Latest Update: 31 March 2013
The human rights situation in Belarus remained unchanged. The authorities have continued to harass the political opposition, civil society and independent journalists and to deny individuals the right to freedom of expression and assembly.
Nine political prisoners remain in jail. One political prisoner, Vasil Parfyankow, was released on 9 February, having completed his most recent six month jail sentence for violating the terms of a preventative supervision order. Parfyankow was originally given a four year sentence following his participation in protests after the Presidential election in December 2010. Conditions for the remaining political prisoners remained difficult; former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich was reportedly placed under renewed pressure to request a presidential pardon.
Syarhey Malashenak, an opposition activist from Navapolatsk, was found guilty of acting in violation of regulations governing mass events and fined $290. He had posted a photograph on a website in support of political prisoner Ales Byalyatski.
In Brest, Vital Kowsh, an activist and former member of the Belarusian Popular Front, was sentenced to four years in prison and the confiscation of his property on 12 March when he was found guilty of helping eight Indian citizens enter Belarus illegally. His associates have suggested that the case was fabricated in an attempt to attempt to discredit opposition forces: one of the illegal immigrants involved has said he was coerced into accusing Kowsh.
On 20 March three days were added to a twelve day jail term imposed on 22 year old Malady Front activist Uladzimir Yaromenak for allegedly twice violating the requirements of his preventive police supervision.
On 22 January the Belarusian Foreign Ministry rejected an application to extend Pavel Svyardlow’s media accreditation. Mr Svyardlow is European Radio’s Belarus correspondent. He was sentenced to 15 days detention in 2012 for allegedly using obscene language in a public place.
On 5 March the jail sentence imposed on Belarusian language activist Henadz Loyka was upheld. He had displayed a banner protesting against the “Russianisation” of the Belarusian education system. The judge refused to conduct the hearing in the Belarusian language (Belarusian and Russian are both official languages in Belarus).
Valery Usik, a journalist for the privately owned newspaper Mahilyowski Vybar, was charged with disorderly conduct on 11 March. He had visited a local state agricultural company, SVK Lebyadzyanka, with a Belsat TV crew (Belsat is a Polish-based satellite channel). In January Mr Usik was charged with libel under the Civil Offenses Code for accusing managers of the company of corruption.
Opposition activist Yuliya Stsyapanava was attacked in Minsk on 13 January. Her attackers cut off most of her hair and threatened her, mirroring previous attacks against female opposition activists attributed to the Belarusian KGB.
On 13 and 14 January, police raided gay parties at nightclubs in Minsk and Vitsyebsk. In Minsk, police officers, some wearing civilian clothes, blocked the exit and took down passport details of all those present. In Vitsyebsk, police officers in both regular and riot uniform ordered all the men against one wall and all women against another and filmed everyone there. Police gave different reasons for the raid, including counter-narcotics operations and a search for draft dodgers. Police also took passport details of everyone at a Belarus Free Theatre performance in Minsk.
On 14 February the Ministry of Justice denied state registration to LGBT rights group Lyambda for a third time and, following an appeal, to Young Christian Democrats, an opposition group. The Information Ministry twice refused to re-register the Belarusian language magazine Arche, alleging administrative errors in their application. In autumn 2012 Belarusian State TV accused Arche of extremism and Nazi propaganda. Arche’s bank account was then frozen.
On 18 March the Minsk City Executive Committee again denied registration to pro-European group “European Prospect”. On 23 January the Supreme Economic Court rejected Platforma’s appeal against the October 2012 court order that the organisation be closed down. Platforma is an NGO which defends prisoners’ rights. Separately the Central Election Commission dismissed a petition from the opposition calling for public discussion of proposals to amend the Electoral Code.
Minsk City Council granted permission for a Freedom Day demonstration in Minsk on 24 March, but opposition activists were denied permission to hold a concert at the Palace of Culture of Minsk Tractor Works. The Baranavichy City Executive Committee also rejected an application to stage a Freedom Day demonstration. Some 2,000 people took part in the Minsk Freedom Day demonstration. Police arrested eight people, including opposition activists and a journalist.