Journalists, Political Prisoners and Rights Activists under Pressure - Digest of Belarusian Politics
Belarusian authorities failed to release political prisoners despite some submitting pardon petitions to Lukashenka. In the past, Alexander Lukashenka has hinted that as soon as he received a pardon request from them they would be released. The authorities also intensified the propaganda campaign against independent journalists and protestants, expelled several students from a Minsk-based university and continued to create obstacles for human rights organisations and activists.
Three European Belarus Activists Expelled. Activists of the European Belarus civic campaign Alexander Soldatenko, Alexander Velitchenko and Nikita Kovalenko have been expelled from the Minsk State Linguistic University. Earlier, all three youngsters were arrested and sentenced to between 7 and 15 days imprisonment for participating in the October 2011 solidarity actions with political prisoners.
Detention of Protestants. Late in the evening of 8 February, special operations forces detained 32 people in the Ian the Baptist Protestant church and then released them from the Maskouski District Police Department of Minsk. Among them there were three persons under the age of 18.
Belarusian Association of Journalists Condemns TV Report as False. The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) has condemned as false a report aired by the state TV channel Belarus One on 5 February. The report accused the organization of receiving funding from the British embassy in Minsk and failing to register the money with the presidential administration's property management department in a violation of its rules.
Court Sentences Nasha Niva to Pay Damages to Former ONT TV Journalist. On 10 February the Oktyabrskiy district court of Minsk ordered the Nasha Niva newspaper to pay BYR 5m in reputation damages to former journalist of the state-run ONT TV channel Denis Sukhovarov. The court, which rejected similar claims against Belapan, found that Nasha Niva violated the law when it called Sukhovarov a ‘"fraud artist" in one of its publications, before a court verdict against the journalist entered into force. Sukhovarov was earlier found guilty of fraud by a lower court, but was cleared on appeal.
Bandarenka Applies for Pardon. Dzmitry Bandarenka has applied to Alexander Lukashenka for a pardon. According to the wife of the imprisoned opposition politician, her husband told her over the phone that he wrote the pardon application on 1 February 2012.
Sannikov Asks Lukashenka for Clemency. Ex-presidential candidate in the 2010 election Andrei Sannikov filed a petition for pardon to the president. According to the wife of the politician, Iryna Khalip, he took such a step "as a result of torture."
Authorities Continue Force-feeding Jailed Opposition Activist Kavalenka. Authorities continue to force-feed Kavalenka, the wife of the Vitsyebsk-based jailed opposition activist revealed. On 19 December 2011,Kavalenka was arrested at home on a charge of violating probation rules four times and placed in the detention center in Vitsyebsk. He went on hunger strike in protest against the possible revocation of the suspension of his prison sentence. On 16 January, the jail administration began force-feeding him through a tube.
Viasna's Statement: The human rights center Viasna, recognizing the existence of political prisoners in Belarus, published a list of 12 persons. In their statement on 25 January Viasna strongly condemned the use of torture, intimidation, blackmail and other intolerable kinds of harassment against prisoners of conscience. The defenders expressed their concern about the recent report by Iryna Khalip, the wife of former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, saying that the prisoner’s life is at risk due to the reported use of torture and inhuman treatment against him. According to Viasna, three persons convicted for the arson of the Bobruisk KGB building, are subjected to unfair charges and have had excessively heavy penalties imposed upon them.
Human Rights Activists
Aleh Volchak Sentenced to Four Days in Jail. The human rights activist Aleh Volchak was detained on 27 January in Minsk. He was charged with using obscene language in public and spent the weekend in custody in the detention center. On 30 January, the judge sentenced Volchak to four days of arrest. His passport was stolen under mysterious circumstances and the authorities have refused to issue him a new passport, thus preventing him from travelling abroad.
Verdict on Ales Byalyatski Unchanged. On 24 January, Minsk City Court considered the appeal of human rights defender Ales Byalyatski, sentenced to four and a half years in prison. The verdict remains unchanged. The same day, a number of organisations, members and partners of Human Rights House Network called upon the Belarusian authorities to immediately release and drop all charges against Ales Byalyatski, to completely rehabilitate him and to ensure unimpeded activity in the human rights area. The human rights centre Viasna has declared that it will continue its activities on a regular basis in the office it has occupied unless the premises are seized.
Mogilev Human Rights Centre May Stop Working. The reason is financial conditions set by the local authorities. According to Uladzimir Krauchanka, the director of the human rights centre, the authorities want the centre to move to a large office with higher rental fees.
Senior EU Official Holding Talks in Minsk. On 8 February Gunnar Wiegand, a senior official of the European Union’s European External Action Service, arrived in Belarus to "establish a European dialogue on modernization with representatives of civil society and the political opposition." Mr. Wiegand met with Belarusian opposition politicians and human rights defenders in Minsk on 9 February. He was also received by Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov.
OSCE Chief Calls for Reinstatement of Presence in Belarus. The new Irish head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe is calling for the reinstatement of an OSCE presence in Belarus, where he says the “continuing erosion of human rights” is cause for concern.
Minsk City Executive Committee Ready to Support Joint Projects with Germany. On the first day of the Conference on Prospects of Social Partnership, held in Minsk, Deputy Mayor of Minsk announced that the city is ready to support, including financially, projects under the sixth phase of the German-Belarusian social partnership program titled Overcoming Borders. During the fifth phase of the program, a total of 42 projects implemented by non-governmental and governmental organizations were supported across Belarus.
Leader of BRSM Participates in CoE Seminar in Strasbourg. On 8 February Igor Buzovskiy, First Secretary of the largest Belarusian pro-government youth organisation BRSM, took part in a seminar for young parliamentarians held simultaneously with PACE in Strasbourg.
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.