Human Rights Situation in Belarus: October 2019
- political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to serve his sentence in the penal colony of Horki. As a result of another provocation on the part of the prison administration, Zhamchuzhny was once again penalized with 10 days in a punishment cell;
- on October 17, the Minsk City Court opened the closed trial in the criminal case of Dzmitry Paliyenka. After the start of the trial, the state prosecutor dropped the majority of the charges, which had been criticized by the human rights community. As a result, the court only heard the charges under Part 3, Art. 339 of the Criminal Code (especially malicious hooliganism). On October 25, the court, finding Paliyenka guilty of the alleged act, sentenced him to three years of restricted freedom without imprisonment, reducing the sentence by one year under an amnesty; the defendant was released in the courtroom;
- on October 21, the authorities reopened the criminal case of a well-known blogger and environmental activist Aliaksandr Kabanau. Earlier, the human rights community called to cease harassment against critical bloggers Siarhei Piatrukhin, Aliaksandr Kabanau and Andrei Pavuk;
- on October 25, the Brest Regional Court issued this year’s third death sentence to a 48-year-old resident of Luniniec, Viktar Serhil;
- the elections of deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly at the moment have not led to a significant deterioration of the general human rights situation and a growth in repression in the country, but, according to the experts of the campaign of independent observation, “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, the progress of the elections suggests a return to the worst practices of significantly limiting access of opposition representatives to running in the elections;
- on October 18, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus Anaïs Marin presented at a meeting of the Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs a report on the situation in Belarus on the eve of the parliamentary elections;
- in general, during the month, the human rights situation remained poor, with no visible positive change.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
In October, Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to serve his politically motivated sentence.
As it became known to Viasna’s human rights defenders, the administration of penal colony No. 9 in Horki provoked Mikhail Zhamchuzhny to commit an offense, which resulted in 10 days of solitary confinement in a punishment cell.
The trial of Dzmitry Paliyenka, an activist of the anarchist movement, was set for September 25. It was assumed that the trial would be held behind closed doors.
Paliyenka was charged under several articles of the Criminal Code: Part 3 of Art. 339 (especially malicious hooliganism), Art. 369 (insulting a representative of authorities), Art. 130 (incitement to racial, ethnic, religious or other social hatred or enmity), and Art. 341 (desecration of buildings and property damage).
It should be noted that some of the charges against Paliyenka, according to the country’s human rights community, constitute unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression and created a dangerous new form of persecution of citizens for public criticism of the activities of state bodies and officials. In addition, the human rights community in Belarus demanded an open trial in the case with all the guarantees of a fair trial. Failure to comply with these requirements would give the human rights defenders grounds to call the activist a political prisoner.
On October 17, at the beginning of the trial, it became known that the prosecutor had dropped most of the charges and the trial on the remaining charge of Part 3, Art. 339 of the Criminal Code (especially malicious hooliganism) was announced open. In court, Dzmitry Paliyenka pleaded not guilty and explained that the victim, who was in a state of extreme intoxication, hit him on the head. As a result, fearing further illegal actions in relation to himself, the activist was forced to use pepper spray.
On October 25, Dzmitry Paliyenka was convicted of particularly malicious hooliganism and sentenced to three years of restricted liberty without imprisonment. The penalty was reduced by one year due to an amnesty. Paliyenka was released in the courtroom. Taking into account the time spent in pre-trial detention, he will serve 10 months.
On October 4, the authorities dropped the criminal charges against two opponents of the construction of a battery plant near Brest: Maisei Mazko and his son Dzianis, who were suspected of illicit trafficking of ammunition. In the spring, police found ammunition in Maisei Mazko’s official car. Mazko said the charge was a provocation against him and his son. The case was dismissed due to a lack of evidence.
On October 21, blogger and environmental activist from Brest Aliaksandr Kabanau said on Facebook that the Investigative Committee of the Brest region had resumed criminal proceedings against him. Kabanau is suspected of embezzlement of more than 400 rubles (Part 1, Art. 211 of the Criminal Code), which he allegedly received from the residents of the house in which he lives.
In early July, the Biaroza district department of the Investigative Committee closed the case for lack of evidence. It is still unknown what led the police to reopen the prosecution.
In March, investigators reported that back in 2017 Aliaksandr Kabanau received from the residents of the house in which he lives money for the state registration of the association of owners and the preparation of project documentation for the construction of basements. The money, more than 400 rubles, were allegedly stolen by Kabanau. The blogger himself explained that he did not appropriate the funds, but received them as remuneration for his work as head of the association.
The criminal case was initiated almost immediately after a public statement of President Lukashenks, who once again argued that some of the opponents of the battery factory in Brest were striving for power.
Aliaksandr Kabanau and his associate Siarhei Piatrukhin have been repeatedly brought to administrative responsibility. They were fined for posting videos on the YouTube channel “People’s Reporter,” in which they cover the situation around the construction of the battery factory near Brest and campaigning for the resignation of officials, both of which were viewed by the police and the court as unauthorized protests. The country’s human rights community earlier demanded the cessation of persecution and pressure on the critical bloggers.
The death penalty
On October 25, the Brest Regional Court handed down this year’s third death sentence to a 48-year-old resident of the city of Luniniec, Viktar Serhil.
The European Union, expressing its “sincere sympathy to all those affected by the crime,” said that it opposed the death penalty in all circumstances. The statement was made by Maja Kocijancic, European Union Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations.
Freedom of speech
Viasna’s human rights defenders and an activist of an anarchist group Mikalai Dziadok continue to urge the authorities to de-list the famous anti-police acronym (A**B) from the national register of extremist materials. The acronym was blacklisted by a court's decision. The Supreme Court, as well as the lower courts, returned the activist’s complaints without consideration, arguing that Dziadok was not a party concerned in the case and his rights and legitimate interests were not affected. The judge ignored the fact that the activist had been repeatedly brought to administrative responsibility for the distribution of the acronym online.
Freedom of peaceful assembly
On October 4, the Centraĺny District Court of Minsk ruled to fine Dzianis Urbanovich and Vital Tryhubau, activists of the Young Front opposition group, 1,020 rubles each for conducting an unauthorized cycling protest.
On October 14, the Brest District Court considered the administrative case of environmental activist Kanstantsin Astapuk. Judge Siarhei Maruchak sentenced the activist to a fine of 765 rubles over a protest against an environmentally dangerous plant.
Following a complaint by Vadzim Nikitsin, who was the victim of homophobic ill-treatment by law enforcement officers, the Partyzanski District Prosecutor’s Office of Minsk reversed the decision of an investigator who earlier refused to open a criminal investigation. As a result, the probe into the allegations of violence was re-opened.
Harassment of media
Freelance journalist Darya Chultsova was awarded a fine of 510 rubles for a report about former deputy chairman of the Mahilioŭ regional executive committee and current deputy head of the Presidential Administration Andrei Kuntsevych. The story was aired on August 22 by the TV channel Belsat. The Bialyničy District Court Judge Valiantsina Paulauva concluded that it were Chultsova and cameraman Mikhail Arshynski who had shot the report.