Human Rights Situation has neither Improved nor Deteriorated this Year
The human rights situation in Belarus has neither improved nor deteriorated significantly this year, lawyer Yury Chavusaw said at a news conference held in Minsk on December 10 on the occasion of UN Human Rights Day.
The enactment of a new version of Belarus' Media law in February has not had the consequences that many had feared, Mr. Chavusaw said. There has been no crackdown on the non-state media and most publications have been re-registered, he said.
On the other hand, 12 private publications are still denied distribution contracts with Belposhta, Belarus' state postal services monopolist, and Belsayuzdruk, a state monopolist that runs a network of newsstands and stores across the country, Mr. Chavusaw said. The alleged simplification of the registration procedure has not led to any improvements, and some newspapers were actually denied registration on far-fetched grounds, he said.
The number of jail sentences for participation in unauthorized demonstrations has decreased from 185 in 2008 to 12 this year, Mr. Chavusaw said. Nevertheless, the practice of imposing fines on opposition activists and arresting them without drawing up charge sheets has not been abandoned, he said.
Authorities continue to violate freedom of association, Mr. Chavusaw said. Despite the government's rhetoric about the simplification of the registration procedure for political parties and non-governmental organizations, the situation has not become any better, he said. Of the eight NGOs that have been consulted by human rights defenders, only one was registered, Mr. Chavusaw said. Not a single political party has been granted legal status in the country since 2000, he said.
The violation of freedom of religion is also a serious problem, said human rights defender Dzina Shawtsova. A precedent was set when criminal proceedings were instituted this year under the Criminal Code's Article 193.1, which penalizes acting on behalf of unregistered organizations, against a representative of a religious organization, Ms. Shawtsova said.
Authorities reject applications for land plots for the construction of prayer houses and do not allow religious organizations to rent venues for their services, she said.
A good example of such problems is the ongoing conflict between Minsk's authorities and New Life Church, a Protestant community that has been ordered to vacate its prayer house, Ms. Shawtsova said. Authorities always find some reason not to register new religious communities, she said. It is very difficult for foreigners to engage in religious activities in Belarus, she added.
New political prisoners have appeared in Belarus, said human rights defender Aleh Volchak. Amnesty International granted "prisoner of conscience" status to some of the young people who were convicted over a January 2008 demonstration in Minsk, Mr. Volchak said. Government opponents Uladzimir Asipenka and Mikalay Awtukhovich, who have been in custody since February, are to be tried on trumped-up charges, he said.
Belarus remains the only country in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States where prisoners are executed, Mr. Volchak said.