of Europe and the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus. As suggested by Andrei Navumovich, head of the Parliament’s working group on capital punishment, a moratorium on the death penalty or its complete abolition are not expected in the near future, since executions are still supported by the majority of Belarusian citizens;
- in general, the situation with human rights remained poor, with no visible positive change.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
Political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to serve his sentence in a penal colony in Horki.
After the prisoner spent 70 days in a punishment cell, the prison administration transferred him for one month to so-called “cell-type premises” (maximum-security unit).
As reported by vitebskspring.org, during his stay in solitary confinement, Zhamchuzhny was completely isolated from the outside world and did not receive a single letter or a newspaper. In a recent letter, the political prisoner also reports serious health problems.
Over the past two years, he has filed 9 requests to be allowed to purchase vitamins. None of them has ever been considered, however. All complaints sent to the Mahilioŭ regional healthcare department, the regional and national correctional authorities were also fruitless.
Due to the lack of vitamins, Zhamchuzhny’s gums started bleeding, and some of his healthy teeth began to become loose and fall out. These problems have been treated symptomatically — with antibiotics and analgesics.
On August 19, bailiffs of the Lieninski District Court of Brest arrested the property of a known blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin following his conviction in a criminal case.
On April 18, the Court found Piatrukhin guilty of publicly defaming and insulting several police officers and sentenced to a fine of 9,180 rubles. In addition, the blogger was ordered to pay a total of 7,500 rubles in moral damages to the alleged victims and reimburse the lawyers’ fees.
Belarusian laws provide for criminal liability for evading the execution of a sentence.
Violations of the freedom of peaceful assembly
On August 1, judge Volha Husakova of the Court of the Maskoŭski district of Minsk dismissed a claim by opposition leaders Yury Hubarevich, Volha Kavalkova, Mikalai Kazlou and Ihar Barysau against the city police department who allegedly overcharged the politicians for policing a rally and concert on March 24. As a result, the organizers of the assembly will have to pay a total of 8,013 rubles.
Earlier, the organizers were fined 765 rubles each after refusing to pay for the services and announcing their intention to go to court.
Human rights activists have repeatedly criticized the new rules requiring payment for the exercise of a fundamental freedom. The new procedure has become an effective tool to suppress both protest proper and any public initiatives covered by the legislation on mass events (including pickets).
For example, Judge Siarhei Maruchak fined Viktar Mihaliuk 76.5 rubles for participating in a protest against the construction of an environmentally hazardous factory in Brest.
Arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression
Viasna human rights activists wrote to the Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, to report cases of illegal use of anti-extremist legislation in Belarus and persecution of citizens for publishing content, which, according to the authorities, may lead to the incitement of racial, national or other hatred and hostility.
Activists of the “Protest BY” campaign from across Belarus have faced persecution after announcing a series of pickets against the enactment of the new army conscription rules for students. For example, Aliaksei Maiseyeu, a student in the Mahilioŭ State Economic Vocational College, came under pressure from the principal who urged the activist to withdraw his application for the picket. Similar harassment was reported by a student of the Masherau College in Orša who was persuaded to withdraw his protest bid.
On August 5, President Lukashenka signed a decree to announce the elections to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Center “Viasna” launched a non-partisan observation in the framework of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”.
Prohibited treatment and torture
Viasna’s activists wrote to the Dubravka Šimonović, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, asking her to call on the Belarusian authorities to conduct an effective and thorough investigation into the facts of degrading treatment by law enforcement officials in relation to a minor who said that she was the victim of ill-treatment by police officers. The girl’s procedural rights were violated, too.
Human rights activists from Mahilioŭ requested an urgent inspection of the conditions and the level of natural light in the cells of prison No. 4. As an immediate remedial measure, they urge the prison administration to remove from the cell windows so-called “eyelashes” (iron blinds blocking the sunlight) and replace them with regular bars, providing unobstructed maximum penetration of daylight into the prison cells.
Back in April, Piotr Kuchura, an inmate of penal colony No. 15 Mahilioŭ, wrote to the regional office of the Investigative Committee, to demand prosecution of the prison head for excess of official powers (Article 424 of the Criminal Code). The prisoner argues that he was beaten by a representative of the prison administration. The Investigative Committee refused to initiate criminal proceedings. On August 15, the decision was quashed, and a probe was resumed. The case was reported to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The Investigative Committee re-opened the investigation into the case of Yana Yatsynovich, who was brutally arrested by riot police in March 2017. The girl received several blows to the head, after which she had serious health problems. The turning point in the case was the publication of video footage clearly showing the face of the police officer who detained Yana and the voice of another officer who then beat her.
After President Lukashenka voiced serious concerns over law enforcement agencies’ involvement in numerous facts of violation of the rights of citizens, the authorities resumed investigations into several cases related to police brutality, including the cases of Dzmitry Serada from Minsk and Barys Zmitrovich from Smarhoń.
The death penalty
On August 27, a conference “Public Opinion and the Death Penalty in Belarus” was held in Minsk. The event was organized by the Council of Europe and the National Assembly’s working group on capital punishment.
The conference was attended by Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus”.
Despite a statement by Andrei Bushyla, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Department for Europe and North America, claiming that Belarus and the Council of Europe “have no fundamental disagreements about the prospects for capital punishment,” Andrei Navumovich, head of the National Assembly’s working group, once again voiced the position of the official Minsk on this issue — a moratorium on the death penalty will be declared only after the number of its opponents exceeds the number of supporters.
Thus, either the introduction of a moratorium or complete abolition of the death penalty in Belarus is out of the question in the near future.