Freedom Day, Arbitrary Detentions and Travel Bans - Belarus Politics Digest

Freedom Day Rally in Minsk

Although Belarusian authorities permitted and did not interfere with the annual Freedom Day opposition rally in the centre of Minsk, the pressure against opposition activists is increasing. Multiple detentions leading to short-term prison terms are now coupled with restrictions on travelling abroad for pro-democracy activists. The life of political prisoner Siarhey Kavalyou who has been on a long hunger strike is in danger. 

Pro-democratic supporters mark BNR anniversary with demonstration. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people took part in a “Dzen Voli” (Freedom Day) demonstration that was held in Minsk on March 25 to mark 94 years since the proclamation of the 1918 Belarusian National Republic (BNR). No arrests were reported during the demonstration, which had been sanctioned by the Minsk City Executive Committee. According to witnesses, police acted politely.

100 detained in benefit concert over drug suspicion. On March 24, around a hundred people have been reportedly detained during a concert in support of the “Food Not Bombs” international campaign held in Minsk MTZ Palace of Culture that evening. As a result, 9 people were sentenced to administrative arrests for a period of 2 to 3 days, 7 people - to fines. In this regard Belarusian human rights activists, on the initiative of the Legal Transformation Centre, signed an appeal to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Non-political expulsion. A journalist Ales Gorski investigates a case of dismissal of a civil activist Nasta Shuleyka from the Belarusian State University. He cites the words of the former student who agrees with the decision of the administration and claims that she was expelled for very valid reasons - a lot of missing of lectures and the "non-admission" to the exam session. Belarusian and international press extensively wrote that her dismissal was political.

Two more independent journalists warned by prosecutor. BAJ members Alina Radachynskaya and Volha Chaychyts were officially summoned to the prosecutor’s office of Minsk on the morning of March 28. The journalists are accused of collaboration with “Belsat” TV-channel and warn against work for independent mass media in Belarus without accreditation. In 2012 already 8 warnings have been issued to independent journalists. 

Ivashkevich warned for sanctions call. Belarusian opposition politician Viktar Ivashkevich has been warned against the actions that may be aimed at “undermining the state sovereignty”. The warning to the politician was issued in the Prosecutor General's Office on March 27.

Political prisoners

Hunger strike caused irreversible damage to Kavalenka's health? Referring to Syarhey Kavalenka's lawyer, who met with the client on March 29, the activist's wife has sounded an alarm over the rapidly deteriorating health of the imprisoned opposition activist, saying that his lengthy hunger strike has already caused "irreversible" damage to his internal organs.

"Young Front" members sentenced to long terms of arrest. On March 11, "Young Front" activists were tried at the Leninski District Court of Minsk. Dzmitry Kramianetski, Mikhail Muski, Uladzimir Yaromenka and Raman Vasiljieu were given 15 days of administrative arrest, though they had already spent three days in a detention centre. So, each of them was given 18 days of arrest. The activists were tried for an action near the MFA headquarters. Anonymous people threw toilet paper at the building to show their protest against the agency's pro-Russian policies and expelling foreign diplomats from Belarus.

Syarhey Kavalenka set to continue his hunger strike until he is released. The wife of Syarhey Kavelenka has filed a fresh appeal with the Prosecutor General’s Office, asking it to replace the opposition activist’s prison term with a non-custodial sentence. Alena Kavalenka submitted the appeal after meeting with her husband at Detention Centre No.1 in Minsk on March 12. According to the wife, Syarhey Kavelenka is set to continue the hunger strike.

Travel Ban

Three key opposition politicians sentenced to fines. Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civil Party; Syarhey Kalyakin, leader of the "Spravedlivy Mir (Just World) and Alyaksandr Atroshchankaw, a member of European Belarus, who were arrested and taken off a Moscow-bound train by police early on March 28 were sentenced to fines on March 29. They had planned to travel from Moscow to Brussels for meetings with European Commission representatives before they were arrested in Orsha on their way to the Russian capital.

Lukashenka promises to maximally expand travel-banned listAlexander Lukashenka has declared that the country has a list of the travel banned opposition activists, which is not operating to its maximum though. Lukashenka added that it was decided to prevent the opposition of Belarus from leaving the country because they had contributed to the introduction of sanctions by Western countries against the official Minsk.

Currently there are evidence about nearly a dozen Belarusian opposition politicians, civil society activists and independent journalists have been denied permission to cross the Belarusian border, including former parliament speaker Stanislav Shushkevich, the United Civic Party Chairman Anatol Lebedka, BAJ Chairwoman Zhanna Litvina, Belarusian Helsinki Committee Chairman Aleh Hulak and others.

Travel ban for civil society activists. Starting from the early March, nearly a dozen (so far confirmed) Belarusian opposition politicians, civil society activists and independent journalists have been denied permission to cross the Belarusian border without being given an explanation. Among them there are human rights defender Valentin Stefanovich, Platforma Chairman Andrei Bandarenka, Nasha Niva Editor-in-Chief Andrey Dynko, and over then other people.Although authorities deny the existence of a no-exit blacklist, activists say the exit denials appear to be a response to the EU's sanctions against individuals in the regime of Lukashenka.

Former director of IBB Astrid Sahm denied entry to Belarus. On March 18, the former German director of the IBB “Johannes Rau” in Minsk, Astrid Sahm was not allowed to enter Belarus. Sahm had a Belarusian visa and flew to Minsk on the affairs of the charity NGO "Hope". Rainer Lindner, Head of the German-Belarus Society condemned in the denial in a public statement.

International

Fule launches dialogue with Belarusian society. On March 29, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Fule launched the European Dialogue on Modernisation with Belarusian society at a meeting in Brussels with representatives of Belarusian civil society and political opposition. This follows the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council last week welcoming the idea of launching such a dialogue with the Belarusian society.

European Parliament adopted resolution on Belarus. On March 29, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Belarus at the meeting in Brussels. The full document is published on the site of the European Parliament (see part 2, pp.28-32). The resolution condemns "the deteriorating situation as regards human rights and fundamental freedoms, combined with the lack of deep democratic and economic reforms in Belarus, and will continue to oppose the repression of the regime’s opponents."

Estonia allocated €100 thousand to Belarusian civil society. The Estonian Foreign Ministry has allocated €100 thousand to support civil society in Belarus. According to ambassador of Estonia to Belarus Jaak Lensment, this amount is pretty small, but can do many useful things when used properly.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.

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