11:16, 02/08/2002, July, 2002 human rights violations chronicles
Ludmila Gryaznova, Charter’97 organizing committee
“They are being buried for three years already…”
One cannot describe the feelings of those, whose parents went missing or whose funerals last for long years. Such destiny befell wives, children and mothers of the prominent Belarusian figures Yuri Zakharenko, Viktor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky and Dmitry Zavadsky.
The authorities, suspected of these crimes, haven’t conducted proper investigation nor punished the guilty ones. The investigator Vladimir Chumachenko, in charge of all four disappearance cases, never interrogated a single witness, whose names are made mention of in Nikolai Lopatik and Oleg Alkaev’s rapports. In course of a whole year Zinaida Gonchar tried to get an audience from the prosecutor general Viktor Sheiman but to no avail. The Supreme Court turned down the proposal of Olga and Svetlana Zavadskaya. Criminal action was opened against the lawyer Igor Aksenchik, representing Zavadsky’s mother’s interests, the investigation proceedings being underway. He was also expelled from the lawyers’ board.
However, not even one crime will be concealed forever. Oleg Alkaev, who had been granted political asylum in Germany, said that he keeps in a safe place some documents, which can be of great use for the future trial over the abductors of Zakharenko, Gonchar, Krasovsky and even Dmitry Zavadsky. Filmmaker Yuri Khaschevatsky quoted in open the words of one of the FSB generals, who said that he saw video-records of killings of people, resembling the missing Belarusians.
Sightseeing instead of bread
Authoritarian state in Belarus, suppressing human rights, not only cracks down on the free press and opposition, but also exerts pressure on business. Every month there appear new facts of arrests of entrepreneurs and directors. They receive long jail terms for ridiculous sums of some 300 dollars. In order to intimidate the directorate they prolonged by an extra three months the confinement term of the former director of the Minsk tractor plant Mikhail Leonov.
The regime and its lackeys are no longer satisfied with extortions and high taxes, levied from business. They are now trying to nationalize it instead. For instance, the state is expelling private healthcare centers from the state-owned premises they previously occupied in breach.
They unleashed psychological attack at business. In July the presidential mouthpiece “Sovetskaya Belorussiya” published data on the institution by the procuracy in the first half of the month of 125 legal procedures, 902 cases were sent to the court, while in 917 cases the state accusation had been upheld.
The economy doesn’t function well, while the nation is getting impoverished. Instead of bread they feed it with sights – arrests of directors and entrepreneurs.
Twenty against one
Opposition’s political activism, which usually slowed down in summers, this time remained intense. Repressions became harsher as the weather was heating up.
As concerns press, they instituted legal action against the editor of “Rabochy” newspaper Viktor Ivashkevich for publishing an article, which contained alleged defamation of the president. Economic sanctions were undertaken against “Narodnaya Volya”. They froze its bank account with 5mln rubles. The newspaper faced legal action. “Belarusky Chas” editor Alexander Starikevich is under the threat of dismissal. ZUBR coordinator Aleksei Shydlovsky was slandered by the “Sovietskaya Belorussiya”.
Opposition leaders and activists are still persecuted: they face trials, get sentenced to long and 15-days arrests, get fined, beaten and detained. The prosecutor demanded that they sentence Mikhail Chigir, the former country’s Prime Minister, to three years of jail. His son Alexander serves his 7-year term in the Ivatsevichi hard-labor colony. Legal action was instituted against the UCP leader Anatoly Lebedko for an article, in which the government of Lukashenko is accused of supplying arms to the rogue states. 10 days arrest was ruled against deputy chairman of BPF Yuri Khodyko for his participation in the April 26 Freedom Day festivities. Same measure was applied against the Young Front’s leader Pavel Severinets for holding the July 27 picket on the Independence Day eve and UCP activist Leonid Malakhov for his rally in support of the businessmen’s rights. They fined artist Ales Pushkin for his performance in the memory of the anti-communist resistance members Mikhas Vitushka and Vsevolod Rodko. They exposed to a fine Vladimir Chervonenko, participant of the Grodno action in commemoration of Dmitry Zavadsky. For the same protest they detained other 7 BPF, UCP and BDSP (chaired by Korol) activists. In Minsk they apprehended three YF members for disseminating the newspapers and flyers. During the 120th anniversary of Yanka Kupala holiday police tried to arrest BPF people and seize their national banners.
The authorities continue exerting pressure on UCP, the Party of Belarusian communists (chaired by Kalyakin) and trade unions. The former is reprimanded by the Ministry of justice and is subject to thorough examination, while the latter is about to be attached to the pro-presidential communist party. Chairman of the Federation of trade unions of Belarus Frants Vitko is replaced by the Federation’s plenum by a president’s man Leonid Kozik.
The regime persecutes the non-Orthodox religious denominations. The court turned down the appeal, filed by the president of the Universal association of Belarusian Jews Yakov Gutman, who asked to consider the actions of the Belarusian authorities, who destroyed the historical synagogue building in Minsk. In Borisov some vandals demolished 79 Jewish tombs at the old town graveyard. Police never identified let alone captured them. The most serious confrontation occurred in the Pogranichny village of Grodno region. Police besieged the temple of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox church there. Temple priest Yan Spasouk lost consciousness during his negotiations with the officials. Journalist and human rights advocate Valery Schukin, who was in the epicenter of unfolding events, got arrested and then sentenced to 15 days of jail. Sergei Malchik, head of the Grodno “Vesna” affiliate and Vladimir Hilmanovich, deputy chairman of the Grodno BAJ branch, who were traveling to meet the priest, were fined for alleged violation of passport regulations.
The repressive state machine has been hunting down the dissenters for eight years now. Huge tax-payers’ money are being spent on suppressing the opposition. It seems as though Mikhail Chigir cost our state most. In course of three years of the investigation on his case, they had to attract 20 investigators every day to do the searching.
“Become a reformer”
July saw escalation of tensions between Belarus and its close and distant neighbors. The United States of America, the European countries and even Russia herself raised their concerns over human rights violations, political vanishings and arms trade. Concomitant statements were released by the German official for human rights and humanitarian aide Gerd Pope, the US Department of State, acting OSCE chair Martines da Cruz, 38 editors-in-chief of the Polish newspapers, Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman, executive director of the Committee for the protection of journalists rights Ann Cooper, the European Parliament, PACE special rapporteur for Belarus Wolfgang Berendt, Polish president Alexander Kvasnevsky, EU commissary Gunter Verhoven, OSCE PA, ILO secretary general Huan Samavia, author of the OSCE PA resolution Stenny Hoer, US congressman Christopher Smith, Interpaliamentary Union, US president George Bush, Commission for international affairs of the Polish Sojm and the UN.
As a result of the consolidated position of the European countries, the OSCE PA for the first time passed resolution on Belarus about the possible implication of the Belarusian authorities to the political killings and arms supplies to the terrorists. Christopher Smith – author of the “Act on democracy in Belarus” said: “Lukashenko has to realize that the world views Belarus more as an outcast state… I continue to appeal to Lukashenko – become a reformer, make a few steps towards reforms and we will find positive aspects and ways for collaboration, but don’t continue to stubbornly follow in the footsteps of Milosevic and Chaushescu.” Russian president Vladimir Putin, though not voicing any loud statements on Belarus this month, a few times put off a scheduled meeting with Lukashenko.
In response to the international anxiety, the Belarusian authorities stepped up greater pressure against both press and opposition, embarked on economic blackmailing of Russia and growing contacts with the rogue states. Lukashenko had many times threatened press with new repressions and assaulted opposition activists. Belarus retaliated Russia for the Kremlin’s new policy. The Belarusian court annulled registration of the Russian company “Zapadtransnefteproduct”, through which they export most of the Russian petroleum. Official Minsk hints that they will soon deal with the Russian oil pipes as well. Belarus’ capital is frequently visited by the delegations from terrorist states. The authorities deliberately boast of their contacts. The Iraqi ambassador in Belarus said that soon the trade balance between the two countries would reach $1bln, whereas in 2001 it constituted only $26bln.