Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2002 - Belarus

Dr. Yuri Bandazhevsky still in detention15

Dr. Yuri Bandazhevsky is a scientist of international renown working on the medical effects of nuclear radioactivity and former rector of the State Institute of Medicine in Gomel. On 18th June 2001 he was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment under severe conditions for supposedly seeking bribes from parents of students at the Institute. In the course of his research, Dr. Bandazhevsky revealed the ill-effects of radiation from the Chernobyl disaster on the population of Belarus, contradicting the official version disseminated by the authorities. He also criticised the diversion of Ministry of Health funds intended for research on radiation exposure.

In 2002 the Observatory referred the matter to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, considering that Dr. Bandazhevsky's detention was intended simply to punish his activity as a defender and prevent him from exercising freedom of expression and opinion. Furthermore, his trial was marred by irregularities; he was not informed of the charges against him at the time of his arrest, he was tried by the Military Chamber of the Supreme Court, which was not competent in the matter but against whose decisions there is no appeal, he had no access to a lawyer for the first six months of his detention, witnesses recanted at the time of the trial and no material evidence could be produced to justify the accusation.... At the end of December 2002, the Working Group had taken no decision.

Dr. Bandazhevsky's health deteriorated during the summer of 2002 due to the physical and psychological pressures put on him. He is in a cell with two other detainees who are certainly militiamen, and he was forced to sign a confession before five military officers.

NGO closed down16

On 12th March 2002, on the demand of the Ministry of Justice, the Regional Court in Bierastsir ordered the closure of Viezha (Center of Support to Public Initiatives). The decision is based on Article 29 of the law on public associations which states that the Court can close down any association that has received two warnings or more within a year. Viezha had received three warnings from the Ministry of Justice in 2001. The first concerned the "incomplete" name of the organisation; the second the fact that Viezha had published a sociological questionnaire by an association that is not officially recognised; the third concerned the legal assistance provided by Viezha members, which is considered to breach the law on associations. Under this law, associations can only represent or defend their own members.

On 29th April, the Supreme Court confirmed the Regional Court's decision, so bringing it into force.

Freedom to demonstrate obstructed17

Once more in 2002, peaceful demonstrations were violently broken up and participants regularly arrested and beaten. On 24th March for example, at a celebration of "Freedom Day" in Minsk, several dozen participants were arrested by special police units and some were sentenced to prison terms or fined for disturbing the peace. On 5th April, 14 journalists who had organised three banned demonstrations in support of Mikalai Markevich and Pavel Mazheika (editor and reporter from Pahonia, who are charged with slandering the President) were arbitrarily detained by the Grodno police. On a court decision, Navinki journalist Stas Pahobut was held for ten days in the Leninski quarters at Grodno detention centre for his participation in the demonstration.

On 19th April18, a demonstration by about 3,000 people who had gathered in Minsk to protest against human rights violations in Belarus was violently broken up by special police units. More than 100 participants were arrested, detained and subjected to degrading treatment. Several organisers including film director and defender Yury Khashchavatski, journalists Nikolai Khalesin and Valery Shchukin, Viasna Human Rights Center observer Aleh Zhlutko, and Charter 97 co-ordinator Dmitry Bondarenka, were arrested and taken to the police station. Mr. Shchukin was severely beaten.

On 22nd April, Mr. Khashchavatski and Mr. Shchukin were tried and sentenced to 10 and 15 days' imprisonment respectively. Detainees who asked to see a lawyer were taken to the remand centre in Akrestsin and their trial was postponed for 24 hours. Despite the provisions in Article 62 of the Constitution, they were not allowed to see a lawyer. Among those tried on 23 April were Mr. Khalesin and Mr. Bondarenka, who were sentenced to 10 days in jail, and Mr. Zhlutko, sentenced to 4 days. These executive sentences were pronounced under Article 167 of the Code of Administrative Violations. Only Mr. Bondarenka was released, mainly thanks to media pressure.

Violations of the right to disseminate information19

2002 saw many violations of the right to disseminate information, as can be seen from the financial and legal obstacles put in the way of the independent media. For example, the State body responsible for newspaper distribution increased its rates by 66% for independent papers, and printing rates rose by 40%. As a result, several newspapers had to suspend publication, e.g. Dien in August 2002. Radio Racija had to cease broadcasting in June.

Legal proceedings are still being used to sanction the independent media. In August, the newspaper Nasha Svaboda was closed down after having to pay a 100,000 million rouble fine for moral damage. One journalist, Mr. Mikhail Padaliak, was sentenced to pay 5 million roubles in compensation for having "insulted" the head of the Committee for State Control. In autumn 2002 there have been proceedings against several other journalists: Mikalai Markevich and Pavel Mazheika of Pahonia (closed down in November 2001) and Viktar Ivashkevich of Rabochy. Mr. Ivashkevich was sentenced in October to two years' corrective labour for slandering the President, on the basis of Articles 367 and 368 of the Criminal Code.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

15. See Annual Report 2001.

16. See Urgent Appeal BLR 001/0402/OBS 028.

17. See Annual Report 2001.

18. See Urgent Appeal BLR 001/0402/OBS 028.

19. See Annual Report 2001.


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