Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2006 - Belarus

Sentencing of four members of the NGO "Initiative Partnership"7

On February 21, 2006, Messrs. Nikolay Astreyko, Tsimofey Dranchuk, Aleksandr Shalayko and Ms. Enira Bronizkaya, members of the NGO "Initiative Partnership", were arrested in their Minsk offices by agents of the State Security Committee (Komitet Gosudarstvennoï Bezopasnosti – KGB) after they announced the creation of an organisation aimed at monitoring the presidential election on March 19, 2006.

On March 1, 2006, General Stepan Sukharenko, head of KGB, declared on television that the organisation's members were preparing fraudulent exit polls and were planning a violent uprising after the holding of the election.

On March 2, 2006, they were charged with "organising and running an organisation that infringes the rights of citizens" (Article 193.2 of the Criminal Code) and placed in custody at the KGB centre. During their detention, they were allowed only limited contact with their lawyers.

After an in camera hearing on August 4, 2006, the Minsk Central District Court sentenced Messrs. Astreyko and Dranchuk to two years and one and a half years' imprisonment respectively and Mr. Shalayko and Ms. Bronizkaya to six months in prison for the "illegal organisation of activities by an association or foundation, or participation in its activities" (Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code).

On August 21, 2006, Ms. Bronizkaya and Mr. Shalayko were released after serving their respective sentences. Messrs. Astreyko and Dranchuk were held in detention at the labour camp of Chklovsk (Mogilvov region) and at the labour camp No. 1 in Minsk.

On September 15, 2006, the Minsk Court of Appeal upheld the sentence against Messrs. Astreyko and Dranchuk.

On November 17, 2006, Mr. Astreyko was released from jail for "good behaviour" after completing one third of his sentence. The remaining 15 months of his term were communted to a community service order.

On December 14, 2006, the Observation Commission of the Executive Committee of the Fruzenski district in Minsk ordered the early release of Mr. Dranchuk, who was freed on December 26, 2006.

Ongoing harassment of Viasna members8

Arrest of several Viasna representatives

On the eve of the presidential elections of March 19, 2006, several members of the human rights NGO Viasna were arrested in a wave of pre-emptive arrests which targeted over 300 civil society representatives and opposition activists.

On March 15, 2006 for instance, Messrs. Viktor Sazonov and Vasily Levchenko, Viasna representatives in Grodno and Orcha respectively, were arrested and sentenced to seven days of administrative detention for "light hooliganism" for "uttering insults in public" as set out on the charge sheet. On the same day, Mr. Igor Lednik, a Viasna representative in Borisova, was arrested after meeting with Russian journalists and sentenced to ten days of administrative detention for "light hooliganism" by the Minsk Central District Court.

On March 16, 2006, Mr. Valeri Putitski, Viasna representative in Retchitza, was arrested and sentenced to seven days in administrative detention under the same charges. On the same day, Mr. Vladimir Govcha, Viasna representative in Baranavitchi, was arrested and required to pay a 620,000 roubles fine (about 240 euros) for "violating the rules relative to the organisation of gatherings" (Article 167-1 of the Code of Administrative Offences). He was released later that day.

Finally, on March 17, 2006, Mr. Aleksandr Dergatchev, Viasna representative in Smorgon, was arrested and condemned to five days in administrative detention for "obstruction of a police officer" (Article 166 of the Code of Administrative Offences).

Ill-treatment and ongoing harassment of Mr. Vladimir Vyalichkin

On March 17, 2006, Mr. Vladimir Vyalichkin, president of the Brest section of Viasna, was abducted by individuals in plain clothes while he was monitoring polling stations in the Brest region ahead of the presidential election. Mr. Vyalichkin was violently beaten and insulted for two hours and then taken to the Brest police station, where he was accused of "light hooliganism" for "uttering insults in public" according to the charge sheet.

The Leninski District Court in Minsk sentenced him to five days in administrative detention and to a consecutive term of seven days for allegedly "insulting a guard".

The charges brought against Mr. Vyalichkin on September 29, 2004 for "activities carried out within an unregistered organisation" (Article 167-10 of the Code of Administrative Offences) were dropped in 2006 as they had lapsed under the statute of limitations.

Warning against Mr. Ales Bialiatski

On April 17, 2006, the Prokuratura of the Sovietski district in Minsk communicated a formal warning for "slander" (Article 400 of the Criminal Code) to Mr. Ales Bialiatski, Viasna president, following an interview with the human rights movement Charter 97, in which he condemned the responsibility of the government and the President for the violent dispersal of a peaceful demonstration in celebration of Freedom Day on March 25, 20069.

Judicial harassment against the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights10

Ongoing judicial proceedings and new procedure to dissolve BHC

Following an investigation carried out between August 2003 and January 2004 by the representatives of the Tax Inspectorate of the Moskovski district in Minsk, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC) was accused of tax evasion in relation to funds received from the European Union (EU) between 2000 and 2002 under the auspices of the Programme for Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS). It was ordered to pay 385,000,000 roubles (about 138,000 euros) by the Tax Inspectorate.

On June 23, 2004, the Minsk Economic Court annulled that decision. However, following an appeal filed by the vice-president of the Supreme Economic Court (SEC), BHC was sentenced on December 20, 2005 to pay 160 million roubles (about 70,000 euros) in tax arrears and fines.

On May 24, 2006, pending BHC's appeal, the Ministry of Justice launched proceedings to dissolve the organisation, which was accused inter alia of breaches of tax law and non-conformity with its own statutes.

On June 23, 2006, BHC leaders applied for the suspension of those proceedings pending the examination of their appeal in the first of these cases.

In September 2006, the SEC rejected the appeal lodged by BHC, which again appealed against that ruling on the basis of technical irregularities.

On September 16, 2006, in spite of the new appeal, the Ministry of Justice applied to the Supreme Court to allow the continuation of the dissolution proceedings.

On November 1, 2006, the Minsk Economic Court made an order in the first case requiring the confiscation of a part of BHC's assets, which were estimated at 255,000 roubles (about 95 euros). This amount was to be deducted from the global sum of 160 million roubles in tax arrears and fines. On December 5, 2006, the authorities seized a computer, a printer and a fax machine from the BHC offices in application of the fine.

On November 28, 2006, the Supreme Court decided to adjourn the hearing on the dissolution of BHC until 2007. No further information was provided as to a precise date of hearing.

Harassment and legal proceedings against Ms. Tatsiana Protsko

On March 17, 2004, proceedings for "tax evasion" (Article 243-2 of the Criminal Code) were launched against Ms. Tatsiana Protsko, BHC president, and Ms. Tatsiana Rutkevitch, BHC chief accountant, in relation to the organisation's alleged failure to pay taxes amounting to 70,000 euros. Those proceedings were dropped in 2005 for lack of evidence in the constitutive elements of the offence.

On March 1, 2006, the proceedings were reopened against Ms. Tatsiana Protsko. However, it was closed again on March 28, 2006, on the decision of the Government Committee of the Department of Financial Investigations to drop the criminal charges.

In addition, Ms. Protsko was arrested and searched at Minsk airport on May 12, 2006, as she was on her way to Berlin (Germany), where the Green Party had invited her to present a report on the human rights situation in Belarus. A copy of that report, a videotape on the presidential elections and other documents on the human rights situation in Belarus were seized and her authorization to leave the country was confiscated. She was thus unable to travel to Germany.

Arbitrary detention of Ms. Ekaterina Sadovskaya11

On July 25, 2006, Ms. Ekaterina Sadovskaya, president of the regional human rights movement Vetché in Pskov, was arrested and placed in a psychiatric hospital. Following a medical examination, she was deemed legally sane and was transferred to Minsk Prison No. 1.

On October 23, 2006, Ms. Sadovskaya was convicted and sentenced by the Leninski District Court to two years' imprisonment for "insulting the person of the President" (Article 368-2 of the Criminal Code). She was also ordered to pay four million roubles (about 1,500 euros) in damages to the judges of the Kirov Court in the Mogilyov region for "threats and contempt of court" (Articles 389 and 391 of the Criminal Code).

The first set of charges referred to a draft letter dated January 21, 2006 that was found during a search at her home, in which Ms. Sadovskaya requested an independent psychiatric assessment of the Belarusian President's health. The second set of charges related to a claim by the judges of the Kirovksi District Court in the Mogilyov region that they had received threatening letters from Ms. Sadovskaya. However, experts were unable to give conclusive evidence that the letters had been printed from her computer.

On December 22, 2006, the verdict was confirmed on appeal by the Minsk Court. Ms. Sadovskaya was still detained at the Gomel prison as of the end of 2006.

Harassment of Mr. Oleg Voltchek12

On August 20, 2006, Mr. Oleg Voltchek, former president of the human rights organisation Legal Assistance to the Population and legal advisor to Mr. Alexandre Kozulin, an opposition candidate in the 2006 presidential elections who was sentenced to five years and a half in prison, was held at the border between Belarus and Poland. He was on his way to the Netherlands to meet with representatives of the Dutch government and civil society to discuss the situation of human rights and political prisoners in Belarus. A book on the inquiry into the disappearance of Mr. Yuri Zakharenko, former Minister for Home Affairs, in May 1999, and three copies of a book entitled The 2006 Presidential Elections in Belarus: Facts and Commentaries were confiscated.

On October 17, 2006, Mr. Voltchek was sentenced by the Oktriabrski District Court in Grodno to a 1,550,000 roubles fine (about 575 euros) for "violating the rules of the economic policy on the transport of goods at borders" (Article 193-5 of the Code of Administrative Offences). This decision was based on a conclusion reached by the head of the KGB, who claimed that the books seized represented "a threat to the country's interests". In November and December 2006, the Grodno Regional Court and the Prokuratura both rejected Mr. Voltchek's appeal against his conviction.

On September 2, 2006, Mr. Voltcheck was again held at the border between Belarus and Poland while on his way to meet with journalists in Germany. Two copies of the aforementioned book were again seized. Mr. Voltcheck was charged on the basis of Article 193-5 of the Code of Administrative Offences and was found guilty by the Oktiabrski District Court in Minsk on December 7, 2006. However, no sentence was imposed as the charges had lapsed under the statute of limitations. On December 18, 2006, Mr. Voltcheck appealed against his conviction and against the court order prohibiting the book that had been seized by the authorities.

[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.]

7. See Urgent Appeal BLR 001/0806/OBS 100.

8. See Annual Report 2005.

9. Freedom Day celebrates the anniversary of the independence of the Belarusian People's Republic which was proclaimed on March 25, 1918.

10. See Annual Report 2005 and BHC.

11. SeeViasna.

12. Idem.


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