Restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly increased during the year. The government continued to carry out executions. Prisoners of conscience remained in detention and were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. The right to a fair trial was restricted.
Social unrest increased due to a worsening economic situation, and the government responded with restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.
On 17 June, the UN Human Rights Council expressed concerns at the situation in Belarus. It condemned the human rights violations following the December 2010 elections; it urged the government to co-operate fully with UN human rights mechanisms and to allow international monitors to carry out their work, and not to detain or expel them. Relations with the EU worsened. On 10 October the EU Council announced that it would extend until 31 October 2012 its travel ban on those responsible for violations of international electoral standards and for the crackdown on civil society.Top of page
The government executed two men during the year and passed two death sentences.
There was no independent system of monitoring places of detention. Complaints against law enforcement officers were usually rejected by prosecutors, and those who complained faced reprisals from police.
In March, journalist Andrzej Poczobut, was charged with “insulting the President” and “libelling the President” for articles that he had written for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. On 5 June, he received a three-year suspended prison sentence.Top of page
Registered and unregistered human rights groups faced prosecution and harassment throughout the year. The Law on Public Associations changed on 3 October to prohibit Belarusian NGOs from holding funds or bank accounts abroad. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission commented that the Criminal Code, which makes participation in the activities of non-registered political parties, or other public associations, a crime, “was incompatible with a democratic society.”
Restrictions on all forms of public gatherings increased during the year. On 3 October Parliament approved amendments to the Law on Public Assemblies. Any kind of pre-planned public gathering requires official permission: organizers are required to report “financial sources” used for the event; and they are not allowed to publicize the event until official permission is granted, which might not be until five days prior to the event. Law enforcement officers also have wider powers to make audio and video recordings, limit participants’ access to the event and carry out body searches.
Between January and June, trials continued against leading political activists in connection with their participation in, or organization of, the mainly peaceful demonstration in Minsk on 19 December 2010. At the end of the year six remained in detention in connection with these events, all of them prisoners of conscience. Zmitser Bandarenka was sentenced to two years’ hard labour on 26 March. Andrei Sannikau was sentenced to five years on 14 May. Pavel Sevyarynets was sentenced to three years on 16 May. Mykalaj Statkevich was sentenced to six years on 26 May. On 24 March, Zmitser Dashkevich and Eduard Lobau were sentenced to two and four years respectively for hooliganism. Others, including Andrei Sannikau’s wife Iryna Khalip, were given suspended sentences. Six other prisoners of conscience were released during the year: three were informed that their cases had been closed, and one was released on bail and sought asylum abroad.Top of page
Despite legislative guarantees, people who were charged following the demonstration on 19 December 2010 had infrequent access to their lawyers and were not able to meet them in private. Some lawyers reported that they were often refused access to their clients on the grounds that no meeting rooms were available. The government reported that there were only two rooms available for lawyers at the KGB detention centre in Minsk and for that reason meetings had been restricted.
Some lawyers who defended opposition leaders accused of organizing mass disorder in December 2010 were disbarred. In March 2011, Pavel Sapelko, who had defended Andrei Sannikau, was disbarred. On 7 August, Tamara Sidorenko, Alyaksei Mihalevich’s lawyer, lost her licence.Top of page