Restricting the Right to Demonstrate The freedom to hold assemblies, rallies, street marches, demonstrations, and pickets that do not disturb law and order or violate the rights of other citizens of the Republic of Belarus, shall be guaranteed by the State. The procedure for conducting the above events shall be determined by the law. Arbitrary Arrests and Police Brutality at Demonstrations Shidlovsky-Labkovich Trial · Yury Maroz, a member of the BPF from the northeastern city of Vitebsk, was arrested by police on February 18 outside the court building. He was sentenced the same day to fifteen days of imprisonment under Article 167 of the administrative code for carrying a placard calling for Shidlovsky and Labkovich to be freed. Maroz was released on March 5, having served his sentence in full.

· On February 23, Belarusian Helsinki Committee observer Vital' Alisyonuk and three sixteen-year-old boys - Maksim Kashinsky, Dmitiri Kasperovich, and Danil Milovanov - were arrested for "holding an unsanctioned demonstration" for reportedly walking in a circle with their hands behind their heads outside the court building. Although Vladimir Yukho, a BPF board member, was also with this group, he was not on this occasion detained (see below). The three juveniles were freed later that day with the expectation that their parents would be fined under Article 162 of the administrative code (holding an unsanctioned demonstration or hooliganism), which applies to juveniles. Alisyonuk was freed that day without charge.

The people were waiting, they released Labkovich, he came out of the court room and the police shouted, "Disperse! This is an unsanctioned gathering" What gathering?! Naturally, I as a journalist approach people to ask their opinions....That was all, they grabbed me, and dragged me away....39

March 22, 1998 Demonstration

April 2, 1998 Demonstration After the meeting had finished, we were already getting ready to go home when people in plainclothes started to grab us, they didn't say who they were, nothing....They started to grab and beat us and drag us by the hair. They dragged me by the hair. When they had thrown everyone [to the ground], they kicked them. When they grabbed me, they tore my jacket....46 I don't exactly remember, but the injury [black eye] occurred in the car, after they had already thrown me in there. There were two others who had been arrested sitting in the car, and one of those men who had been grabbing people. Evidently, the one who punched me had followed us [at the fair] and started to choke me and swore....47

Police charged Kulchanka under Article 186 (3) of the criminal code - participation in an unsanctioned demonstration - which carries a maximum sentence of three years of imprisonment or two years of corrective labor or a fine.48 Vaskovich was charged under Article 201 (2) - malicious hooliganism - which carries a maximum sentence of fiveyears of imprisonment. However, on May 27, the Commission for Juveniles under the District Executive Committee of Marina-Gorka handed down warnings to Vaskovich and Kulchanka for their alleged actions on April 2.

April 25, 1998 Demonstration State Response to Police Brutality at Demonstrations
The events that took place there [in Riga] are even more regrettable if one considers that the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations is being celebrated throughout the world this year. Citizens' rights to "freedom of peaceful gatherings and associations" as well as "freedom of beliefs and their expression" laid down in the U.N. declaration were trampled upon in Riga with the help of police truncheons.53
Pavel Shypuk, Chair of the Belarusian National Assembly Council of the Republic, March 26, 1998,54 commenting on alleged use of police force to disperse elderly demonstrators in Riga.
Irina and Uladzimir Khalip He was hospitalized for a long time. They beat him so badly that I didn't even know that we were taken in one and the same [police] car. When they dragged him to the police car, they beat his face into the ground until he lost consciousness...they threw someone else on top of him - that is, I didn't know that he was lying there in the foot-well of the car. There were some metal objects in the foot-well that lacerated his face. The wounds on his face required stitches: he was beaten on the kidneys and he suffered severe concussion. They treated him [in the hospital] then my mother took him to Israel to convalesce, but in September he suffered a relapse and was hospitalized again, whereupon they said that [the effects resulting from] his head injury are irreversible.56

Irina told Human Rights Watch how she herself was dragged from the crowd and beaten:

[They beat me] with batons on the back, then they pulled me out from the bundle of people by the hair, and then dragged me by the hair through the lines of the riot police. For me that was worst of all: through the police lines, that was really awful. Each riot policeman considered it his duty to hit me and they said, "You've jostled your way through the demonstrators, now it's our turn." They beat me with their fists, batons and kicked me.57

Afterwards, Khalip and her father were taken to the local police station, where they were held, along with other demonstrators, for several hours. Khalip describes how upon recognizing her name as the editor of Imya, a senior policeman offered to release her:

He said "I apologize for your are free to go." I said that I wasn't leaving until they called an ambulance for my father. We waited for a long time for the ambulance. My father had lost a lot of blood: blood was spurting from him like tears from a clown at the circus....58

I was expecting something different and asked, "Is that all?" He said "Yes, you mean you want something else as well?" I said that I want the investigation to be resumed, carried to a logical conclusion in order that specific people are identified and punished. The investigator said to me "You know, Irina Vladimirovna, leave me in peace, I have nothing further to say to you, you can turn to some other authority but it is better to acknowledge that you've lost."59 During the clash, actions by police officers caused slight bodily harm to some journalists....During the investigation, it proved impossible to gain a perfect understanding of each instance of bodily injuries, as specific persons who caused them were not identified. However, the use of strong-arm methods by police officers should not be regarded as obviously exceeding the limits of their authority, as the use of special means by them in that situation was generally in compliance with the demands of the Law on the Police...the investigation into the case has been dropped.60

As of this writing, the investigation into police brutality at the April 2, 1997 demonstration remains closed.

Vladimir Yukho

We were standing on the front steps [of the court building] and the OMON would not let us in. [The OMON] started to push journalists and all those present off the steps. Two riot police officers started to push a woman off the steps and Yukho held off the arm of the riot policeman from the woman and said, "Don't touch her." The OMON then grabbed him and dragged him to the RAF [police minibus with sliding doors], which was parked nearby. When they were putting him in the RAF, his hand fell between the doors, they pulled back the door, win order to open it - his hand was jammed there - they mutilated his hand, and forcibly shoved him [in]...He really screamed!61

On the way to the police station in the police car, a man Yukho later identified as senior police officer Gennady Miklush, a major and deputy head of the Minsk Leninsky District Police Department, choked Yukho so severely that he bruised the man's neck. A Human Rights Watch researcher observed Yukho's bruises in the hospital shortly afterwards, and noted that he was in a state of shock. The injury to Yukho's hand was severe enough to warrant the use of a plaster cast. Yukho was charged with breaching Articles 166 and 167 of the administrative code. On February 24, Yukho filed an official complaint with the regional prosecutor against Miklush for illegal detention and causing bodily harm.

29 See pp.
30 This legislation, adopted December 5, 1997, codified into law unchanged Presidential Decree No. 5 on Gatherings, Meetings, Street Marches, Demonstrations and Picketing.
31 For a more detailed analysis of Decree No. 5, please see Human Rights Watch, "Crushing Civil Society," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 9 no. 8 (D) August 1997, pp. 32-36. The white-red-white former national flag is effectively banned in Belarus: however, with the prior agreement of the authorities it may be used at demonstrations. For example on March 20, Belapan reported that in reaching agreement with the Minsk city authorities on the route of a March 22 demonstration to mark the eightieth anniversary of the Belarusian National Republic, the two sides agreed on the symbols to be used during the demonstration, including the white-red-white flag. In general, this provision is zealously enforced. For example in February 1997, a demonstrator was sentenced to four days of imprisonment for waving the blue flag with gold stars of the European Union at a demonstration.
32 Belapan news agency (Minsk), March 30, 1998. See also below, p.
33 Belapan, March 20, 1998.
34 See pp.
35 In late February 1998, the exchange rate was approximately 43,000 Belarusian rubles to one U.S. dollar.

36 Sernatsky was acquitted on February 24. Kanapatsky was fined 5,000,000 rubles (U.S.$116) under Article 167.

37 Fifty-six-year-old Valery Shchukin has been most vocal and visible in his opposition to President Lukashenka. He is ever present at opposition demonstrations, usually leading from the front, and has been subject to multiple arrests and beatings, at demonstrations and at home together with a reported twelve court appearances, fines totaling eighty million Belarusian rubles (US$2000). Belapan news agency, Minsk, March 18, 1998. The U.S. dollar equivalent of the fines is an approximate figure based on exchange rates given at the time. The average wage in Belarus continues to be approximately U.S.$100 per month.

38 Belapan News agency, Minsk, March 18, 1998.

39 Human Rights Watch interview with Valery Shchukin, April 6, 1998.

40 Belarusian Helsinki Committee press release, Minsk, March 23, 1998.

41 For a full listing of those arrested and punishment received, see appendix A.

42 Belapan news agency, Minsk, March 30, 1998.

43 Human Rights Watch interview with Valery Shchukin, Minsk, April 6, 1998.

44 Belapan news agency, Minsk, April 6, 1998.

45 The identity of these men remains unknown. That they detained and later interrogated and intimidated detainees demonstrates that they were working in an official capacity, but it is unclear whether they were plainclothes police, KGB or from a different law-enforcement agency or security service. None of the Human Rights Watch interviewees detained or beaten by these men were informed as to their identity. This lack of identification highlights the impunity and lack of accountability with which these men operate.

46 Human Rights Watch interview with Dmitri Vaskovich, Minsk, April 6, 1998.

47 Human Rights Watch interview with Stepan Kulchanka, Minsk, April 6, 1998.

48 Article 167 of the administrative code, which covers the same offense, carries a much lighter punishment - part 1 provides for from three to fifteen days of imprisonment and/or a fine of from twenty to 150 times the minimum monthly wage, while part 2, applicable to repeat offenders or the organizers of a demonstration, provides for from ten to fifteen days of imprisonment and/or a fine of from 150-300 times the minimum wage.

49 Belapan news agency, Minsk, cited in WNC, April 4, 1998.

50 Human Rights Watch interview with Vyacheslav Sivchyk, Third Minsk City Hospital, April 6, 1998.

51 Belarusian Helsinki Committee press release, Minsk, April 27, 1998.

52 Ibid. Also reported by Belapan news agency, Minsk, April 26, 1998. For a detailed analysis of this method of torture by law-enforcement agencies in Russia please see Amnesty International, "Torture, This Man-Made Hell," London, April 1997.
53 Narodnaya hazeta (The People's Newspaper) (Minsk), cited in World News Connection (WNC), March 26, 1998.
54 On March 3, 1998, Latvian police allegedly used force in the capital, Riga, to disperse approximately 1,000 Russian-speaking pensioners protesting low living standards. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Newsline, an electronically distributed news service, vol. 2, no. 43, Part II, March 4, 1998. The incident also provoked condemnation from the Russian government, which threatened to reroute oil exports, currently running through Latvia, while Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov announced a partial boycott of Latvian goods in Moscow stores. The dispute centers on some 700,000 ethnic Russians in Latvia who, due to the impending expiry of their Soviet-era passports, their reluctance or inability to pass Latvian language exams necessary in order to gain Latvian citizenship, are faced with the prospect of becoming stateless. Some 100,000 ethnic Belarusians are reported to be similarly affected.
55 See Human Rights Watch, "Crushing Civil Society," pp. 18-21.
56 Human Rights Watch interview, Minsk, February 20, 1998.
57 Ibid.
58 Ibid.
59 Human Rights Watch interview, Minsk, February 20, 1998. Khalip told Human Rights Watch that at that moment she realized that further appeals would be fruitless, and, sensing her helplessness and angry at the fact that her father had just been hospitalized for the second time as a direct consequence from the injuries he sustained on April 2, she slapped Mogovil in the face. Khalip was initially charged under Article 189 (2) of the criminal code - violence against an official in the course of his duties - which carries a maximum sentence of three years of imprisonment. However, the charge was later changed to Article 156 (1) - premeditated infliction of bodily injury - which carries a maximum sentence of fifteen days of imprisonment and/or a fine. On February 11, Khalip was found guilty and fined 200,000 Belarusian rubles (approximately U.S. $5).
60 Letter reprinted in the BAJ journal Chatsverta Vlada (The Fourth Power), no. 9, Minsk, November 1997.
61 Human Rights Watch interview with Tatiana Vanina, Minsk, February 25, 1998.
62 Belapan news agency, Minsk, April 10, 1998.
63 Telephone interview with Vladimir Yukho, March 27, 1998.

This Web page was created using a Trial Version of HTML Transit 3.0.