2010 31/05

International resonance

Joint Statement by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’

Minsk-Paris, May 27, 2010

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member-organization in Belarus Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’ express deep concern about the wave of new repressive actions (searches, interrogations and arrests) in respect of civil society activists, human rights activists, independent journalists and political opponents as well as in connection with the general deterioration of human rights situation in the country.

‘A growing concern is caused by a new wave of restrictions on fundamental civil and political rights, which is observed in Belarus in recent months: the violation of the right to freely receive and disseminate information, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression, – said Souhayr Belhassen, President of the FIDH, – We are afraid that all this is only a portion of the growing and focused pressure on the eve of an important political campaign – the preparation of the presidential election.’

Of particular concern is the fact that Belarus remains the only country in Europe and the former Soviet Union, which has not only delivers death sentences, but executes them, despite calls by the international community. ‘The fact of the execution of the death sentences to Andrei Zhuk and Vasil Yuzepchuk in March 2010, despite the fact that the UN Human Rights Committee had sent requests for interim measures of protection, and the pronouncement of two death sentences to Aleh Hryshkavets and Andrei Burdyka on 14 May 2010 indicates to Belarus’ unwillingness to adhere to the fundamental principles of human rights’, – said Ales Bialiatski, vice-president of FIDH and President of the HRC ‘Viasna’.

Human rights activists, who in recent years have been working in conditions of high risk, recently faced with additional difficulties. A number of searches took place in the regional offices of human rights defenders. On 30 April 2010, the police carried out a search and seized computer equipment in the office of Navapolatsk HR defender Dzmitri Salauyou. The police seized computer equipment from a human rights defender in connection with the fact of appearance of neo-Nazi signs on the town walls. It should be noted that Salauyou had made several unsuccessful complaints to the police of the facts of writing of neo-Nazi slogans in the town and on the wall of his office. For three times in 2007 and 2009, Salauyou provided the office as a legal address to register with the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus the human rights NGO ‘Nasha Viasna’, established by the members of the Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’ closed down by the Belarusian authorities in 2003. Salauyou was one of the founders of ‘Nasha Viasna’.

19.05.2010 the police searched the office of another founder of the human rights association ‘Nasha Viasna’ – human rights activist Valery Putsitski in Rechytsa.

In addition, the number of searches took place in the offices and in private accommodation of a number of journalists – a reporter of one of the leading independent newspaper ‘Narodnaya Volia’ Maryna Koktysh, deputy chief editor Sviatlana Kalinkina, as well as the famous independent journalist Iryna Khalip and journalist of the Charter-97 web-site Natallia Radzina. All these journalists are witnesses in a criminal case, initiated upon slander against a KGB general Ivan Korzh. The confiscation of computers, an examination of two computers with passwords breaking of personal e-mail boxes and Skype correspondence indicate to purposeful harassment and pressure on journalists from the leading independent media on the eve of an important political campaign – the presidential election. FIDH and the Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’ express concern that the investigation may change the procedural status of journalists and to bring criminal charges against them.

On 18-19 May 2010, in more than 20 cities and towns of Belarus, the police searched the private flats and offices of the activists of the civil campaign ‘Speak the Truth’. As a result of these actions several dozen people were arbitrarily detained. The campaign leaders Uladzimir Niakliayeu, Siarhei Vazniak and Andrei Dzmitryeu spent three days in a detention center in Minsk as suspects in a criminal case. We believe that the violent actions sanctioned by the authorities of Belarus are aimed at intimidating the activists of the campaign and personally U. Niakliayeu as one of the possible candidates in the forthcoming elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus. On 3 March, 2010, the police searched and interrogated the leader of the civil initiative ‘European Belarus’ Andrei Sannikau, who had also announced about his intention to run as a candidate in the future presidential election.

Apart from that, FIDH and the HRC ‘Viasna’ note that a number of persons, whose prosecutions or convictions are associated with their political activities, are still kept in detention facilities, including opposition activist Aleh Surhan, sentenced to 6 months of arrest under Art. 364 of the Criminal Code (violence or threat of violence against law enforcement officers) by Vitsebsk Kastrychnitski Court on 19.02.2010.

On 14.05.2010 Vitsebsk Kastrychnitski Court sentenced activist of the Conservative Christian Party Siarhei Kavalenka under articles 339 (deliberate actions violating public order and expressing a clear disrespect for society) and 363 (resistance to law enforcement officers or another person, protecting public order) to three years of restraint of liberty without sending in an open type correctional facility for posting a national white-red-white on the main Christmas tree in Vitsebsk on 7 January 2010.

On 16 May 2010, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus passed a verdict in the case of the businessmen Mikalai Autukhovich, Uladzimir Asipenka, Mikhail Kazlou and Aliaksandr Laryn. Initially charged with several serious crimes, including preparing a terrorist act, Autukhovich, Laryn and Asipenka, in an open-trial were acquitted of most charges, but convicted of possession of firearms and ammunition and M. Kozlov official inaction. The investigation of this criminal case, according to FIDH and the Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’, was accompanied by significant violations of procedural safeguards, which is obviously connected with the political aim of the authorities.

As yet, Tatsiana Tsishkevich, Aliaskei Bondar and Mikhail Kryvau, convicted for taking part in a peaceful protest of entrepreneurs in January 2009, have not been amnestied and are forced to stay outside the Republic of Belarus due to the threat of prosecution. On 15.06.2009, Maksim Dashuk again was sentenced to 1 year and 3 months of imprisonment without sending in an open type correctional facility and is still serving his sentence.

During the elections of deputies of Local Councils of Deputies of the 26th convocation in April 2010, the Office of the KGB of Hrodna region opened a criminal case against one of the candidates, political activist of the Movement ‘For Freedom’ from the town of Masty Ales Zarembiuk. Zarembiuk is a famous young politician, who was a member of Masty District Council of Deputies in 2003-2007, he repeatedly ran as a candidate in local and parliamentary elections.

It is also worth noting that on 01.07.2010 is the date of entry into force of Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s decree № 60 ‘On measures to improve the utilization of the national segment of the Internet’, signed 01.02.2010, which can seriously limit the rights of Belarusian citizens to obtain and disseminate information.

In this regard, FIDH and the HRC ‘Viasna’ urge the Belarusian authorities:

1. to immediately release all prisoners convicted for political reasons, who are in detention or serving other penalties that are limiting their freedom. To grant amnesty to those previously convicted for engaging in peaceful demonstrations and allow them to return home.

2. to stop the persecution of journalists, civil and political activists and to provide all citizens with the right to participate freely in the upcoming presidential election campaign.

3. to stop the persecution of human rights defenders.

4. to immediately introduce a moratorium on the death penalty.

5. to secure the citizens’ right to exercise freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression.

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