Parliamentary elections scheduled for November 17

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English 2019 2019-08-06T11:16:44+0300 2019-08-06T11:16:44+0300 2019-08-06T11:16:45+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Lidziya Yarmoshyna, head of the Central Election Commission. Photo:

President Aliaksandr Lukashenka has signed a decree to officially announce the elections to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly. The vote will take place on November 17, according to the presidential press-service.
The decree also set the date for the elections to the Council of the Republic, the upper chamber of the Belarusian bicameral parliament. The vote will be held on November 7.
The lower chamber consists of 110 deputies elected to four-year terms under a majoritarian system.
Earlier, President Lukashenka suggested that the elections be organized on November 7. Lidziya Yarmoshyna, head of the Central Election Commission, in turn, disagreed, saying that November 17 was the best option.
She also said that the presidential election would most likely be held on August 30, 2020.


Human Rights Situation in Belarus: July 2019

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny continued to serve his sentence in prison;
on July 6, the Brest Regional Court rejected the appeal of a well-known blogger from Brest, Siarhei Piatrukhin, against an earlier verdict finding him guilty of defaming police officers. Thus, the sentence entered into force;
on July 9, the authorities reported that they ceased criminal prosecution against another Brest blogger, Aliaksandr Kabanau. The country’s human rights community linked the persecution of bloggers Piatrukhin and Kabanau to their active public activities in the region, including the coverage of protests related to the construction of a battery plant in Brest;
during the month, cases of harassment of journalists collaborating with foreign media without accreditation were documented, as well as cases of administrative prosecution of participants in peaceful assemblies;
the practice of unlawful application of anti-extremist legislation continued, which constituted unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression;
on July 18, Art. 193-1 of the Criminal Code (illegal organization of the activities of a public association, religious organization or foundation, or participation in their activities) was officially revoked. At the same time, Art. 23.88 of the Administrative Code was introduced, which provides for administrative liability in the form of a fine for carrying out activities on behalf of unregistered organizations;
on July 30, the Viciebsk Regional Court pronounced another death sentence against Viktar Paulau;
on July 2, at the 41st regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur for Belarus Anaïs Marin presented her first report on the situation of human rights in the country, and on July 12, a vote took place on the resolution “Situation in the field of human rights in Belarus”. As a result, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Belarus was extended for another year;
in general, the human rights situation remained unsatisfactory, without any tangible changes, while in July, as before, there were no cases of administrative imprisonment for political reasons, which generally continues the general trend of the first half of this year.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
On July 6, the Brest Regional Court upheld the decision of the Lieninski District Court and turned down an appeal by local blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin. The verdict, therefore, entered into force. Piatrukhin has a month to pay almost 17 thousand rubles.
On April 18, the Lieninski District Court found Siarhei Piatrukhin guilty of public defamation and insulting police officers and sentenced him to a fine of 9,180 rubles. In addition, the blogger was ordered to compensate moral damage to the injured police officers (a total of 7,500 rubles) and the costs of a lawyer.
On July 9, it became known that the Biaroza district department of the Investigative Committee closed the criminal case against another critical blogger Aliaksandr Kabanau. He was suspected of misappropriation and embezzlement of more than 400 rubles (part 1 of Article 211 of the Criminal Code), which he received from the residents of the house in which he lives.
Kabanau, along with Piatrukhin, has been repeatedly brought to administrative responsibility. They were fined for posting videos on their co-run YouTube channel “People’s Reporter”, in which they cover the situation around the construction of a battery factory near Brest, and for campaigning for the resignation of the city’s top officials, which the police and the court viewed as unauthorized protests, etc.
Political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, who is serving his sentence in penal colony No. 9 in Horki, spent almost the entire summer in a punishment cell. As the human rights defenders learned in July, during June and July, several penalties were imposed on the prisoner, including a total of 30 days in solitary confinement: on June 10, June 30 and July 10.
During his stay in the penal facility, the political prisoner has been repeatedly subjected to severe penalties, including confinement to so-called “cell-type premises” and the punishment cell. Over the past two years, he has spent more than 400 days in extreme conditions. His age, isolation from people, the inability to be in the fresh air, poor nutrition — all this causes concern for the health and life of the political prisoner.
The death penalty
On July 30, the Viciebsk Regional Court pronounced another death sentence to Viktar Paulau, who was charged under Part 2 of Art. 139 of the Criminal Code (murder).
The preliminary investigation charged Paulau with robbery (Part 3 of article 207 of the Criminal Code), but the prosecutor suggested that the actions be requalified under Part 2 of Article 205 of the Criminal Code (theft).
The murder was committed on December 30, 2018 in the village of Prysušyna near Viciebsk. Viktar Paulau, 50, came to the house of two elderly sisters and severely beat them. He also stole money and several bottles of wine. A few days later, the bodies of women were found in the house.
The prosecutor argued that Paulau’s guilt was proven. His actions were qualified by the prosecution as “particularly dangerous recidivism”.
Given all the circumstances of the case, the prosecutor requested that an exceptional measure of punishment be applied to the defendant – execution by shooting (Part 2 of Article 149 of the Criminal Code).
Meanwhile, the Belarusian government was harshly criticized by UN officials for failure to fully comply with international human rights obligations.
The Republic of Belarus should suspend the execution of death sentences against individuals who have filed complaints with the UN Human Rights Committee, UN human rights experts said on July 1 after receiving information about the execution of Aliaksandr Zhylnikau, whose case was being considered by the Committee.
The Human Rights Committee, together with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, sharply condemned Belarus for its continued use of the death penalty in connection with media reports alleging that Zhylnikau was executed despite the Committee’s request to stay the execution. Until today, Belarus has ignored all the Committee’s requests regarding the suspension of the execution of sentences against persons whose cases were before the Committee. The Committee’s procedure known as interim measures aims to stop the state from taking any action that would have irreparable consequences. Disregard of this procedure is a violation by the Republic of Belarus of its obligations under article 1 of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it acceded in 1992.
Freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion and expression
In July, Viasna’s human rights activists summarized information on documented cases of arbitrary detentions, administrative charges and other incidents related, among other things, to the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression.
A court of the Kastryčnicki district of Hrodna fined local historian Mechyslau Supron 127.5 rubles for displaying a banner with the inscription “The Neman is poisoned by housing and communal services” on a bridge in the city center on June 18.
On July 15, the court of the Minsk region examined the cases of Ryhor Asaula and Dzianis Urbanovich who were detained while protesting outside the controversial restaurant “Poedem, poedim” on July 13 and 14. The activists were fined 20 and 30 base units, respectively.
There was an ongoing confrontation between the authorities and opponents of the construction of an environmentally hazardous factory in Brest: protesters continued to arrange weekly meetings, while police officers continued to detain the most active demonstrators and charge them with committing administrative offenses.
The authorities continued to apply anti-extremist legislation with the aim of unlawfully restricting freedom of opinion and expression.
The court of the Centraĺny District of Homieĺ fined Aliaksandr Ivanou 127.5 rubles for allegedly distributing extremist content. Back in 2017, the man posted on his Facebook page an article containing the emblem of Nazi Germany, which was not done for the purpose of propagating Nazi ideology.
The Minsk City Court refused to consider an appeal against the ruling by an anarchist activist Mikalai Dziadok. According to the judge, Dziadok was not involved in the case and his rights and legitimate interests were not affected by the decision appealed. At the same time, the activist was repeatedly fined administratively for posting this particular inscription on social networks.
Cruel treatment
Almost three years have passed since the day when riot police burst into Dzmitry Serada’s apartment. The property in the apartment was damaged, special equipment and physical force were used against Serada, and injuries were caused. There was no investigation into the incident, as decisions were issued to refuse to open a criminal case, which were later canceled several times due to the unsatisfactory probes. The Partyzanski District Court in Minsk found a violation of the law and quashed the last of the decisions. The authorities of the Ministry of the Interior refused to compensate for the damage caused to the property and formally apologize to Dzmitry Serada and his family.
On March 25, 2017, a minor, Yana Yatsynovich, was detained by riot police during Freedom Day protests in Minsk. The girl claims that she was grabbed by the hair and dragged into a bus, where a law enforcement officer inflicted several severe blows on her neck. A week later, Yana’s health deteriorated: nausea, vomiting, frequent bouts of epilepsy. During the following year, she underwent several examinations and was periodically treated in various health care facilities. Yana’s parents filed a statement about bodily harm by internal affairs officers, demanding that the perpetrators be found and punished. As a result, the Investigative Committee said there were no cause-and-effect relationships between the girl’s disease, epilepsy, and the blows to the back of her head. In July of this year, new evidence of the guilt of Interior Ministry officials appeared.
The Human Rights Center “Viasna” received information about the ill-treatment of prisoners in penal colony No. 22 in Ivacevičy: they are denied medical assistance and unreasonably punished in a disciplinary manner. Such treatment of prisoners was one of the reasons for the protest organized in the prison in November 2018, the consequences of which — the transfer of several dozen prisoners to maximum-security prisons (the most severe of the possible regimes for serving sentences) — only became known recently.
Persecution of journalists
Back on May 31, Raman Karaban, a judge of the Maskoŭski District Court of Brest, sentenced independent journalists Ales Liauchuk and Milana Kharytonava to fines of a total of 2,040 rubles, Belsat TV said. The reason for this fine was their coverage of a protest against the construction of a battery factory, which took place on April 7. The journalists, however, were only notified of the court rulings several months later.


EU, CoE condemn new death sentence in Belarus

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English 2019 2019-07-31T11:43:57+0300 2019-07-31T11:43:57+0300 2019-07-31T11:44:59+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

The European Union and the Council of Europe have condemned the death sentence pronounced yesterday in Viciebsk.
On July 30, the Viciebsk Regional Court sentenced to death Viktar Paulau after finding him guilty of double murder.

“Commuting the remaining death sentences and introducing a moratorium on the death penalty would be a positive first step towards its abolition,” Maja Kocijančič, Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, said in a statement.

The EU added that “tangible steps taken by Belarus to respect universal human rights, including on the death penalty, remain key for shaping the EU’s future policy towards Belarus”.
The verdict was also condemned by Daniel Holtgen, Council of Europe’s Spokesperson.

“Death is not justice. We reiterate our call on the authorities to impose a moratorium on the application of the death penalty as the first step towards its abolition,” he said on Twitter.


New death sentence pronounced in Viciebsk

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English 2019 2019-07-30T15:59:08+0300 2019-07-30T15:59:08+0300 2019-07-30T15:59:09+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Viktar Paulau. Credit: Investigative Committee of Belarus

The Viciebsk Regional Court has sentenced Viktar Paulau, 50, to death finding him guilty of a double murder committed in December 2018.
Paulau was convicted of killing two elderly women in a village near Viciebsk.
The defendant’s counsel, in turn, argued that the women were murdered as a result of a conflict provoked by one of the victims, who allegedly verbally attacked the man. The lawyer also stressed that his client turned himself in and confessed to the crime.
In his final statement, the defendant said that he was sorry for what he had done.
The verdict is this year’s second death sentence in Belarus. In January, Aliaksandr Asipovich was sentenced to death in Babrujsk.


Are there alternatives to freedom of peaceful assembly in Belarus?

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

People who participate in a peaceful assembly usually expect a certain reaction from the authorities. However, the situation with the freedom of peaceful assembly in Belarus is far from being perfect: people who come out to streets to raise their concerns publicly are often arrested and fined.
Natallia Hurko, a volunteer of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, has analyzed what other legal methods of influence on the government and its decisions can be used by civil society to protect their rights and express their interests.
First of all, citizens nominate their representatives to the authorities through elections. And, ideally, these representatives should embody the interests of the people and focus on the needs and values ​​of society. However, since 1996, the elections in Belarus have not been recognized as free and democratic, and as long as there are no fair elections in Belarus, one can forget about this method as a way to influence the authorities.
Active citizens can only prove themselves as part of independent observation of the elections. In Belarus, such observation is carried out by the observation missions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, as well as the political campaign “The Right of Choice”. 
Another alternative is a referendum. In independent Belarus, all past referendums were initiated by the President.
But the people also have the right to initiate a referendum. So why do not Belarusians want to use this right and bring some urgent issues to the national discussion? For example, the establishment of a moratorium on the death penalty or its complete abolition.
Apparently, because the referendum procedure itself is rather complicated, and its initiators may face various obstacles in the process. For example, all expenditures of holding a referendum must be covered from the initiators’ fund, which is formed from voluntary donations of citizens of Belarus and legal entities. Interestingly, the legislators even here managed to establish their control and determine the maximum amount of contributions, as well as the maximum amount of all expenses from the fund. It is unclear for what purpose these restrictions were introduced, except to prevent the initiative group from raising funds and disposing of them. And the referendum itself is not a cheap procedure.
Moreover, the Central Commission for Elections and National Referenda exercises total control over the actions of the initiators and can, at almost any moment, padlock the business.”
But that’s not all! Even if the initiators go through all the stages: from registration of the initiative group to collecting at least 450 thousand signatures of citizens, the President has the right to reject the proposal to hold a referendum.
National and local meetings
Another right guaranteed by the Constitution is the right of citizens to participate in the discussion of state and social life at nation-wide and local meetings.
Every five years the President initiates the Belarusian People’s Congress. It has been widely criticized. The assembly itself is reproduced according to the old Soviet model of congresses. None of the main indicators of the program of the previous five-year plan, which was adopted at the congress, has been fulfilled. In addition, meetings are usually held before the presidential election, and it creates some kind of election campaign for the President.
Generally, the congress is attended by a certain circle of people who share the views of the President, while dissident citizens, including independent journalists, are not welcome.
It seems that the nation-wide meeting is a kind of a good show for Belarusian citizens and the international community.
As for local meetings, an expert in the field of self-government Miroslav Kobasa in his analytical work “Local Self-Government in Belarus – How to Turn a Myth into a Reality” highlights the following problems that stop people from organizing local meetings: a large number of required signatures; the duty of initiators to finance all the costs by themselves;
organizational issues for which the permission of state bodies is necessary.
Discussion of draft laws
Not many people know that participation in public discussions of draft laws is possible at the Legal Forum of Belarus. Activity on this forum is very low. On some projects, there are no discussions at all.
There are draft laws that might be of interest to ordinary citizens, but there are others that can attract professionals and independent specialists, as well as people who are interested and not indifferent to the topic being raised.
In addition, ministries post drafts of legal acts on their websites for discussion. Such a possibility exists, for example, on the website of the Ministry of Taxation and Internal Revenue, as well as on the website of the Ministry of Economy. However, such discussions can not be called public, since citizens should send suggestions and comments via the email indicated on the website. Consequently, those interested cannot openly get to know each other’s opinions.
Civil Legislative Initiative
In Belarus, there is also a civil legislative initiative (CLI), but to date, not a single adopted law has been initiated by citizens.
Why? The CLI procedure is very similar to the referendum procedure: it is complex and has certain obstacles in the face of excessive control from the Central Commission for Elections and National Referenda. The initiators, as in the case of the referendum, may encounter difficulties and resistance from the authorities at every stage of the procedure. For example, in 2012, CLI on changes in the electoral legislation failed at the stage of registration of the initiative group, which was headed by ex-presidential candidate Dzmitry Us. According to the authorities, violations were found in the organization of the group itself, but Us in an interview for stated that “the authorities deliberately prevent citizens from exercising the right of legislative initiative because they are not interested in democratic changes in the electoral legislation.” The politician also noted that in Minsk “the KGB was targeting the group: pressure was exerted on the members of the group, they were required to write a statement about non-participation in the group’s meetings”.
Petitions or collective appeals of citizens to government bodies, in contrast to the methods listed above, are increasingly gaining popularity in contemporary Belarusian society. When in the case of a referendum and a civil legislative initiative, the stage of collecting signatures may not be reached, and the actions of the initiators may not attract wide attention of the public and government agencies, by contrast in the case of a petition everything is much simpler. It is necessary to prepare the text of the petition, to collect signatures under it and to send it to the appropriate state body. There is a higher chance that the authorities will pay attention to the existing problem and concerns of people on some specific issues.
The most popular and convenient form of petitions is electronic. In an interview for the website, an expert at the Human Constanta laboratory of digital freedoms Andrei Sushko notes that in Belarus the most commonly used platforms for creating petitions and collecting signatures are, and
Although is popular in Belarus, appeals sent from it do not fully comply with the legislation, and, accordingly, the authorities are not obliged to consider them. In particular, the petition on the introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty in Belarus, posted on this resource, collected 113,652 signatures, but did not bring any changes, except for drawing the attention of the public and media to the existing problem.
Both Belarusian websites and fully comply with legal requirements. Co-founder and lawyer of the platform, Uladzimir Makhnach, believes that one of the great examples of the website activity is the petition for the introduction of criminal liability for cruel treatment of animals, as a result of which the Criminal Code was supplemented with a relevant article.
The creator of the site Uladzimir Kavalkin argues that the most unsuccessful petitions are politicized problems, while cases related to the improvement of a yard, a street, a city, changes in road markings and repair of roads are more successful.
As we can see, besides freedom of peaceful assembly, there are other ways for citizens to interact with the authorities. However, the existing restrictions are not the only reason for the weak enforcement, or the complete lack of enforcement of the rights by citizens. Another reason is the low activity of Belarusians in political processes and the disorganization of the opposition.
At the same time, for real changes, public pressure on authorities should be brought as widely as possible, using various ways of influence in combination with the involvement of the media and using the Internet. An excellent example of civic activism and expression of public opinion through various methods at the same time (such as peaceful protests, petitions, public hearings, media coverage and social media) is the fight against the decree on parasitism, which gained power in 2017. Thanks to the joint efforts of concerned Belarusians, in January 2018 the legislative act was first suspended and then canceled. But after that, a new version of the decree was adopted, where the list of persons falling under the category of “parasites” was significantly reduced. Although the problem was not fully resolved, it is important to note the fact that the authorities reacted and people managed to make positive changes.
Thus, widespread public pressure using several methods of influencing power at once can positively reflect on a situation that causes public frustration.


UN Human Rights Council renews mandate of Special Rapporteur on Belarus

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

The United Nations Human Rights Council has voted in favor of a resolution to extend for a period of one year the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus.
The resolution has been supported by 20 members of the Council, with 6 votes against and 21 abstentions.
The draft was submitted by the EU delegation to stress “continued lack of cooperation by the Government of Belarus with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, who provides an important source of information and independent expertise on the human rights situation in Belarus.”
The document expresses “continued concern at the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Belarus, especially the undue restrictions and prohibitively burdensome processes relating to the exercise of freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression.”
It also deplores allegations of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment by law enforcement and prison officers, which are not properly investigated by the authorities; lack of response by the Government of Belarus to cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of political and social activists; and absence of full independence and impartiality of the judiciary.
The Human Rights Council urges Belarus to implement without delay the comprehensive reform of the electoral legal framework; to establish a national human rights institution; and to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur, including by allowing her access to visit the country.
The resolution separately notes the “continued attention paid by the Special Rapporteur to the issue of the death penalty in Belarus, and in particular expresses deep concern at its use without guarantee of due process and at the limited amount of relevant information with regard to its use.”
The resolution is based on a report prepared by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. The mandate is currently held by Ms. Anaïs Marin.
The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus was established by the Human Rights Council following a wave of mass arrests and repression by law enforcement agencies in response to the events that occurred after the December 2010 presidential election.
The official Minsk does not recognize the mandate and encourages the UN Human Rights Council to abolish it, pointing to his “unfair and politicized nature.”


Andrei Paluda: Abolition of the death penalty is what every Belarusian needs

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

Belarus is the only country in Europe and among post-Soviet states that stills executes people. The people here are killed by shooting in the back of the head. Despite the widely recognized fact that the death penalty does not work as a deterrent and is an apparent vestige of the Middle Ages, the conveyor of death continues to operate, while the veil of secrecy and the inhuman treatment to the families of death row prisoners are reminiscent of the Stalin-era repression.
This year, human rights activist Andrei Paluda will mark 10 years since he took over the campaign against the death penalty in Belarus. A former police officer, now he and his associates are working hard to make people talk about the uneasy topic and to encourage the authorities to introduce a moratorium on the barbaric punishment.
Belarusian Partisan interviewed the activist working with the Human Rights Center “Viasna” to try to find an answer to the question of why the abolition of the death penalty is necessary to every Belarusian.

“I can still remember the feeling of freedom in the air. It’s been with me since then”
– Andrei, you used to be a police officer, a graduate of the Police Academy. Did it affect you in some way, your character or attitude?
– In any job, a person faces professional deformation, it is natural. For example, I can see it well in my mother, who worked for several decades as a school teacher, and she still talks with my younger brother, who is in his late 30s, as if he’s her student. In a way, work with the police also influenced me as I often use the knowledge and experience in my human rights activities. This allows a certain degree of understanding of police officers, because I was once in the system, and it helps me be not so judgemental. I will never say “They are all the same,” and it is not only about the police. People are all different.
– How did you come to quit the police and become a human rights defender?
– There was a time when I experienced a personal evolution. I used to be a person who had no issue with the death penalty and considered it to be normal. And today I am coordinating the campaign against the death penalty. If you go to a place where you get legal knowledge with an accusatory approach, it is extremely difficult to favor other values. I came to these beliefs through national and patriotic values, ​​through the Belarusian language and culture.
The time had its effect, too. Back in 1993, I left high school and immediately went to the Police Academy. Those were the “dashing 90s”. Everything seemed so different. I was so boyish, it seemed to me that work with the police was one of the good ways to help establish justice. It was a conscious choice, in so far as one can say that about a 17-year-old.
An important fact was that I had time to make a few sips of the short-lived freedom. I can still remember the feeling of freedom in the air. It’s been with me since then. Working with the police, I had to deal with the people from the opposition. And today I am grateful to these people for finding them, for sharing the same views, values ​​and interests. It all began with a joint celebration of Kupala Night, we listened to folk music, went to concerts. I remember the day after one such concert in Mahilioŭ I took singer Viktar Shalkevich in a police car to the highway, and there I was standing in my police uniform hitchhiking so that he could go to Minsk.
But times were changing. And approaches, too. And I found it increasingly hard to work in the police. At some point, it became totally inconsistent with my beliefs. They threatened to fire me if I didn’t stop my contacts with the BPF and the opposition. And when I myself decided to quit, they didn’t want to let me go. Apparently, they did it to control me. I wrote a resignation report days before promoting to major. But it no longer had any value to me.
I was engaged in activism within the patriotic youth movement Zubr. We helped people appeal illegal convictions, prepared parcels when they were in detention. I myself was arrested. But I was increasingly drifting towards human rights activities. I felt it resonated with me. At the same time, I realized that I lacked knowledge.
I applied for a human rights course at the Helsinki Foundation in Warsaw. And I am very grateful that I was admitted, because the course has only been completed by 15 people from Belarus. And all of them are now well-known people in the human rights sector. There, I underwent a certain evolution in terms of human rights, and a certain revolution, too. But it helped me make sense of it all.
In 2007, I started working with the Human Rights Center “Viasna”. We launched our human rights schools. Since then, I have been doing education in the field of human rights. In 2010, I took over the campaign against the death penalty.

At a concert “Rock for Life” dedicated to the World Day against the Death Penalty, 2018
“We do not aim to protect the killer. We protect the human being”
– It is believed that the issue of the death penalty is the most difficult topic in the field of human rights. Why is that so?
– The problem of the death penalty is very complex. In my opinion, it is complicated because you know these people are criminals and you cannot change them so that they could integrate into society. There is an understanding that these people committed a crime, they are not angels, but you should still treat them with a human rights-based approach.
We know many cases when the penitentiary system staff changed their attitude to a person after he was sent to death. And although the person can live for up to 18 months, he is already perceived as a waste of space, because they believe that the man is done, he is dead.
In a situation when a person’s fate is fixed, we will still try to help them protect their rights. There are also difficulties in working with the prisoners’ families.
From time to time, we are perceived as the devil’s advocates, but, in fact, we are working to make this world a better place. We do not aim to protect the killer. We protect the human being. In our country, no one cares why these people committed their murders, what went wrong to make this happen. They disclaim responsibility and cut the tumor. This is it. And then a new tumor grows in the same place. And it’s repeated again and again, but no one is trying to understand why this happens and how to fix it.
The topic of torture is also difficult. But the death penalty includes torture, too. It’s inhuman treatment of the families, bans on receiving the bodies and so on.
– Why did you decide to work with the death penalty?
– I did not choose it. Time chose us. I have always had an understanding of the complexity and seriousness of the topic. To a certain extent, my personal landmark was the story of 2005 when several youths were arrested in Bialyničy for the murder of six people, including small children. It was a very difficult case and it could result in death sentences, but it didn’t add up. We were approached by a local activist Barys Vyrvich. He asked to help the defendants’ mothers with writing complaints. This was my first case related to the death penalty. I can’t claim I strongly influenced the case. However, it had a lot of media attention. Then it fell apart in court, and the people charged with murder received short terms, but on completely different charges, like stealing a bike and so on. Last year, the case was reopened and the people are in custody again. We haven’t started working on the case, but we are keeping it in focus.
To some extent, it was a success story: if these people were found guilty, they would have been executed. And just think how many similar cases we have had!

Andrei Paluda with the campaign activist Palina Stsepanenka and journalist Pavel Mazheika. Hrodna, 2018
– In one interview, you said that working with human rights does not require being a lawyer, and sometimes a degree in Law can be a handicap. Why?
– The schools of Law we have are very specific, often very accusatory. This makes you think in stereotypes, use a cliched approach.
Of course, one should know the basics of Law, but it is more important to understand human rights, rather than know them. Many human rights defenders have never studied Law, but they can be role models for us. Marek Nowicki and Andrei Sakharov are both nuclear physicists. But they could talk about complicated things in simple terms. They contributed greatly to the spread of human rights ideas. Ales Bialiatski, the well-known Belarusian human rights activist, is a philologist. But there are many lawyers who became well-known human rights defenders, too. I think it is important how human rights activists are doing their job, helping people and spreading the ideas of ​​human rights.
– You have spent years working with human rights. Do you have any professional deformation as a human rights activist?
– I do. From time to time, I can feel that I am swinging from one extreme to the other. On the other hand, it is a natural process, because human rights is not a profession, but a way of life. Many things and situations are viewed in terms of human rights. And you start being intolerant to injustice. So, I would call it a positive deformation. This is exactly what we call the understanding of human rights.  You do not try to adapt the situation to a legal clause, but proceed from life, instead.

“Belarus is losing a lot of money because of annually killing several people in the name of the state”
– This year, the campaign Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Its main objective is the abolition of the death penalty in Belarus, and the first step towards it is the introduction of a moratorium on executions. It is clear that this question depends on the political will of one person, but human rights activists continue to work in this direction. It seems rather difficult — beating your head against the wall for a decade. To feel the results of your work, is it possible to eat an elephant one bite at a time or find ways to humanize the death penalty? Ensure that the families could receive the bodies, or at least know where the prisoners are buried? Lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the topic?
– In my opinion, it is extremely difficult to humanize the death penalty, which is inherently inhumane. A moratorium will solve all these issues instantly.
As for the results. We already have tangible results. When we started the campaign, the issue was not in the newspapers and nobody cared. Even before the start of the campaign, 30-40 people were executed every year, and no one talked about it. Supermarket tabloids could write about the executions to terrify passengers traveling on commuter trains. But the cases were not properly analyzed, and the issue was far from being mainstream. Today, the topic of the death penalty receives wide media coverage. It causes discussion and debate, and this is one of the achievements of our campaign. Every death sentence is followed by the international community. There are reactions in Belarus, too, as the situation is monitored by the media, both public and private.
In addition, we are working to increase tolerance and reduce aggression in our society: organizing debates, film screenings, festivals and weeks against the death penalty. It is no secret that the death penalty stirs up hatred, as people begin to see everything through the prism of the fact that the state has the right to kill. And so they do not need any limits at all. This is not only about the death penalty. The boundaries of the permissible are expanding. It is also important to see comments under publications on the topic, as people share their pros and cons. And debate can help society become mature. We have our arguments against the death penalty. And people have their arguments for it. That’s where some new arguments are being born. For example, a well-known IT-businessman Viktar Prakapenya said that the existence of the death penalty and human rights concerns (human rights cannot be fundamentally improved unless the death penalty is abolished) greatly affect economic factors, including the rates of Belarusian Eurobonds, which are mostly rated junk. A moratorium on the death penalty would reduce the cost of servicing the national debt of Belarus. As a result, Belarus is losing a lot of money because of annually killing several people in the name of the state.
This is a good answer to the common argument of why taxpayers should pay for the prisoners’ life sentences. And the answer is not invented by us, but was born in society, which is even more valuable to us. We have the state budget of about $ 15 billion. And about one billion dollars is spent on debt service. We pay exorbitant rates to service our external debt (5-6%). Abolition of the death penalty will reduce the cost of government debt. If we abolish the death penalty, we can save $ 200 million, or even more. So, shooting 5 people costs $ 200 million. It looks like bombing them from aircraft, he said.

During the presentation of a comic book about the death penalty. Hrodna, 2018
“You want a deterrent? So let’s shoot people in central Minsk and show it on TV!”
– How much does it cost to pay for a prisoner’s life sentence?
– I don’t know the exact figures. But one of the activities of our campaign was writing an essay on the death penalty. One guy, a student of Economics wrote an essay in which he calculated the expenses. It turned out that the maintenance of life prisoners is peanuts for the prison system.
A popular argument in the debate on the death penalty refers to Anders Breivik, who killed a lot of people. They say he is in jail in excellent conditions and even complaining. But he lives in these conditions not because he killed, but because they all serve terms in such conditions. Because their prisons and standards of living are very different. And our people mix apples and oranges.
In our country, first-time convicts find themselves in conditions that will never help them reform. An excursion to prison could help correct them. But when they go there and get used to living by the prison code, then they fear nothing.
The death penalty does not work as a deterrent. The death penalty does not deter crimes. If the government wants it to be so, why does it classify executions? You want a deterrent? So let’s shoot people in central Minsk and show it on TV!
Aliaksandr Asipovich is now awaiting execution on death row (for the brutal murder of two girls in Babrujsk). In Viciebsk, a case is heard of the murder of two elderly women. A death sentence is possible. The conveyor of death is still working. It is unlikely that it was someone’s evil plot to execute two people on the eve of the European Games. It’s just their time came. And the sentences were executed. There were cases when prisoners were shot after major conferences with the participation of high-ranking European visitors. This system is very closed, we do not know exactly how it works. We collect information bit by bit. From the families who learn the news from the prisoners’ letters and during visits. The lawyers also tell something. Some information is leaked by officials. And our task is to make it into a single puzzle.

French Ambassador Didier Canesse and coordinator of the campaign Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus Andrei Paluda, 2018
– The topic of the death penalty is raised by human rights defenders in the international arena, at the PACE. But is it relevant in Belarus? Online commentators argue that there are more important problems to be solved. Even the topic of abortion is more important than the issue of the death penalty. What do you think about this?
– The problem of the death penalty has always been on the human rights agenda. We appreciate international solidarity, first of all from the EU countries. Belarus says that we are a European country, that we are committed to European values, but they execute two men on the eve of the European Games in Minsk. It was explosive and looks dishonest, to say the least. On the other hand, we can talk a lot about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, because different people have different priorities. There are people who are only concerned about paying the rent or buying alcohol, while others focus on freedom of religion, or inclusiveness for people with disabilities. And someone treasures most the right to life and freedom from torture.
But I think it’s all pretty much related. There are no more or less important human rights. They are all interconnected. As long as we have the death penalty, as long as our country kills people in the name of the state, we are not part of the Council of Europe and Belarusians cannot seek restoration of their rights in the European Court of Human Rights, one of the most effective human rights protection mechanisms. We travel around the country, talking a lot about the death penalty and what is behind it. When people are informed, they are beginning to understand that the abolition of the death penalty is what they need, rather than the government.

In 2018, the campaign Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus received the Campaign of the Year Award
– The veil of secrecy surrounding the death penalty, inhumane treatment of the families — bans on claiming the bodies and knowing the burial place, even the wording used, “departed under the sentence”, — it’s all the sad legacy of the Soviet Union inherited by Belarus. Lukashenka is a man of the Soviet mentality. Maybe he does not support the moratorium, because it’s according to his understanding? In the Soviet Union, people never thought about this issue, the death penalty has always existed as something normal and natural.
– Or maybe he’s never thought it’s the right time? I’m not a psychologist, and I find it difficult to draw a psychological portrait of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, but it seems to me that if the time came, he would abolish the death penalty without any nostalgia. In this sense, he has quite a rational approach.
The fact that we are the only country in the post-Soviet region, which retains the death penalty, makes the question unique and meaningful. And perhaps this is also the reason why the death penalty is retained. If there were several countries with the death penalty, it would be totally different. But in our situation it is a significant asset in the political debate.
Now they are saying about amending the Constitution. I have no idea what it could look like. Will the Belarusian authorities want a true union with Russia?
– Do you admit that the question of the death penalty can be put to a referendum as a carrot for the West against the background of other policy changes?
– Perhaps, the authorities want to carry out some important political changes. And a referendum may include the issue of a moratorium on the death penalty, so that the West could overlook something else.
But we, human rights activists, oppose a referendum on the death penalty. I do not know a single country that abolished the death penalty through a referendum. This question is highly emotional.

Valiantsin Stefanovich and Andrei Paluda at the 6th World Congress against the Death Penalty in Oslo. June 23, 2016
– The death penalty is really an emotional topic, in all of its aspects. For example, I used to be emotionally moved by a story of mothers scouring cemeteries in search of the fresh graves of their executed sons (e.g. Sviatlana Zhuk, mother of executed death row prisoner Andrei Zhuk). And which case from your practice impressed you most?
– Each story is unique. For example, I was shocked by a case when Hrunou’s mother received a parcel with her son’s prison uniform before the mail arrived to notify Volha Hrunova of the execution. She gave us the clothes, as a result. In another case, we were the first to learn about the execution of Pavel Sialiun and had to tell the news to his mother. Every case is complex and memorable in its own way.
But I think it was the story of Mikhail Hladki that had the greatest impact on me. He was on the verge of being sentenced to death for the murder of his brother and mother. He then served 8 years and was released after they found the killer.

Mikhail Hladki
In June, we learned that he had died. I remember the despair and resentment I felt, the frustration of realizing that this little man was ground by the state machine. It swallowed him, masticated him, and it spat him out. He never received any compensation, although he was found not guilty. This is the question of justice, which he never obtained. We tried to do something, went to court, asked to give him compensation. He did not ask anything beyond measure, he said that he just wanted to pay for a tombstone on the graves of his brother and mother. But he did not live to see this.
A lot has been told about the miscarriage of justice. This man became the living embodiment of a miscarriage of justice in our country. A man who could have been shot in the back of his head, and no one would ever remember him.
Author: Volha Korsun, Belarusian Partisan
Photos: Human Rights Center “Viasna”


Critical blogger cleared of embezzlement charges

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English 2019 2019-07-09T13:30:17+0300 2019-07-09T13:30:17+0300 2019-07-09T13:30:17+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Aliaksandr Kabanau

The Investigative Committee’s office in the city of Biaroza, Brest region, has closed the criminal case against blogger Aliaksandr Kabanau, known for his role in covering the environmental protests in Brest. He was suspected of misappropriation of more than 400 rubles (USD 200) under Art. 211, Part 1 of the Criminal Code.

“The investigator called me today. The criminal case was closed for lack of evidence,” Kabanau said.

In March, the investigators reported that in 2017 Aliaksandr Kabanau received money for the state registration of an association of owners. The blogger argued that he did not steal the money.
Kabanau, together with another critical blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin, have been repeatedly convicted, including for posting videos on a YouTube channel they run to cover the situation around the construction of a battery factory, which local activists say is hazardous for the environment. They were also fined for illegal protesting.
Last year, Siarhei Piatrukhin faced criminal charges under Part 2, Art. 188 (libel) and Part 2, Art. 189 (insult). This April, a court in Brest found the blogger guilty and sentenced him to a fine of 9,180 rubles (USD 4,450). In addition, the blogger was ordered to pay moral damages to the police officers who were found victims in the case (a total of 7,500 rubles).


UN human rights experts denounce execution in Belarus

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

Belarus must halt the executions of individuals who have submitted complaints to the Human Rights Committee, UN human rights experts said today upon being informed about the execution of Aleksandr Zhilnikov (Aliaksandr Zhylnikau) whose case is being examined by the Committee. 
The Human Rights Committee, together with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, strongly condemn Belarus for its continued use of the death penalty, following local news reports that the country had defied the Human Rights Committee’s requests for a stay of execution for Aleksandr Zhilnikov. To date, Belarus has disregarded every Committee request for interim measures not to execute individuals while their cases were under the Committee’s consideration. The Committee’s procedure known as interim measures aims to stop the State from taking any action that would have irreparable consequences. Non-compliance with that procedure constitutes a serious violation by Belarus of its international obligations under article 1 of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus acceded in 1992. 
“By not complying with the requests of the Committee to stay execution until the allegations of due process violations are examined, Belarus not only shows disrespect to the Committee, it also shows lack of respect toward the right to life itself”, said Yuval Shany, Vice-Chair of the Human Rights Committee and one of the Special Rapporteurs on new communications and interim measures.
“Capital punishment may only be carried out after a legal process that gives all possible safeguards, including those provided for in international human rights law, to ensure a fair trial and pursuant to a final judgement”, said Agnes Callamard, the Special Rapporteur on summary executions. “We remind Belarus that the only thing that distinguishes capital punishment from arbitrary execution is full respect for stringent due process guarantees.” 
Mr. Zhilnikov became the 14th person whose execution was carried out despite his pending case before the Human Rights Committee, in disregard of the Committee’s request to halt the execution while the independent experts examined his allegations of human rights violations. He was initially sentenced to life in prison, however upon re-trial was sentenced to death in 2018. His pending complaint before the UN Human Rights Committee alleges that he was tortured in detention, denied access to legal assistance, and was subjected to an unfair trial. 
“It is time for Belarus to show political will and leadership on the question of the death penalty and review its retentionist stand. The official line that the death penalty should be maintained until a majority of the population supports its abolition should be reconsidered. It is up to the Government to lead the debate and actively work to change mentalities in favour of abolition,” said Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. 
Belarus remains the last country in Europe and Central Asia that applies the death penalty. In its last report on the Republic of Belarus published in November 2018 (available in English and in Russian), the Human Rights Committee emphasized that Belarus “should consider establishing a moratorium on executions as an initial step towards legal abolition of the death penalty and ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant, commute all pending death sentences to imprisonment and increase efforts to change public perception about the necessity of maintaining the death penalty”.
Despite Mr. Zhilnikov’s death, the Human Rights Committee will, per its usual practice, fully examine his case.


UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus: “Too many issues ignored for too long”

Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English

UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus Anaïs Marin during an interactive dialog at the Human Rights Council. July 2, 2019

On June 2, Anaïs Marin, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation with human rights in Belarus, presented her first report on the human rights situation in the country at the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The Rapporteur reported absence of significant progress in Belarus, including major legislative reforms and a true balance of powers. She also said Belarus lacked political will to protect and promote human rights in good faith.
This leaves “no room for complacency,” the expert said.

“Too many issues I have noted in my report have still caused Belarus to be called to account, too many issues in the past that I reiterate in my report have been ignored for far too long, too many people continue to suffer from the fact that the government does not grant human rights the importance they deserve,” Ms. Marin stressed.

The Special Rapporteur expressed regret that the Belarusian authorities do not recognize the mandate, but added that she was ready to cooperate with the government, when it is ready for such a dialogue.
In his remarks, the representative of Belarus to the UN, Yury Ambrazevich expressed dissatisfaction with the existence of the country mandate and stressed that Belarus would rather “discuss the concerns of the international community directly with concerned members.”

“We repeat that we consider the consideration of the situation of human rights in Belarus at the UN to be inconsistent with the purposes and objectives of the United Nations and the UN Human Rights Council, in particular. We reiterate our principled opposition to the very institution of the country resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council and the UN as a whole,” he said.

The brief comments from the member states that followed supported the renewal of the mandate.
The delegations were well informed about the situation with human rights in Belarus and asked specific questions, Dzmitry Charnykh, lawyer of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, who attended the dialogue, said. According to him, it is evident that the work of human rights defenders was not in vain.

“They were interested in the pre-election situation, asking about the persecution of independent journalists and bloggers, including those who write on environmental issues. Some countries welcomed the fact that the construction of a battery factory has been suspended,” Charnykh said.
“Much was said about the existence of the death penalty, in particular that the families cannot receive the convicts’ bodies and that the place of burial is classified. They welcomed the decriminalization of illegal NGO membership, but denounced its replacement with administrative liability,” he added.

Voting on the Council’s resolutions, including on the issue of extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus, is scheduled for July 11 and 12.