Belarus Review Daily – December 3, 2020

Belarus Review Daily – December 3, 2020

Your daily insight into Belarus crisis (delivered Monday to Friday)

PAP/PIOTR NOWAK
03.12.2020 iSANS
  1. iSANS PUBLICATIONS
  2. POLITICAL ACTIVITY
  3. REPRESSIONS CONTINUE
  4. INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY

iSANS PUBLICATIONS

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iSANS investigator Yan Auseyushkin was arrested and imprisoned while covering the country’s pro-democracy protests. In a new publication on our website, he tells about the ill-treatment he witnessed inside the prison system.

Russia continues to push Lukashenka into a «constitutional reform» and register pro-Russian parties despite mass protests against self-declared president of Belarus. Kremlin will likely tie Lukashenka’s decision to register pro-Russian parties with the next package of financial support (under the condition of their presence in the «parliament»). iSANS offers a brief overview of key pro-Russian individuals who are directly engaged into creation of pro-Russian parties in Belarus. More information on the role of pro-Russian activists can be provided upon request.

iSANS team runs a long-term monitoring of anti-Belarusian toxic groups on Vkontakte (VK). During the first half of 2020, such groups made about 3,800 posts that contained propaganda and / or hate speech. The head of iSANS Monitoring Group, Andrey Eliseyeu, presents specific examples and types of propaganda identified by our team.

 

POLITICAL ACTIVITY

President-elect Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya announced she is ready to run Belarus during transit period.

The office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya launched a survey to find out the opinion of Belarusians on the matter of disconnecting the country’s bank system from SWIFT to enforce Lukashenka’s resignation.

Tsikhanouskaya also announced the launch of the second stage of «People’s Tribunal» to prosecute the perpetrators of gross human rights violations from among Belarus state officials. «Unified crime registration book» will collect all facts of wrongdoings conducted by Lukashenka regime. The evidence collected under this platform will be transferred to the OSCE, the Council of Europe and universal jurisdiction court in Lithuania for further resolution.

Since the cold weather has come, the protesters changed tactics from gathering in one spot to organizing dozens of meetings in central spots across all residential areas with «fluid leadership» and a great degree of self-organization. Sociologist Andrei Vardamatski who runs a monitoring of Belarusian public thought based on focus group methodology claims that the protesters share five characteristics that are already a well-established criterion of this group: – The protesters are ready to sustain physical pain, and the “bearable minimum” grew;

– Public fear of the authorities is now substituted with anger;

– The protesters are morally ready to sustain a long-lasting confrontation with the state;

– Participation in protests is publicly acknowledged as a source of emotional energy;

– Belarusians widely accepted a concept of protests without a leader. Although the protests in Belarus never carried a geopolitical agenda, the support of Lukashenka’s regime by Russia makes Belarusians reconsider their opinions about the eastern neighbor. Recent research conducted by Vardamatski in September-October 2020, shows that the number of people supporting the union with Russia decreased by 11.6%. If the trend will remain, it will naturally continue to decrease for as long as the Kremlin supports Lukashenka’s regime.

BSSF/Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, a highly respected Belarusian NGO created in summer 2020 to protect the rights of professional athletes who suffered from political repressions after August 9, 2020, urged International Olympics Committee and IIHF to impose a lifelong ban on Dzmitry Baskau (the head of Belarus Ice Hockey Federation) from participating in whichever hockey events in official capacity – all due to his personal role in imposing political repressions on members of professional sports community in Belarus. Baskau, who also is a personal trainer of Mikalai Lukashenka (the youngest son of the first president of Belarus), is currently alleged of being present in a scene of kidnapping of protester Raman Bandarenka, who died of injuries following this incident.

NEXTA published an interception of a call between Natalliya Eismant (Lukashenka’s press-secretary) and Mikalai Latyshonak (Lukashenka’s personal aide and head of his personal security). The call, that was leaked to NEXTA by an unknown source, reveal panic and frustration in Lukashenka’s administration as well as extreme exposure of his office to COVID-19.

Viasna human rights center officially stated that the repressions further intensify. Belarus is facing a rapid worsening human rights crisis. The country’s legal system is degrading to focus on repressions against the civil population.

Post-election protests continue for 115 consecutive days. According to Viasna human rights center, there are at least 147 political prisoners in Belarus. In November only, over 4,000 people have been detained on political grounds. The total number of politically motivated detentions since August 9 exceeded 30,000 people. Belarus does not investigate violent deaths of people killed by state officials after August 9, 2020.

ByPol, an initiative of law enforcement employees who refused to work for the regime after August events and aspire to establish an independent professional union, published new leaked video of OMON cracking jokes at Lukashenka behind his back on August 23, a day he ran around Minsk with Kalashnikov assault rifle. His youngest son, Mikalai, 16, was also given an assault rifle for a projected urban skirmish – which is a violation of national laws and may constitute the recruitment and use of a child soldier in a conspiracy of committing an armed seizure of power under international standards.

Over a hundred people joined strike at Belaruskali, one of the world’s biggest producers and exporters of potash fertilizers. More than half of them have already been fired on political grounds. Nevertheless, at least one new person joins the strike every day. Foreign governments should consider introducing sanctions against Belaruskali (and other state enterprises) until the company respects workers’ right to strike that is guaranteed by the international legislations and the obligations that Belarus carries as a party to relevant multilateral treaties. We urge foreign governments to persuade Norwegian company Yara to refrain from any further deals with Belaruskali until the latter ends all politically motivated repressions against dissident workers and their families.

In response to a letter against Lukashenka that was signed by 1,200 major athletes, acting authorities claimed to have their own popular petition. However, people on the list are mostly low-grade, juniors, or – in some cases – people who never actually signed it or heard of this letter before it was published claiming their names.

Belarusian Internet Observatory published a report on the impact of politically-motivated Internet blackouts in Belarus.

REPRESSIONS CONTINUE

According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), 363 journalists have been detained since the election day. According to BAJ deputy chairman Barys Haretski, this is the largest wave of repressions against journalists in entire history of Belarus. Tut.by journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich and five Belsat journalists are now facing criminal charges. Barysevich, as well as Belsat TV channel journalists Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Dariya Chultsova are in prison now. On November 2, Belarus ministry of information blocked mediazona.by, a website dedicated to protests in Belarus with primary focus on violations of law by state officials.

Lukashenka regime continues to use severe torture practices and ill treatment against dissidents on a mass scale. The International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus published a second interim report on the use of mass torture and ill treatment against civilians and prisoners in September-October 2020. Human rights watchdog highlights that Belarus state officials, prison guards and law enforcement commanders intentionally create conditions that inevitably make prisoners an detainees get infected with COVID-19. Human rights experts also highlight that law enforcement employees intentionally paint-spray certain groups of civilians, including the Belarusian-speaking minority, to later give them «special» violent treatment. The detainees in this category are being spray-painted on their heads, hands, and / or clothes to make them very visible.

13 human rights organizations that formed the Committee, acknowledged that the use of torture and ill treatment substantially expanded since August and resulted in at least one lethal case. Painter Raman Bandarenka, 31, was kidnapped and beaten to death by a group of law enforcement employees and people identified as Dzmitry Baskau (the head of Belarus Hockey Federation and personal trainer of Lukashenka’s youngest son Mikalai), and Dzmitry Shakuta (a former trainer of two renowned punitive squads, SOBR and the Minsk-based 3rd Separate Red Banner Special-Purpose Brigade (also known as Military Unit 3214).

Following the kidnapping of Raman Bandarenka, Baskau reportedly received a BYN 550,000 loan (circa $213,000) from a state-owned Belarusbank to purchase a luxurious mansion that was initially put on sale for $1.25 million. Baskau reported the price of the purchase at BYN 677,578 (circa $262,000). He was provided a loan despite bank’s absolute off-limits on property loans set up on May 1, 2020.

The International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus highlights that the use of torture and ill treatment (that was conducted by the followers of Aliaksandr Lukashenka against peaceful protesters and prisoners) is gaining new characteristics:

– purposeful identity concealment by most law enforcement employees (civilian clothes or uniforms without insignia, balaclavas on their heads, refusing to provide any documents and / or introduce themselves, the use of civil and police cars without number plates or special marking);

– detentions fit the definition of abductions (prohibition of calls to relatives upon detention conducted against existing legal procedures, failure to notify relatives of the fact of detention as such, purposefully providing false information about the whereabouts of the detainees to relatives and friends of the detainees, as well as journalists and lawyers);

– purposeful and deliberate creation of inhumane conditions in places of detention to punish and humiliate detainees (lack of measures to protect against coronavirus, isolation and treatment, no water or food provided, purposeful creation of anti-sanitary conditions, refusing to provide even basic sleeping accessories, blocking all mailing and connection with the outer world for all categories of people detained on political grounds, rejecting to ensure most basic rights of people in detention as guaranteed by international and national law). Belarus ceased to follow its international obligations to protect own citizens from torture and inhuman treatment.

OMON units and unknown masked men in olive uniforms without insignia continue to participate in illegal detentions and kidnappings of peaceful protesters, civil activists, journalists and random civilians as a part of intimidation campaign against civil population.

More and more people are being arrested at their own homes and brought to detention centers for having national white-red-white flags in their windows and balconies. The white-red-white flag is a historical flag of Belarus and has been associated with national peaceful resistance movement since early 20 century. No law prohibits the use of this banner – however the representatives of Lukashenka regime started a full-fledged war against the national flag. The officials tend to call it «illegal symbolics» or «anti-state symbolics» to ground their illegal activity. The police, the ministry of emergencies and social workers are now oblige to steal or destroy all national flags, vandalize stripes that people tie in residential areas to express solidarity, and anything that resembles white-red-white color pattern across the country. Law enforcement uses stolen flags as a way of humiliating protestors – the flags are often placed on the floor at the entry to riot vans and detention centers and all detainees are forced to step on a flag to avoid illegal physical punishment and torture. Numerous people were threatened by law enforcement for placing the clothes, including t-shirts, underwear, and bras in white-red-white order at their balconies in residential housing areas.

Conveyer judicial hearings now often happen immediately upon the completion of detention certificate. Politically-related cases rarely last for more than 5 minutes. They are being organized via Skype, and people are denied any basic legal protection. The courts treat flags placed in windows and balconies inside of privately-owned apartments as «unauthorized political meetings» and sentence civilians to large fines of up to 15 days in jail for their activity which is not treated illegal under national laws.

As a rule, the witnesses are masked anonymous law enforcement employees who provide fake allegations against the detainees. We strongly recommend adding all judges and aw enforcement officials responsible for politically-motivated cases as well as all their immediate relatives to international sanctions lists.

Software engineer Dmitry Kapustenok, 29, sustained a gunshot wound to his chest before he was detained at a protest rally in Minsk on November 29. His was diagnosed with «a gunshot, blind, non-penetrating chest wound on the right.» A contusion of the right kidney is under question yet.

Prosecutors office requests information about all people who don’t pay for the facilities immediately. In August 2020, many people refused to pay for state services for political reasons. Now it is likely that the prosecutors office seeks to trace and punish them.

INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY

On 2 December, the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, and MEPs met Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. They discussed the upcoming EU measures to support democratic changes in Belarus and announced EUR 30+ million of immediate help to Belarusian civil society, journalists and victims of repressions to be delivered in early 2021.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun will take part in the virtual OSCE Ministerial Council on December 3, 2020 to discuss the violent crackdown in Belarus.

The foreign minister of Poland, Zbigniew Rau, stated that no constitutional reform in Belarus should take place before fair elections happen. It should be noted that in the last few weeks there is an imitation of dialogue conducted by Belarus presidential administration and Belarusian secret services – primarily the KGB. Yuri Voskresenski, a former detainee, is being used to run a «round circle» of opposition and acting authorities although he was never given such mandate and does not represent any legitimate or legit political power with any representation whatsoever. Voskresenski should be treated as a talking head of a covert operation aimed to keep the relationships with the West and run business as usual. This initiative has nothing to do with dialogue, and should be regarded as null and void from a standpoint of political representation.

Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas announced that his country is ready to support investigation of crimes conducted by Belarus officials in 2020, and will impose the third package of sanctions against Belarus unless Lukashenka begins real dialogue with his challengers.

Lithuania will provide free visas to all victims of political repressions in Belarus. Now visas cost 60 EUR. As of November 20, Lithuania issued 674 humanitarian visas to the citizens of Belarus.

Tomáš Petříček, foreign minister of Czech Republic spoke out against IIHF Ice Hockey Championship 2021 in Belarus. In his opinion, this event will be used to legitimize illegal regime. IIHF did not cancel the championship yet, but is reviewing this decision now.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called up on Russia and Belarus to respect the will of Belarusian people, and engage in a dialogue with opponents.

Best regards,
iSANS team

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