Belarus Review by iSANS – February 22, 2021

Belarus Review by iSANS – February 22, 2021

Your insight into Belarus crisis

nn.by
22.02.2021 iSANS
  1. Post-election civil disobedience in Belarus continues for almost 200 days. So do the atrocitie
  2. New criminal cases and hearings
  3. New facts prove army units were used by militsyia (OMON) commanders
  4. Repressions continue – with new targets and frameworks
  5. Recommendations

Post-election civil disobedience in Belarus continues for almost 200 days. So do the atrocitie

This is an update on the ongoing political crisis in the Republic of Belarus prepared for you by the International Strategic Action Network for Security (iSANS).

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report to UN Human Rights Council. It reveals gross violations of human rights in Belarus, including systematic torture and ill-treatment of civilians. UN human rights experts concluded that the Republic of Belarus is facing «a human rights crisis of a magnitude unprecedented in Belarus» which has been one of the world’s worst human rights abuser since mid-1990s, but after August 9, 2020 things have gone a lot worse.

OHCHR came to a conclusion that systematic use of torture, ill-treatment and other punitive practices by the regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka has transformed Belarus into a place run in the «atmosphere of fear and impunity» with no accountability for such human rights violations. OHCHR calls for immediate and unconditional release of «all those unlawfully or arbitrarily detained for peacefully exercising their freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly or their legitimate functions, including human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers». OHCHR additionally calls to cease and reverse «any administrative or criminal judicial action against people for exercising their human rights, including the rights to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly».

The report was prepared in a form of remote monitoring since the regime of Lukashenka refuses to cooperate with the OHCHR and denies all external human rights experts access into Belarus under all special procedures of the Human Rights Council, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus.

Although the number of political prisoners acknowledged by human rights groups grew to 256, the actual numbers of people detained on political grounds are a lot higher. Human rights activists are unable to process all cases immediately due to high level of new detentions and unprecedented measures of intimidation targeting human rights groups and lawyers (over the last week only, at least four lawyers of political activists were deprived of their licenses on political grounds). Overall, no less than 1,800 criminal cases were initiated against peaceful protesters since August 2020, and the number keeps growing every week.

On Monday, the EU will consider its fourth package of sanctions against Lukashenka’s regime. Ahead of the meeting of EU representatives, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya gave a large interview to the Times (UK), and expressed reasonable critics in relation to measures taken by the EU in relation to illegal and illegitimate government in Minsk. Tsikhanouskaya named the existing EU sanctions a «derisory»: «Only 90 people are under sanctions. It’s a mockery, the Lukashenko regime is laughing».

So far, only 90 individuals are sanctioned by the EU – although dozens of thousands of officials and state security workers are proved to have taken part in election frauds and post-elections violence – with most names known to public and collected by human rights groups and digital activists. The regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka continues to use torture against civilians, but Western response to atrocities indeed remains very modest.

New criminal cases and hearings

Trial of the ex-presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka has begun the last week. The «court» rejected all requests by Babryka’s defense, and the outcomes of the case seem predictable. The results of the case may well be dependent on the upcoming meeting of Putin and Lukashenka in Sochi (takes place today, on Monday). Babaryka is a former CEO of Belarus-based Gazprom-owned bank, «Belgazprombank». Babaryka was arrested soon after he announced his ambition to run for president’s seat, and there were expectations the Kremlin will not let put a recent high-profile banker in a jail.

Last week, large number of activists has been sentenced to terms of up to 5 years in jail. Some of those facing reprisals were kept in detention centers without proper legal grounds since August 2020. One of those sentenced this week, Mr. Liavon Khalatranacknowledged that GUBOPiK / GUBAZiK units continue to use torture against people detained on political grounds, and stated he witnessed new way of torture in a detention center: a prisoner’s mouth was ripped with a rope.

Another prisoner, Volha Paulava (an activist of Siarhei Tsikhanouski’s media project «A Country for Living» and a member of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s campaign team) acknowledged in court that when she was kept in Akrestsina detention center in Minsk on August 9-12, she saw how «men were beaten to death». She also stated that she survived «a gas chamber set up by prison officers for women». New facts of such kind are still being reported by inmates of various detention centers, but mostly Akrestsina: prison guards reportedly continue using tear gas to torture inmates in cells, including females.

Two journalists, Katsiaryna Andreyeva (Bakhvalava) and Darya Chultsvoa were sentenced to 2 years in jail for performing their professional duties. They were running a live stream from a place where a commemoration of Raman Bandarenka was taking place. Bandarenka (31) was kidnapped and killed in November 2020 by a group of people related to Aliaksandr Lukashenka (both personally and professionally) with a backup of OMON squad.

On February 18, the Prosecutor General’s Office initiated a criminal investigation on the matter of Bandarenka’s death. While detailed facts of the matter were already investigated by BYPOL, it is unlikely the case will be studied thoroughly by the acting government. Lukashenka claims the victim of kidnapping was drunk (as if this was a legit reason to kill Bandarenka).

Recently, a criminal case has been opened against medical doctor Artsiom Sarokin who examined Bandarenka’s body. Despite Lukashenka’s ungrounded claims, Dr. Sarokin provided journalists with a copy of medical tests that proved no alcohol was present in Bandarenka’s in blood at the time of his violent death. Sarokin was detained immediately. So was an investigative journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich who published a copy of Bandarenka’s test at tut.by.

Bandarenka’s family has no issues with that publication, and never dropped any charges neither against the doctor, nor against the journalist. On the contrary, Bandarenka’s family supports these people. The nature of the case is purely political and should be treated a revenge for questioning Lukashenka’s words (mainly because the kidnappers are closely related to Lukashenka himself and his youngest and the most beloved extramarital son Mikalai / Kolia).

Сourt hearings against Sarokin and Barysevich are taking place behind closed doors. Ambulance doctor and a journalist face 3 years in jail on absurd charges. Raman Bandarenka’s mother was forced to leave the hearings.

Last week, it was also announced that the Investigative Committee of Belarus will not investigate a public murder of Aliaksandr Taraikouski (see the image on top of the page). Taraikouski was the first person shot dead during the protests in August 2020. Acting head of the Investigative Committee of Belarus, Ivan Naskevich, stated that Taraikouski was killed legally (he slowly walked towards «Almaz» unit of the ministry of interior with his hands raised high wearing shorts and t-shirt posing no physical threat). In August, the press service of the ministry of interior intentionally provided fake information that Taraikouski killed himself after a bomb exploded in his own hand. Numerous videos published later proved that Taraikouski was internationally killed by the police. Press secretary of the ministry of interior Volha Chamadanava and the top commanders of the ministry should face justice for their engagement in intentional concealment of Taraikouski’s murder under international jurisdiction.

Similarly, criminal case into the violent death of another protester, Aliaksandr Vikhor, will not be started.

New facts prove army units were used by militsyia (OMON) commanders

In another case of intentional murder of protester in Brest, the collapse of Belarus judiciary system is even more obvious. A witness of the murder of Henadz Shutau, Aliaksandr Kardziukou, faces 25 years in prison. Raman Haurylau, who acknowledged he is the murderer (and is a military officer of special operations unit 89147 based in Maryina Gorka), is actually acknowledged «the victim» by the court. In this case, Haurylau, as well as his teammate, warrant officer Arseny Golitsyn, acknowledged the army used lethal weapons against the civilians.

The order to use the army against the civilians was given illegally by the head of Belarus special operations forces Vadzim Dzenisenka upon a request of the head of the armed forces Viktar Khrenin (who also publicly stated that he will use military against civilians even if it is a criminal order since he makes no difference between criminal and legal order given to Belarus military). Both Dzenisenka and Khrenin should face justice internationally or on Belarusian soil for organization of crimes against humanity and intentional and illegal use of lethal weapons by military against civil population in Belarus.

Although the use of Belarus Armed Forces against civilians in times of peace is not allowed under acting national and international law, army units were illegally transferred under commandment of police (OMON) since August 9, 2020. During the murder of Shutau in Brest on August 11, the soldiers wore civilian clothes and were armed with 9mm PM pistols with live bullets. Shutau was killed at a short range with a gunshot in the back of his head as is practiced during military executions. All acts of military violence against civilians in Belarus must be treated as international military crimes and all perpetrators must face justice in a special international body investigating such activities.

Repressions continue – with new targets and frameworks

On February 16, police units loyal to Lukashenka arranged close to 90 raids on offices and homes of staff members of the Viasna Human Rights Center, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the REP independent trade union and dozens of civil society activists and media workers. So far, this is the most extensive crackdown on journalists and human rights activists in three decades of independent history of Belarus, and intimidation campaign will inevitably continue in more violent forms. Repressions will evolve into even harder and less grounded acts to sustain the demands of state security for new finance – even if there will be no protest activity, and new victims will pop up.

For instance, on February 17, the police assaulted a protestant church in Minsk region and kicked out all believers following a long-lasting property dispute. The crackdown, however, began after church leaders expressed disagreement with state-orchestrated violence against civilians. Protestants are the third religious group directly intimidated by the regime – following Roman catholics and orthodox priests.

Despite continuous and illegal violence of Luakshenka’s mercenaries in militsiya (first and foremost – OMON and GUBOPik /GUBAZiK), KGB, army, and various state security bodies, Western response remains very limited.

In an effort to enhance the intensity of repressions, the regime of Lukashenka is developing a law on «foreign agents» (presumably, based on Russia’ law) and updates «law on extremism». The latter, considering completed erosion of the judiciary and law enforcement, as well as politically-motivated application of all laws in Belarus will de-facto ban any criticism of the so-called «authorities» as well as will de-facto ban all legal ways of protesting in public. New «legislation» will establish a legal status of civilians relevant to the one within a state of full-time war, and will provide new grounds to make repressions target any civilian with no actual grounds for prosecution or the application of violence.

Recommendations

To the best of our knowledge, the illegitimate and illegal «government» in Minsk doesn’t plan to engage in any civilized dialogue with the majority of the population and /or their legitimate representatives – president-elect Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the Coordination Council that she has established. Hence, the regime of a self-declared «president» Lukashenka has to be targeted with the hardest sanctions regime available to avoid the influx of any external funding to Lukashenka’s clan, cut funding of punitive units and Lukashenka’s team, and conduct a full-fledged economic blockade of any businesses, enterprises, properties and / or commercial units related to Lukashenka and his immediate circle of businessmen.

Secondly, we strongly recommend foreign governments to implement the measures provided in the report of OSCE Moscow Mechanism. Foremost –  to create an international body for investigation of international crimes conducted by Belarus security forces since August 2020, and launch new cases under universal jurisdiction wherever possible.

Thirdly, It has to be understood that the regime in Minsk strongly relies on financial resources from the Russian Federation. Hence, all financial / economic partners of Lukashenka, his regime, and related business should be automatically added to sanctions lists, and be updated on a regular basis.

Finally, we recommend deepening ties with legal and legitimate representatives of the Republic of Belarus, president-elect Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the Coordination Council, as well as Belarus civil society, human rights groups, and journalists – while ignoring all initiatives and attempts to call for cooperation from the illegitimate «government» of Raman Halouchanka and self-declared «president» Lukashenka as well as all relevant “officials” who conducted and / or supported armed seizure of power on August 9-13, 2020 that resulted in ongoing crimes against humanity and threat to regional stability and peace in Eastern Europe.
 
Best regards,
iSANS team

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