| Point of VIEW.
A purely analytical perception...
Another Place in Another Time
Continued from page 4
Indirect constraints on press freedom include repeated inspections by
tax officers of many editorial offices and fines. Also, the state has a near monopoly over
both the printing and distribution networks, which has caused difficulties for the
independent press. For this reason, many have published in the neighboring state of
Lithuania. On 18 March 1997 Decree No. 218 was issued, restricting the import and export
of print, audio and video materials. It is believed that this was effected in order to
restrict the import of independent newspapers printed outside Belarus.
Occasionally, representatives of independent or foreign press have been
denied access to governmental press conferences.
Independent journalists have been intimidated and beaten. There exists
sufficient evidence to believe that such abuses have been initiated by the government. The
Belarusan Helsinki Committee received information on more than 30 cases of repression
against local and foreign journalists in 1997.
" During protest marches on 2 April 1997, Irina Khalip, an employee of Imya,
as well as Slavamir Adamovich and Valeri Shchukin were beaten with batons and kicked by
militiamen and members of the Ministry of Interior special troops (OMON), and after
being thrown down onto the pavement were pushed into police cars. The beatings continued
at the Raion Militia Station. In October 1997, criminal investigation of the abuses was
suspended because, according to the Minsk Prokurator (prosecutor) N. Kuprianou,
"It was not possible to find out details about the physical abuse since it has been
impossible to establish who caused it."
"On 21 October 1997, the Vitsebsk City Court sentenced journalists
Juras Karpou, Baris Khamajda and Uladzimir Pljashchenka, all working with the unregistered
newspaper Vybor, to ten days "administrative detention" in
absentia. The accused heard about their sentences by chance. A few days earlier,
authorities had searched the homes of Baris Khamajda, the editor of Vybor, and
Uladzimir Pljashchenka, the leader of the unregistered organization Vybor. Similar
searches were carried out at their working places. Some copies of the newspaper were
confiscated together with 30 computer floppy disks, numerous articles and other materials.
In August 1997, a criminal investigation had been launched against Vybor following
publication of a satirical allegory in the paper. "
Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly
The Belarusan constitution guarantees freedom of association
and peaceful assembly. Both rights, however, have been seriously violated by Belarusan
Freedom of Association
The right to form and join trade unions to defend ones
interests has been violated, and authorities have attempted to hinder NGO activities,
particularly those dealing with human rights. Most forms of harassment have been indirect;
rents have been raised arbitrarily, rental contracts terminated, and audits performed with
the sole object of preventing such organizations from working. Trade union and NGO members
have been harassed and intimidated and various pretexts have been used to impose sanctions
" In October 1997, Nadziya Zhukova, the trial and demonstration coordinator of
the Belarusan Helsinki Committee, was beaten by unidentified men in plain clothes. They
threatened her with further physical violence, should she continue to participate in mass
demonstrations and trials. In the same month, Tatjana Protska, chair of the Belarus
Helsinki Committee, was arrested while carrying out investigations and given a court
" The Belarusan Soros Foundation (BSF)
announced on 3 September 1997 that the Belarus government had forced its closure.
Negotiations had failed to persuade the government to retract the politically motivated
fines of approximately USD 3 million imposed on the BSF at the end of April. The fines, in
conjunction with the freezing of BSF bank accounts, had prevented the BSF from operating
since May. Before this, the government had declared the expulsion of BSFs American
director, Peter Byrne, and a presidential decree had effectively rescinded the BSFs
tax exempt status. The Ministry of Justice rejected technical amendments to the BSF
charter, and the tax police launched investigations into possible criminal offenses
committed by BSF personnel. In September, police confiscated property belonging to the BSF
office valued at approximately USD 30,000. "
"The organization called "Children of Chernobyl",
founded to help victims of the Chernobyl disaster, has in recent years been harassed by
Belarusan authorities. After the organization refused to become part of a state relief
program, its rent was raised twenty-fold, forcing it to move immediately to new premises.
The authorities nevertheless continued to charge the organization for rent for four months
after it had left the former premises. The organization also had to undergo several
consecutive audits, although no irregularities were found. Then, in May 1997, the prokurator
of the Moscow district of Minsk falsely announced on state television that
"serious irregularities" had been discovered in the economic activities of the
organization. Charges were raised against its leader, Gennady Grushevoy, and main
bookkeeper. The organization believes it has been targeted because it encourages the idea
of self-organization and independence from the state. "
As a result of the required re-registration of public organizations by
the Ministry of Justice in 1996, the number of "legal" organizations sank from
700 to 400. Another re-registration of NGOs is expected to take place in 1998.
The Belarusan government has put pressure on independent trade
unions and other professional organizations and refused to register them. The Belarusan
Helsinki Committee has documented more than 20 cases of persecution of trade unions or
their individuals members.
"Under various pretexts, the Ministry Justice
has refused to register the Independent Trade Union Congress. "
"The Central Raion Court in Mahiljou (Mogilev) has sentenced the
local chairman of the Free Belarusan Trade Union, Sjarhej Abadouski, to five days in
"administrative detention" for his activities. "
"On 1 December 1997, V. Makarchuk, chairman of the Democratic
Transport Workers Union, and one of its members, V. Sadovnikov, declared a hunger strike
in protest against abuses committed by the Minsk Metro Administration. On the same day,
Evgeni Tretiak, a mechanic, also joined the hunger strike. For two years, the Minsk Metro
had not fulfilled its obligations under the collective bargaining agreement and had
refused to meet with trade union representatives. "
Presidential Decree No. 5 restricts freedom of peaceful
assembly by opponents of the government. Applications have to be filed for public rallies
ten days in advance, and many of them have been rejected.
The March 1997 decree labels demonstrations as constituting an
"orgy of street democracy." It seriously restricts the organization and
preparation of demonstrations; provides for strict rules to be observed by demonstrators
and organizators; and establishes a system of fines for undesired demonstrations.
Moreover, it prohibits demonstrators from using banners and other objects that
"insult the honor and dignity of state"; and the use of flags or pennants which
are not officially registered, or emblems, symbols, or posters the content of which is
aimed at "damaging the state and public order, the rights and legal interests of
The decree also stipulates that authorities have the right to change
the time and the place of the demonstration. e.g, in order to guarantee the
"functioning of traffic, companies, institutions and organizations." Moreover,
authorities can issue "additional regulations" covering the manner of carrying
out the assembly "taking into consideration the local conditions;" and forbid
the organizers to carry out preparatory activities such as announcing the time and place
of the demonstration in the mass media, preparing posters and leaflets or using other
means to publicize the demonstrations.
"On 12 December 1997, blue-collar workers held
a rally in Minsk under the slogan "Against Misery." The rally had been
sanctioned by the authorities. Despite this, persons in plain clothes but believed to
operate under government orders beat some of the participants and took them away to an
unknown place. "
"The Minsk Raion Court sentenced Tatsiana Vanina, chair of the
womens movement "Fatherlands Rebirth" to a fine of BYR 30,000,000
(about USD 850). She was accused of having, "in her capacity as an organizer,
permitted the use of unregistered symbols, the flag of the "Youth Front" and
that of the Trade Union Congress, and "symbols such as insects and stuffed
birds." The militia and the court found that the rally had violated civil order,
sanitary regulations and the fire safety rules of the City of Minsk. Tatsiana Vanina was
forcibly brought to trial, denied access to a lawyer, and no witnesses for her defense
were heard. As of this writing, court officials were trying to confiscate Vaninas
property, since she did not have the money to pay the fine. The court was also trying to
confiscate the property of Vaninas husband in spite of a notarial agreement between
the spouses for separate ownership of property. "
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