International concern over persecution of human rights defenders in Belarus
On 26 May 2008, Pavel Levinov, Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC) regional coordinator in Vitsebk, received a ten day administrative sentence and a fine of 700,000 rubles (approximately 330 USD). Pavel Levinov was detained on 27 March 2008 while rendering legal aid to journalist Vadzim Barshcheuski, whose apartment had been searched by security services in connection to the case of cartoons that were alleged to be abusive to senior state officials of Belarus. Pavel Levinov was accused of "using foul language and disobedience" to members of the militia. He was searched by militia officer Ihar Skryhanovich, and taken to Pershamayski district militia station, before being taken to hospital in an ambulance due to the fact that he was suffering from hypertension.
The case was originally heard by Judge Alena Zhuk of the district court on 21 April, but sent back to the police because of flaws in the charge sheet. According to Levinov, militia officer Ihar Skryhanovich ordered his subordinates to support the accusation. The trial was resumed on 22 May 2008 and Judge Valyantsina Kismyaroshkina accepted the testimonies of Ihar Skryhanovich and his subordinates and on 26 May 2008 sentenced the human rights activist to ten days’ imprisonment.
On 23 May 2008, KGB officers broke into and searched the apartment of Leonid Svetik, another BHC activist.. They seized office equipment and printed materials, including calendars dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The human rights defender was interrogated in the local KGB (State Security Committee) office from 9.00am until 6.00pm. These actions were carried out on the order of the prosecutor’s office, instigating a criminal case on charges of "incitement of ethnic and religious hatred." According to this order Leonid Svetik was a witness to threats made by members of the Russian National Unity (RNE), an illegal nationalistic group, and, after questioning, he received a writ summoning him to present himself for interrogation on 28 may 2008.
On 1 May 2008, Aleh Hulak, Chairperson of the BHC, together with his wife Anastasia Hulak and Eduard Balanchuk, BHC regional coordinator in Maladzechna, were stopped at the Poland-Belarus border and subject to a search lasting more than ten hours. Belarusian customs officials and KGB officers confiscated Hulak’s portable computer, for the purposes of "verification", and all of the money that they were carrying.
On 26 May 2008, Eduard Balanchuk was stopped at the Lithuania-Belarus border, where he was searched for a second time.
We are deeply concerned about the ongoing persecution of human rights defenders in Belarus and urge the authorities to stop hindering their legitimate human rights activities; return the property of human rights activists; and revise the sentence given to Pavel Levinov.
We underline that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. Particularly, Article 5 states that "For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental
freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (a) To meet or assemble peacefully; (b) To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups", and Article 12 (2): "The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present declaration."
For more information:
Dzmitry Markusheuski, Programme Manager of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee,
Phone: +375 29 7095702.
Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee,
Volodymyr Yavorsky, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union,
Tel/fax: +380 44 4174118.
Jos Kösters, Executive Director of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee,
Robert Hårdh, Secretary General of the Swedish Helsinki Committee,
Phone: +46 8 54527730.
Mary Lawlor, Director, Front Line,
Phone: +353 1 212 3750.
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