Belarus, our sister
Pavel Viltouski and Zmitser Hvedaruk are Belarus activists who were arrested during the demonstrations against the electoral theft in Belarus. They were sentenced to 10 days imprisonment in the absence of lawyers, witnesses, without even testimonies of the policemen. They were released a day later as the authorities do not have enough room in prison to put up more than 600 persons incarcerated in Minsk. At release from prison, they signed a written undertaking that they would not leave the country and would serve the outstanding 9 days of sentence as soon as there are empty cells. Their only sin is protesting against the electoral fraud when the authorities went so far as failing to count the votes at certain polls (regardless of the observers’ presence).
Pavel i Zmitser fared relatively well. As opposed to them, Varvara Krasutskaya is an LGBT activist who also on the streets that night. Just like hundreds of others, she too was beaten in the street. Thanks to the cameras on almost every mobile phone and the available technology, there are many recordings on the YouTube showing the brutality of the Belarusian police. Varvara has suffered a brain injury and is in the critical state in one of the Minsk hospitals.
The destiny of the presidential candidate who won most votes of all the opposition candidates is worse than Varvara’s. His name is Uladzimir Nyaklyayeu, and he was brutally beaten during the demostrations. The scenes showing his unconscious body taken into an ambulance have spread around the world despite the ban imposed on foreign correspondents to send reports of the events that night. His wife was in the hospital with him. At one moment, seven men dressed as civilians (in Belarus the members of the secret police – KGB – and other „special forces members“ are dressed as civilians most often), broke into the hospital room, abducted him and took him to an unknown destination. Judging by the previous experience in this country, one may conclude that he has been taken to one of the many KGB prisons. The representatives of KGB have never confirmed nor denied that he is there. The only one „authorized“ to speak is Lukashenko himself, who only told a press conference that Nyaklyaye was „in detention“. In the course of the day, his wife has tried to send him a parcel with personal belongings, and her lawyer requested to speak to him. The parcel and the request of the lawyer to speak with the detained were turned down.
As for the proceedings against more than 600 persons arrested, the human rights organizations say that they have lasted a couple of minutes on the average and that only police reports were read at them. There were no lawyers, witnesses nor policemen acting as witnesses present. In general, women were sentenced to some 10 days imprisonment, and the men 12 to 15 most often. However, a group of 19 persons faces much more serious charges for massive unrest (Art. 293 of the Penal Code of Belarus). Of the 19 persons charged, 7 are opposition presidential candidates (there were 9 opposition leaders in all), several members of their electoral committees, journalists and activists. According to the estimates of agencies, there were some 40,000 people on the streets that night, and the only questionable (violent) event was the break into the government building.
The epilogue is not yet in sight, but certain elements are to be discerned. First, OSCE, the USA and the EU have not recognized the electoral results but condemned violence and requested release of the persons imprisoned. Second, Russia, that Lukashenko is not in good relations with (some of the presidential candidates are playing that card) kept silent at first, only to recognize the results of the election quite half-heartedly later. Although public opinion polls showed for the first time that Lukashenko was not supported by more than 50% of the voters, the Central Electoral Commission (fully controlled by the authorities just like everything else) announced Lukashenko won over 80% of the votes. The activist of one of the organizations who monitored the elections described to me how at the poll no. 68 in Minsk he and the other 3 observers saw only the materials filed, results recorded with no counting whatsoever.
That night, as soon as the information on the police violence against the demonstrators seeped into the world, the raids into almost all relevant human rights organizations ensued. The activists were arrested, beatings and arrests of a large number of journalists took place throughout the night. Lukashenko sent a message that parties (and NGOs evidently) would be banned if it turns out they had anything to do with the demonstrations. In addition, he announced „reform“ of the Internet, in order to prevent „throwing dirt“ at the authorities. This will not be difficult to implement in view of the fact that the entire Internet traffic to the world (despite the existence of several providers) is chanelled through one – state – company. It sounds like the situation in Serbia prior to the downfall of Miloševi?. The situation of the classical media is even worse since their „strangulation“ by absurd accusations and court proceedings is almost daily, and that distribution is all but impossible for both of the possible venues are fully controlled by the state (subscription and news stands).
Where was Serbia?
Justifying its decision not to send its representative to the ceremony of award of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Minister Vuk Jeremi? said that „human rights are one of the greatest values we uphold on our road to the EU“, but also that Serbia „pays attention to human rights protection and that its contribution is seen in its policy“.
There were people who said that China is a great power so Serbia could not refuse the request not to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonial award to the Chinese dissident. In the case of Belarus, Serbia kept silent, although Belarus is no power at all. It is the „last European dictatorship“ as often rightfully described by many analysts. Had Serbia truly cared about human rights it could have issued a press release demanding that the destiny of the beaten and abducted presidential candidate Uladzimir Nyaklyayeu be revealed. This is what the President of the European Parliament did that same night, and our Minister of Foreign Affairs could have done also. He could have expressed concern for violation of the basic civil (police torture, fair and just trial, freedom of information) and political rights (fair and free elections). The politics of silence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can only mean that they agree with what the Belarusn authorities are doing. Again, almost all the ministries of foreign affairs of EU Member States reacted, while Serbia is acting as though a member of the Alliance of Russia and Belarus and not the state whose bureaucracy is responding to the EU membership questionnaire at this very moment.
Serbia has not uttered a single word due to the violation of basic human rights in Belarus. Why? Because for a long time now we are being lied to that Serbia cares about human rights.
Written by: Goran Mieltic, Programme Officer, Civil Rights Defenders
Translated by: Mirjana Ivanovic
Tags: Access to justice, Aleksander Lukashenka, Disappearances, EU, Freedom of expression, LGBT, and Presidential election 2010.