Belarus: Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in November 2009
In Belarus November started with the population’s panic caused by the epidemic of an acute virus disease that often brought such complication as pneumonia. Though the World Health Organization declared a swine influenza pandemic, on 1 November the deputy minister of health Valiantsina Kachan stated that there was no swine flu in Belarus, irrespective of the fact that tests for swine flu were carried out only in severe cases or after the death of patients. Everybody was well aware that one could die of pneumonia and the medical institutions were overcrowded.
However, there was no information about the number of deaths and hospitalizations in Belarus, as the Belarusian officials kept silence. For several day the people bought up all antivirus medicines, masks, etc. Only on 6 November, after an avalanche of alarming news in independent media and internet, the authorities announced holding additional anti-epidemic actions in Minsk and closed educational establishments for quarantine. On the other hand, on 4 November the first deputy minister of information Liliya Ananich stated the ministry ‘will stop any attempts to misinform the population of the country’. The same day Valiantsina Kachan voiced the data from which it followed that 19 people died of pneumonia during the two last weeks.
All of them were tested for swine flu and in seven cases the tests were positive. This was all official information. Meanwhile, for 2-29 November 170 819 cases of swine flu and acute respiratory viral infection were registered in Homel oblast alone. 44.2% of the ill were children and 55.8% – adults. 3.3% (5 825 persons )were hospitalized. As of 30 November quarantine was declared in ten educational establishments of Homel oblast.
November was also marked with an important international event. The EU Council took a decision concerning the visa sanctions towards a number of high-rank Belarusian officials. The entrance ban for them was extended for another year, but at the same time there was introduced a 6-month moratorium on the action of these sanctions. The question of extending or abolishing the sanctions completely depended on the situation of democracy in Belarus. The majority of analysts and politicians consider this decision as compromising.
Bear in mind that five persons are still banned entrance to the EU. Four of them are suspected in being involved with the political disappearances in 1999-2000: the former ministers of interior Yury Sivakou and Uladzimir Navumau, the former secretary of the Security Soviet Viktar Sheiman and the head of the riot squad Dzmitry Paulichenka. The fifth person, Lidziya Yarmoshyna, faced sanctions for involvement in rigging elections and referenda.
The US Ministry of Finances extended till 31 November 2010 the easing of the sanctions towards two enterprises of Belnaftakhim concern – Lakafarba open stock company and Shklovalakno. During this period the US citizens are allowed to cooperate with these companies. On the other hand, since November 2007 the assets of Lakafarba and Shklovalakno remain frozen according to an appropriate order of the US Government resulting from human rights violations in Belarus.
On 16-17 November the Civil Society Forum took place in Brussels within the framework of the Eastern Partnership initiative. The main aim of the Forum was the facilitation of dialogue and cooperation between civil society organizations and governments of members of Eastern Partnership. The Belarusian delegation consisted of 27 organizations and the possibility of renewal of the Partnership and Cooperation agreement between the EU and Belarus was discussed.
On 11 November the independent international radio station European Radio for Belarus received a copy of the ruling of the Soviet of Ministers and the certificate about the opening of the correspondent station of the ERB for one-year period. Accreditation was issued to twelve journalists and technical officers of the radio. At the same time, on 13 November the press-service of the satellite TV channel BelSat distributed a press-release claiming that the perspectives of their third application for registration in Belarus remained unclear. The channel director Agnieszka Romaszewska voiced the following opinion: ‘To my mind, registration of one of oppositional media in Belarus is an attempt to divide journalists into better and worse ones. It is a standard method of action always used by authoritarian authorities.’
Meanwhile, the Belarusian authorities refused to issue an entrance visa to Agnieszka Romaszewska without offering any explanations for it. Romaszhewska was invited to Minsk Forum XII as an honorable guest.
The PACE deputy Christos Pourgourides, known as the author of a comprehensive report on the missing public and political activists in Belarus, was invited to the Belarusian European Forum that took place on 14 November. During a meeting of the PACE representatives with Andrei Bushyla, head of the Belarus’ mission in the Council of Europe, the latter hinted that the Cypriot deputy would be issued entrance visa neither at the Belarusian Embassy in Paris nor at Minsk airport.
Belarus also denied entrance visa to the Lithuanian MP Emanuelis Zingeris who intended to come to the Belarusian European Forum for reading a congratulation letter from the head of the Lithuanian Parliament Irena Degutiene. The Lithuanian MFA stated that such step of the official Minsk didn’t correspond to the friendly spirit of relations between close neighbors.
On 30 November the Chamber of Representatives of the Belarusian Parliament unanimously adopted in the first reading the new draft law on amendment of the electoral legislation. The administration of the Central Election Commission present this as a large step forward in democratization of the electoral laws. Nevertheless, civil society activists consider the amendments insufficient, as the rights of observers remain quite limited, which allows massive election fraud. The CEC also states the OSCE recommendations have been taken into account, while the OSCE insists that they haven’t been familiarized with the draft law.
In November human rights activists from Sweden, the country that now presides the EU, presented their new project at Youtube. 12 experts from Belarus spoke about the implementation of the 12 conditions of the European Union. The core of the project was the evaluation of this implementation by five-grade scale. The given marks proved to be very low.
1. Death penalty
On 10 November in Minsk the press-conference of the death convict Andrei Zhuk’s parents took place. The mother addressed the president of Belarus with an open letter, asking to pardon her son, the death verdict to whom came into force after his cassation complaint was considered by the Supreme Court. During the event the lawyer of the HRC Viasna Valiantsin Stefanovich stated that communications concerning the latest death verdicts to Andrei Zhuk and Vasil Yuzepchuk
were submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee and were accepted for consideration. He also said that the state organs responsible for execution of the verdict must suspend the execution till consideration on the merits of the complaints by the Committee.
On 15 November the Office of the UN Supreme Commissioner on Human Rights gave publicity to the information received from the competent state organs of Belarus concerning the individual communication that had been submitted to it on behalf of the death convict Vasil Yuzepchuk. In the information it was stated that Yuzepchuk’s communication was illegitimate, because it was filed before exhausting the national means of defense, as his petition for clemency was being considered by the president of Belarus. Besides, the Belarusian authorities deny violation of Article 6 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and state that Yuzephuk was sentenced to death in conformity with the legislation of Belarus, putting the question of inadmissibility of consideration of Yuzepchuk’s communication. At present stage the UN Human Rights Committee gave the opportunity to present remarks to this information from the side of Yuzepchuk till 14 December.
Bear in mind that in June 2009 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution according to which Belarus would be returned its guest status if it declared death penalty moratorium.
2. Right to association
On 12 November ‘Santa Clauses’ received an answer from the Office of Prosecutor General, signed by the head of the department of supervision over respect to civil rights and liberties Radyionau. In the letter it was stated that in the case the fact of their participation in an unregistered organization was established they would be drawn to criminal responsibility. Bear in mind that in October a group of Santa Clauses surrendered to the Office of Prosecutor General. Participants of the happening also filed a confession in activities in behalf of an unregistered organization of Santa Clauses and asked to give a legal evaluation to them. The action was held within the frames of the campaign on the abolishment of Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code. According to the lawyer of the Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs Yury Chavusau, in its letter the prosecutor’s office paid no attention to the surrender of Santa Clauses and decided not to consider the legal situation that arose from this demonstration of the absurdity of Article 193.1, but confined itself to ‘simple statement of norms of the Belarusian legislation on civil associations’. The Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs reminds that during the last four years 17 persons were punished under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code and the article is still in action.
On 12 November the organizing committee of the Belarusian Party of Workers filed a lawsuit to the Supreme Court against the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register the party. As the leader of the organizing committee Aliaksandr Bukhvostau told BelaPAN, the founders are of the opinion that the decision of the Ministry of Justice contradicts to the law and intend to prove at court that they have all the documents that are necessary for registration of the party.
The main justice department of Hrodna oblast executive committee refused to register Slonim NGO Zalaty Leu. The founders of the cultural-educational NGO Zalaty Leu used to be members of other NGOs including the youth association Vetraz that was liquidated by court, allegedly because of absence of the legal address. Ales Masiuk, one of the founders of Zalaty Leu, believes that the decision on non-registration was politically motivated. ‘The authorities continue the policy of non-registration towards the persons whom they label as oppositionists. We could have corrected all the defects they found in our documents for one day, but they blankly decided to ban us,’ he said.
3. Freedom of speech and the right to disseminate information
On 11, 13 and 16 November Vitsebsk police detained the regional press distributor Barys Khamaida. No detention reports were composed. Human rights defenders believe all detentions were connected with visits of high-rank state officials to Vitsebsk.
On 18 November, following the information about the EU’s extension of sanctions against the Belarusian authorities, the Ministry of Information issued written warnings to four private newspapers – Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belorussii, Nasha Niva, Narodnaya Volia and Va-bank for alleged violations of the legal requirements in their publications. Though the ‘violations’ concern different articles of the Law On Press, all of them were issued for publication of ‘inaccurate information’. In particular, in the warning to Narodnaya Volia the ministry mentioned an article calling the people to come out to the streets on the day of the presidential election. The reason for warning Nasha Niva became the article Flu Concealment Caused Epidemic of Panic. The warnings prescribe the newspapers to correct the ‘law violations’ within ten-day term.
The police detained the journalists Aliaksandr Dzianisau and Aliaksandr Khilimonau at Nioman glass factory in Biarozauka, though the detainees had the permission to come to the factory. The journalists were preparing information about the situation at the enterprise and the workers’ dissent.
On 10 November the founder of the regional non-state socio-political newspaper Prefect Plus from the town of Hlybokaye (Vitsebsk oblast) was returned the documents he had sent to the Ministry of Information for the state registration of the newspaper. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, since the beginning of September registration denials have been also issued to the socio-political newspapers Soligorsk-plus, Novaya Gazeta Bobruiska, Mahiliouski Chas, Maryinahorskaya and some others.
On 19 November the Ministry of Information for the second time returned to the founders of the private newspaper Salihorsk-plius the documents they had filed for the state registration of the periodical. The Ministry of Information states that the newspaper’s subject matter contradicts to Article 12 of the Law On press. Besides, the ministry reminds that the editorial board of the newspaper still has taken no action to find a legal address in a nondomestic building, which is the reason why the documents were returned during the first registration attempt. The founder of the newspaper Uladzimir Shyla believes that the Ministry of Information just invents wire-drawn reasons for declining the documents. The BAJ lawyers share his opinion and think that the Ministry of Information abuses its powers.
On 25 November the independent journalist from Biaroza, member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Tamara Shchapiotkina was invited for a ‘talk’ to the district prosecutor’s office. The deputy prosecutor Fiodar Mikhnovich passed her a written warning for cooperation with the foreign radio station Radio Racyja without having the appropriate accreditation. At the official blank the journalist wrote that he disagreed with the warning because she had the right to collect and transmit information as a freelance journalist. Mikhnovich answered that in the case of repeated violation she would be drawn to administrative responsibility.
4. Right to peaceful assemblies
The civil activists from Brest Raman Kisliak, Iryna Laurouskaya and Dzianis Turchyniak filed individual communications to the UN Human Rights Committee about violation of their right to expression, peaceful assemblies and fair trial. All these violations concern the events that took place in the beginning of the year, when Brest city executive committee did not authorize the pickets they intended to hold on 15-17 January in Hohal Street. By these actions the civil activists intended to draw the public attention to the question of construction of the monument to the 1000th anniversary of Brest. All Belarusian court instances to which Kisliak, Laurouskaya and Turchyniak applied, took the side of the local authorities.
5. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 12 November the head of Navahradak branch of Young Front Yuras Kazak was summoned to the police department and informed about the initiation of a criminal case against him. The law machinery suspected the activist of malignant hooliganism – smearing the local monument to Lenin with green paint on 7 November, the Day of October revolution. That day the police detained three activists of Young Front including Kazak. They were made to give explanations and then were let go.
On 24 November the lawyer Tamara Sidarenka came to Mahiliou penal colony to visit her client, political prisoner Artsiom Dubski. According to her, the convicted figurant of the ‘process of 14’ kept a hunger-strike for three days to protest against the actions of the administration of the penal colony that prohibited passing any books to him. Despite the fact that the activist has no admonitions, the prison administration continues the unlawful restriction of his rights. Recently it has also come out that A.Dubski had been denied amnesty.
6. Detentions, arrests and fines to civil and political activists
On 6 November Minsk oblast court turned down the complaints of the democratic activists from Vileika district Uladzimir Maliarchuk, Ales Narkevich and Aliaksei Siudak who on 1 September had installed a cross in the place where the activist of the Belarusian anti-Bolshevik resistance Rastsislau Lapitski had been shot. According to U.Maliarchuk, they were again accused of holding an unauthorized rally. Thus, the verdict of the previous court instance on fining of the activists was left in force.
On 7 November in Minsk the police preventively detained the activists of Young Front Mikola Dzemidzenka and Nasta Palazhanka. The youngsters were detained in different parts of Minsk and guarded to the Pershamaiski district police department of Minsk. In several hours they were released without receiving any charges. The police also guarded to the Kastrychnitski DPD the activists of Right Alliance Yury Karetnikau and Aliaksei Skuratovich who intended to lay down a wreath of barbed wire to the monument of Lenin in Nezalezhnastsi Square to remind the people about the people who were killed by the Soviet regime. The police confiscated the wreath and booklets of Right Alliance and took explanations from the detainees.
The political activist Ales Mekh filed a complaint to Kobryn district court against the unlawful actions of the police during this year’s Dazhynki official feast. That day he was detained by the police, allegedly as a result of an anonymous telephone call informing them that he had drugs and firearms on him. A.Mekh was guarded to the police station and searched. He was released in 3.5 hours. The anonymous misinformer wasn’t found. The activist asked the court to find the detention illegal and require from the prosecutor’s office the materials of the check-up on his case.
7. Right to alternative army service
On 6 November the Tsentralny district court of Homel finished the trial of the criminal case against the Jehovah’s Witness Dzmitry Smyk whom the prosecutor’s office, inspired by the city draft board, had accused of evasion from the army service, though he didn’t object to an alternative service even if it would be longer than the standard army service, as his religious convictions didn’t allow him holding arms or support the army in any other way. The judge Ryhor Dzmitrenka found the activist guilty and fined him 3.5 million rubles (about $1,250). Due to the absence of the law on alternative service, the city draft board also turned down Smyk’s request for alternative service.
Activists of Young Democrats, youth organization of the United Civil Party, launched the campaign Right Not to Shoot with the aim to inform the society about the alternative civil service. According to one of the campaign organizers, Fiodar Maslennikau, on 19 November the activists distributed informational booklets near the economical university. The activists of the Fund of Development of Legal Technologies participate in the campaign together with Young Democrats.
8. Rights of national and religious minorities
On 9 November the ambassador of Israel Eduard Shapiro attended the international conference in Minsk that was dedicated to the Christian-Judaic dialogue. He stated that during the Soviet times the authorities confiscated many temples. After the dissolution of the USSR many of Christian churches were returned to the believers. That’s why the diplomat expressed wish that the Belarusian state would pay attention to the synagogues that had been built for Jews’ money. He also expressed concern with the clear reluctance of the prosecutor’s office and the police to bring criminal cases on stirring up national hatred even in evident cases.
9. Discrimination of women
The Office of the Supreme Commissioner on Human Rights confirmed the registration of the individual communication of the civil activist from Brest Inha Abramava by the Commission on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
In her communication Inha Abramava appealed against her discrimination at the pre-trial prison of the Leninski district police department of Brest. The conditions in the prison were very harsh: cold, dirt, foul air and lurid light of an electric lamp. The prison is guarded solely by men, who looked in the spy-hole while she was using the cell toilet.
10. Politically motivated firings from job
The Ministry of Health Care didn’t extend the labor contract to the rector of the Belarusian State Medical University Pavel Bespalchuk. One of the possible reasons can be his scandalous article in Vesnik BDMU (BSMU Courier) where he described the flaws in the state system of job placement of the university graduates and called the present situation ‘a legal boundlessness that has reached its apogee’.