Human Rights Center “Viasna”: 15 years of persecution

Since its inception in 1996, the human rights organization “Viasna 96”, and then the Human Rights Center Viasna” was consequently and ruthlessly persecuted by the Belarusian authorities. All members of this organization were subject to detention, beatings, raids, arrests and fines. A complete list of the facts of persecution would take more than a dozen pages. However, most often the lightning of the state anger fell on the highest point of the organization, its head Ales Bialiatski.

In April 1996, the human rights organization “Viasna 96” was established.

On 23 February 1997 Viasna was officially registered as the Minsk Human Rights Center “Viasna-96”.

In 1998, Viasna was liquidated by a decision of the Justice Bureau of the Minsk City Executive Committee.

On 9 November 1998 the Partyzanski District Court of Minsk issued a warning to the Chair of the Human Rights Center “Viasna-96”, Aliaksandr Bialiatski, for attending an action of the Free Trade Union as an observer on 5 November.

On 15 June 1999 the Public Association Human Rights Center “Viasna” was registered.

On 4 October 4 1999 officers of the Tsentralny District Police Department and people in civvies burst in the apartment in Kisialiou Street in Minsk, where Viasna’s office was situated. They held an examination with elements of search at 6-10 p.m. As a result they confiscated two computers, two printers, a scanner, a Xerox machine, a modem and all copies of the Right to Freedom bulletin in three languages.

On 12 November 1999 the Tsentralny District Court summonsed Ales Bialiatski to present charges under Article 172, point 2, “Illegal manufacture and distribution of printed materials”. At the trial, Ales Bialiatski managed to prove that the confiscation report, drawn up at the 4 October search at the office of Viasna, lacked information about the quantity of the confiscated bulletins and had been drawn up not at during the search, but at the Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk.

At about 4 p.m. on 8 November 1999 about Ales Bialiatski came to the Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk to take back him computer, which had been confiscated together with other equipment during the 4 October search. Bialiatski was detained and taken to the Savetski District Police Department. The duty policeman explained it by saying that he was one of the organizers of the March of Freedom rally held on 17 October and was charged under Article 167, part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, “Organization of an unauthorized mass action”. Having spent more than three hours at the Savetski DPD, Ales Bialiatski was taken to the detention center.

On 26 November 1999 the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk considered the administrative case which was initiated by the Tsentralny District Procuracy of Minsk. Ales Bialiatski, who was also chief editor of the Right to Freedom bulletin, was found guilty of violating Article 172.1, part 8 of the Code of Administrative Offences, “unlawful manufacture and distribution of a mass media) and was punished by a fine of 10 minimum wages.

On 10 December 1999 Mr. Ales Bialiatski was sentenced to 15 days of arrest for participating in an unsanctioned rally dedicated to the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On 18 August 2000 the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” was issued with a warning, which pointed at defects in the organization blank and seal (quotation marks were missing, and the word center started from a capital letter in the seal).

On 28 September 2000 Ales Bialiatski was fined 2 minimum wages.

On 26 October 2000 the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus issued the second written warning to the Council of the Public Association Human Rights Center “Viasna”. The Ministry of Justice found that the Human Rights Center in its bulletin Right to Freedom used a name that didn’t correspond to the one that was used in the registration certificate (the words public association were missing).

At 12 a.m. on 10 December 2000 there was an attempt to detain Ales Bialiatski.

On 27 December 2000 the Public Association Human Rights Center “Viasna” received a repeated warning from the Ministry of Justice. PA HRC “Viasna” stated that an appropriate reaction to the warning of 26 October had been filed to the Ministry of Justice in the due terms, but couldn’t explain why it hadn’t been received by the ministry.

On 2 April 2001 the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk sentenced Chairman of the Human Rights Center Viasna Ales Bialiatski to 10 days of arrest. Bialiatski had been detained on 25 March after the end of the action dedicated to Freedom Day, near the Church of Mary Magdalene, and had spent the night in the detention center in Akrestsin Street. On 26 March his case was tried by Judge Tatsiana Pauliuchuk. Bialiatski was charged under Article 167.1 part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences, “organizing an unauthorized rally”). The trial was postponed to 2 April.

On 27 and 28 August 2001 the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus issued two warning to the public association Human Rights Center “Viasna”. The ministry also spread a press release which stated that the question of the liquidation of the organization was being considered. The ministry accused the organization of publishing a special issue of the bulletin with the excess of the maximally allowed circulation, 299 copies, and the failure to present to the ministry the lists of the observers who had been nominated by the Public Association Human Rights Center “Viasna”, by which the requirements of special instructions on record keeping were allegedly violated.

On 1 September 2001 Ales Bialiatski, Chair of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, was detained for identification. He was kept at the Savetski District Police Department of Minsk till 7 p.m. and then was released.

The website of the PA Human Rights Center “Viasna” was blocked for 3 days starting from 28 March 2002. Before this, the complete text of the speech by lawyer Siarhei Tsurko concernign the case of  Valery Ihnatovich, former officer of the special police unit Almaz, and other accused in the kidnapping of  ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski.

On 13 April 2002 Ales Bialiatski, Chair of the PA Human Rights Center “Viasna”, and Siarhei Zaleuski, its member, were detained on the way to Kastsiukovichy, where they intended to visit the local Viasna activists. Policemen found some copies of the Right to Freedom in the car and kept the detainees at the police department for about an hour.

In July 2003 the Ministry of Justice started the fifth audit of the Public Association Human Rights Center “Viasna”. The four preceding audits concerned the Brest, Homel, Minsk and Vitsebsk regional branches. These audits started immediately after the end of the election of the local councils.

On 2 September 2003 the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus lodged a lawsuit for the liquidation of the Public Association Human Rights Center “Viasna” referring violations which could by no means be considered as sufficient for the liquidation.

The trial concerning the liquidation of the Public Association Human Rights Center “Viasna” was to have started at the Supreme Court on 21 October 2003. However, police officers arrived at court at about 10 a.m., during the registration of those who intended to take part in the trial, and stated that they had received information about mining of the court building. The trial was postponed to the following day, 22 October.

On 28 October the Supreme Court of Belarus ruled to liquidate the Human Rights Center “Viasna”. The reason for the liquidation was the warning that had been issued to it by the Ministry of Justice for violation of the electoral legislation during the presidential election of 2001. Ales Bialiatski, Aliaksei Kolchyn, Uladzimir Labkovich, Mikola Lemianouski, Zmitser Salauyou, Uladzimir Vialichkin and Aleh Zhlutka sat down on the floor in protest against the unfair verdict, chanting “Shame!”. The action of protest lasted till 5.30 p.m. When darkness fell, policemen twisted the arms of the action participants, led them out through the back door and guarded them to the Leninski District Police Department of Minsk. There they were given charges under Article 166 of the Code of Administrative Offences, “disobedience to the lawful demands of the police”. They were issued with writs for 29 October and were released at about 9 p.m.

Likvidacijaviasny2003

On 29 October 2003 the Leninski District Court of Minsk found the protesters guilty and punished them with fines. Ales Bialiatski, Aliaksei Kolchyn, Mikola Lemianouski, Zmitser Salauyou, Uladzimir Vialichkin and Aleh Zhlutka were fined 5 base units each, while Uladzimir Labkovich was fined 10 base units.

On 25 March 2004 Ales Bialiatski, Chair of the Human Rights Center Viasna”, and Valiantsin Stefanovich, its lawyer, were detained and beaten on Svaboda Square (Valiantsin was detained while trying to help Ales Bialiatski).

Zatrymanneales_2004

On 29 March 2004 Ales Bialiatski was summonsed to the national procuracy for a “talk” with prosecutor Novikau, who dealt with questions of activities of civil organizations, political parties, religious organizations and mass media. The prosecutor asked several questions concerning Bialiatski’s activism in NGOs – which organizations he belonged to and whether he had any relation to the Assembly of Democratic NGOs and its magazine.

On 13 April 2004 the Human Rights Center “Viasna” filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf its Chair, Ales Bialiatski, and 9 more members. It’s been more than six months from the date tag, a judge of the Supreme Court of Belarus Valentin Kulik made a decision to dissolve the organization. The decision of the October 28, 2003, entered into force immediately after its announcement in court.

On 22 December 2004 the officers of the Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk detained more than 60 people who were heading for the Ukraine in order to take part in the monitoring of the presidential election. Among the detainees there were Ales Bialiatski and other members of Viasna. All of them were released in several hours, right after the departure of their train.

On 17 April 2005 the Savetski District Procuracy issued a warning to ales Bialiatski under Article 400 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, “knowingly false denunciation”, for his commentary to the website www.charter97.org cocnerning the violent dispersal of the peaceful rally held on 25 March in Minsk. Similar warning were issued to Liudmila Hraznova and Uladzimir Labkovich.

On 10 December 2005, on the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights riot police beat and detained human rights defenders Ales Bialiatski and Valiantsin Stefanovich.

On 10 December 2006 participants of an action of solidarity with political prisoner Aliaksandr Kazulin, including Ales Bialiatski and Valiantsin Stefanovich, were detained and taken to the Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk.

On 23 August 2007 the Ministry of Justice refused to register the civil human rights association Viasna. The organization founders addressed the Ministry of Justice throughout the time of verification of documents, proposing to cooperate on the correction of the possible defects in the filed documents. However, the ministry blankly refused from such proposals, which clearly witnessed that its aim was not to verify the documents objectively, but to find a pretext for a registration denial.

On 26 October 2007 the Supreme Court of Belarus turned down the appeal of human rights activists against the decision of the Ministry of Justice to refuse the state registration of the PHRA Viasna.

In March 2008, human rights defenders Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Khilmanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Tatsiana Raviaka, Viktar Sazonau and Valiantsin Stefanovich were put on a special list of the border guard. After this their personal belongings were searched each time they crossed the border, and in some cases Acts of customs examination were drawn up. 

On 10 December 2008 members of the HRC Viasna Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, Aleh Matskevich, Maryna Statkevich, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Siarhei Sys and Iryna Toustsik were detained in Nezalezhnasts Avenue with the use of physical violence for the distribution of copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They were taken to the Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk, and were released in two hours. 

On 26 February 2009 the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus refused to register the public association Nasha Viasna.

On 22 April 2009 the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus turned down the appeal of the founders of the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna against the registration denial issued by the Ministry of Justice on 26 February. 

On 25 May 2009 the Ministry of Justice decided refused to register PHRA Nasha Viasna again.

On 12 August 2009 the Supreme Court of Belarus turned down the appeal of the CHRCA Nasha Viasna, against its non-registration by the Ministry of Justice. Thus, the third attempt to legalize the organization brought no results.

See statement of Valentin Stefanovich : “Nasha Viasna” will continue working despite being refused official registration

On 24 March 2010 human rights defenders Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich and Iryna Toustsik were arrested by riot police outside the presidential administration with a banner “No to the death penalty,”, by means of which they expressed their protest against the violation by Belarus of its international obligations by the execution of death convicts Vasil Yuzepchuk and Andrei Zhuk. Human rights activists were taken to police department № 1 of the Leninski District of Minsk, where they were given formal charges. They were taken to the delinquents’ isolation center in Akrestsin Street for the night before the trial, after which they were punished with a fine of 0.5 base amounts.

In the morning of 20 December police officers in plain clothes took all computers and other equipment from the office of the HRC “Viasna”. Human rights defenders Vital Charniauski, Uladzimir Labkovich, Anastasiya Loika, Uladzimir Mikalayeu, Andrei Paluda, Dzmitry Salauyou,  Kanstantsin Staradubets, Valiantsin Stefanovich and Siarhei Sys were detained and taken to the Pershamaiski District Police Department. At about 6 a.m. all 10 detainees were released without getting any charges.

January 17, 2011 in the office of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, as well as apartments and villas human rights activists Ales Belyatsky were searched. KGB officers have shown a decree signed by the prosecutor of Minsk. Investigative actions were carried out in a criminal case on developments in the area on December 19.

See vidéo of search in Minsk office of Human rights center “Viasna”

Office of “Viasna” juste after search

On 16 February, Ales Bialiatski, Chair of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), was issued with an official warning about violating the law, signed by Deputy Prosecutor General of the Republic of Belarus, M. Kuklis. The warning stated that A.Bialiatski’s actions on behalf of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, which didn’t pass the state registration, contradicted the laws of the Republic of Belarus. The human rights activist was formally warned that he could be legally punished for the continuation of such actions. 

On 4 August 2011 Ales Bialiatski was detained for three days on suspicion of committing a criminal offense. The office of the HRC Viasna, his apartment and summer cottage were searched. Ales Bialiatski was taken for questioning to the Financial Investigation Department. The detention term was subsequently extended.

On 12 August 2011 Ales Bialiatski, Chair of the HRC “Viasna”, vice-President of the FIDH, received formal charges within the framework of the criminal case brought under Part 2 of Art. 243 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, “withholding of income in a large scale”.

On 23 August 2011 human rights activists Alesna Laptsionak, Aleh Matskevich, Dzmitry Salauyou, Maryna Statkevich and some civil activists were detained on Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk for holding an informational action in support of Ales Bialiatski, but were released after giving explanations.

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