Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Jailed Belarus Opposition Activist Is Forcibly Fed In Prison Clinic

Syarhey Kavalenka in late February

RFE/RL's Belarus Service
VITSEBSK, Belarus -- Jailed Belarusian opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka, whose health has deteriorated due to a lengthy hunger strike, reportedly is being forcibly fed in a prison psychiatric clinic in the eastern city of Vitsebsk.

Prison officials told Kavalenka's relatives on April 2 that Kavalenka’s state of health is “close to grave” and a decision was made to feed him forcibly with a milk formula using a feeding tube.

Kavalenka, 37, was sentenced in February to 25 months in jail for a parole violation.

He was detained in December for allegedly violating the terms of his parole for a conviction on charges of "illegally displaying the banned Belarusian national flag."

He began his hunger strike shortly after his detention.

Officials force-fed him in January, but he resumed his hunger strike in February.

EU Ministers To Expand Belarus Sanctions

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has confirmed that his government created a list of political opponents and activists who are barred from leaving the country.

The European Union is expected to blacklist another 12 Belarusian individuals close to the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka when the member states' foreign ministers meet in Brussels on March 23.

EU diplomats told RFE/RL that they will have their assets frozen and be subject to an EU visa ban, including judges, prosecutors, and businessmen -- such as Yury Chizh.

Assets of 29 entities linked to the individuals on the list will also be frozen.

Chizh was removed from a similar list last month after pressure from Latvia and Slovenia due to the two countries' close business ties with the Belarusian tycoon.

Diplomats said Ljubljana and Riga had agreed to place him on the list this time, but secured that some of his entities won't be sanctioned.

A total of 231 Belarusian individuals and three entities have so far been targeted by the European Union.

Meanwhile in Belarus, Lukashenka confirmed on March 21 that his government had created a list of political opponents and activists who are barred from leaving the country.

In an interview with Russia's state-run RT television, Lukashenka said the list had been drawn up, but "we haven't put it fully into action."

He said the move was a response to European Union travel restrictions imposed on figures associated with the government for their role in repressing political opposition.

In the interview, Lukashenka accused opposition activists of running a "fifth column" against him by advocating increased EU sanctions.

He accused them of advising the EU on which companies and individuals to target with sanctions.

With AFP, Reuters, and Interfax reporting

Interview: Belarus Subway-Bombing Trial 'Like Some Kind of Phantasmagoria'

The trial of Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavalyou in Minsk was held in the Palace of Justice -- "a place clearly suited for performances and concerts, not for a trial."

MINSK -- Aleh Hruzdzilovich, a correspondent with RFE/RL's Belarus Service, attended every session of the 2 1/2-month trial of accused subway bombers Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavalyou, who were executed last week despite pleas for clemency and complaints that the court process was flawed.

Hruzdzilovich has written about the trial in a new book, currently being excerpted by RFE/RL's Belarus Service. In an interview with Syarhey Ablameika of RFE/RL's Belarus Service, Hruzdzilovich talks about the reasons why so many doubts remain about both the trial and the men's execution.

RFE/RL: Your book is going to be called "Who Blew Up the Minsk Metro?" But why are you posing that question? Hasn't the court already answered that question? The terrorists have been identified and put to death.

Aleh Hruzdzilovich:
The court named the terrorists. But I think -- and this is according to my own impressions, as well as those of a majority of my contacts -- that everyone still has questions. I also have questions.

We're all unsure that the terrorists were Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavalyou, and we're especially unsure that the degree of punishment that Kavalyou, for example, received, can be considered deserved. So it raises this important question of who did it -- a question I think that still needs to be resolved.

A combo photo of Uladzislau Kavalyou (left) and Dzmitry Kanavalau during a court hearing in Minsk in September 2011.A combo photo of Uladzislau Kavalyou (left) and Dzmitry Kanavalau during a court hearing in Minsk in September 2011.
A combo photo of Uladzislau Kavalyou (left) and Dzmitry Kanavalau during a court hearing in Minsk in September 2011.
A combo photo of Uladzislau Kavalyou (left) and Dzmitry Kanavalau during a court hearing in Minsk in September 2011.
It's also true that this took place at a politically dangerous moment. Even now things remain complicated. There's an obvious political factor running through this entire story. So it's hard to believe that there were simply two guys who blew up a bomb like a New Year's firecracker, and that there's nothing political about it.

At the trial, I had the impression that the authorities were already taking this political factor into account; you could hear it coming through in the case materials. The judge tried to hide it, but it still got out. It's a fact that has to be considered. And if politics are involved, then it's not at all surprising that the question of who did it has yet to be fully resolved.

RFE/RL: Do you answer the question you pose, or do you leave the reader the possibility of drawing their own conclusions?

Of course I try to lay out my own opinion. But naturally there are still a lot of questions to which neither I nor the court can offer clear answers. The most important thing is that people -- judging from messages on the Internet, various articles, and interviews -- understand this situation pretty well or at least are trying to, and they have come up with certain theories of their own that are worthy of attention and analysis. I'm trying to analyze these theories as well. They're interesting for me, as a journalist.

'Some Kind Of Phantasmagoria'

RFE/RL: You attended the entire trial, which ran from September 15 through November 30 of last year. All in all, you were present for more than 40 court sessions. What was your lasting impression of what you saw? Was there any way in which this trial was different from others?

It's possible [that] the biggest difference was the atmosphere of obvious theatricality. Everything took place in the assembly hall of the Palace of Justice, a place that is clearly suited for performances and concerts, not for a trial.

Uladzislau Kavalyou is led into a holding cage before hearings in Minsk on September 15.Uladzislau Kavalyou is led into a holding cage before hearings in Minsk on September 15.
Uladzislau Kavalyou is led into a holding cage before hearings in Minsk on September 15.
Uladzislau Kavalyou is led into a holding cage before hearings in Minsk on September 15.
Up on the stage, there was an iron cage. Down below, there were people sitting in plush chairs, lounging and watching things up on the stage unfold. Occasionally the judge would step down and demonstrate some things, like a magician.

Very often this trial seemed like some kind of phantasmagoria. And then, suddenly there would be these flashes of reality -- a dog would bark in the hallway, and a masked OMON officer would squeeze through the door carrying an automatic rifle and escort the accused into the cage, their hands behind their back like some kind of bird. It was terrible -- like a shower that runs hot and cold.

RFE/RL: I was shocked by one of your stories about the fact that there were hidden balconies in the hall for correspondents from state television and the official news agency, Belta. Was it really the case that members of the state-run mass media were working under considerably better conditions than independent journalists?

I know for a fact it was true for Belta, because I spoke to one of their correspondents and he confirmed it. He sat up there, with his own dedicated Internet connection. All of us down in the hall had no Internet connection -- we couldn't even send text messages. During breaks we would jump out and send things from the corridor. Even in the foyer just outside the courtroom you couldn't do anything -- the connection didn't work. And that guy from Belta sat up above, and everything worked for him.

As for Belarus-TV, I didn't see exactly, because from the hall it was impossible to observe that balcony. But we could see how the judge, the lawyers, the defendants -- who were all up on the stage -- would sometimes raise their eyes and look up at someone. So we got the impression that there was someone there.

But when I saw the station's coverage of the first day of the trial, showing how one of the defendants responded to the essential question of whether he was guilty or not -- I knew that this moment couldn't have been filmed, because the judge had already raised the issue of permits and said no cameras were allowed. But it was clear that they did, and the angle of the shot suggested it was filmed from the balcony. By the way, there was also television footage of the sentencing, taken from that same balcony -- despite the judge's ban.

Audio Two Executed For 2011 Minsk Metro Bomb Attack

Uladzislau Kavalyou during a hearing in a court room in Minsk in September 2011

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 18.03.2012 12:06

RFE/RL's Belarus Service
State media in Belarus say the two men convicted of carrying out a 2011 subway bombing attack in Minsk that left 15 dead and hundreds wounded have been executed.

In a brief report, state news agency BeITA said Uladzislau Kavalyou and Dzmitry Kanavalau were put to death.

The judicial killings came just days after President Alyaksandr Lukashenka refused a plea for clemency on behalf of the two factory workers.

They also came despite appeals from foreign governments and the European Union to spare the two mens' lives until "considerable doubts and questions" in the case, in the words of a spoeksman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, could be dispelled.

Human rights activist Lyudmila Gryaznova condemned the executions, saying: "The execution of the so-called terrorists, whose guilt remains under suspicion, gives the appearance that the government is concealing the traces of the crime."

AP news agency reported that people angered by the executions lit candles outside the Minsk subway station and outside the Belarusian Embassy in Moscow  on March 18.

They were killed with a single bullet to the back of the head, as prescribed under Belarusian law.

The mother of Kavalyou, Lyubou Kavalyova, initially told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency she had received official notification about the execution of her son. 

Kavalyova said she received a letter informing the family of the execution (see below for the letter, in Russian).

"My mother just took the notice out of the mailbox. The Supreme Court...a letter from March 16...that the order was carried out.... Mama received it, they killed him. Everything was in vain. Everything was in vain," a sobbing Tatsyana Kavalyova, Kavalyou's sister, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service.

Tatsyana Kavalyova Reacts To The Letter (in Belarusian)
Тацяна Кавалёва пра ліст зь Вярхоўнага судуi
|| 0:00:00

The news comes after Lyubou Kavalyova told RFE/RL on March 16 that she had asked Belarus's president to stay the execution for at least one year, until her son receives a response to his appeal to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights over the death sentence.

Kavalyova later told Reuters her son's execution was revenge by Lukashenka's government.

"It all led to this," Kavalyova said. "They thought they could threaten the boys and the boys would keep it quiet. Yes, Dima [Dzmitry Kanavalau] kept it quiet, but my son did not.... They thought they would scare the children and they will be quiet. All their scenario of the investigation and of the court.... They would have executed him back then [in November 2011], but my son did not let them do it. So they got their revenge, against my son and against me."

Lyubou Kavalyova reacts to news of her son's execution at her home in Vitsebsk on March 17.Lyubou Kavalyova reacts to news of her son's execution at her home in Vitsebsk on March 17.
Lyubou Kavalyova reacts to news of her son's execution at her home in Vitsebsk on March 17.
Lyubou Kavalyova reacts to news of her son's execution at her home in Vitsebsk on March 17.
In Brussels, Maja Kocijancic, the spokeswoman of EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, reacted to the news by saying, "if this is indeed confirmed, we condemn this."

"I can also add that of course we are aware of the terrible crimes that Mr. Kavalyou and Mr. Kanavalau were condemned for, and our thoughts are with the victims and the families," Kocijancic said, "but at the same time we also know that the two accused were not accorded due process including the right to defend themselves."

See full reporting in Belarusian by RFE/RL's Belarus Service here

Ashton had appealed to Belarus on March 16 not to execute the two men condemned to death on charges related to the bombing on the Minsk subway in April 2011.

A statement from Ashton's office said she was "very concerned" about the decision not to pardon Kavalyou and Kanavalau, who were sentenced in November.

Germany also urged Belarus on March 16 not to execute the two men, warning the executions could further strain relations between the two countries.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told journalists that Lukashenka's rejection of the execution appeal on March 14 filled Berlin with "great concern" that the sentences would imminently be carried out.

Seibert added there were "quite considerable doubts and questions" regarding the case against both men.

On March 14, Lukashenka had refused to grant clemency to the two 26-year-old factory workers, despite the pleas of Kavalyou's mother.

The quick investigation and lack of motives presented during the trial of the two men has sparked accusations that the bombing was a plot by security services to justify a crackdown against Lukashenka's political foes.

Lukashenka, who was reelected in a controversial December 2010 vote, has said that the blast was an attempt to destabilize the country by unknown enemies of the state. Belarusian investigators said the men were driven by "hatred for humankind," not political or religious motives.

On March 16, Belarusian activists held a ceremony to commemorate the subway explosion victims in Minsk to try to draw public attention to the situation faced by the two convicts.

The event was organized via social networks, where activists wrote that they wanted a new trial for Kanavalau and Kavalyou and a moratorium on the death penalty in Belarus. 

Belarus is the last country in Europe to carry out executions.

With AP, ITAR-TASS, Reuters and AFP reporting

The letter received by Lyubou Kavalyova:


Belarus Blocks Another Critic From Going To EU

Zhana Litvina says she was given no explanation for being blocked from flying to Warsaw.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service
MINSK -- Another Belarusian opposition activist has been blocked from traveling to a European Union country.

Zhana Litvina, head of the Belarus Association of Journalists, a media-freedom watchdog, told RFE/RL that border guards at Minsk's airport prevented her from taking a flight to the Polish capital, Warsaw, on March 15.

She said the officials gave no explanation.

In a March 15 statement, the Belarus Association of Journalists condemned unlawful travel restrictions and "increased pressure on journalists" by prosecutors and the Belarusian KGB.

Four journalists and about half a dozen other activists have been blocked from leaving Belarus recently.

Officials have declined to comment on reports that the government has compiled a list of journalists, opposition activists and human rights defenders who are forbidden to leave Belarus.

Officials deny opposition accusations that a list of people banned from traveling to the West has been drawn up in response to new targeted EU sanctions on officials in the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka over repression of the political opposition.

Belarusian Opposition Concerned For Jailed Activist’s Health

Syarhey Kavalenka in court in Vitsebsk on February 22

RFE/RL's Belarus Service
MINSK -- The opposition Youth Front movement and the United Civic Party (AHP) in Belarus have urged the Belarusian prosecutor-general to transfer jailed activist Syarhey Kavalenka to house arrest due to poor health caused by his ongoing hunger strike.

Kavalenka, 37, was sentenced in the eastern city of Vitsebsk in February to 25 months in jail for parole violation.

Kavalenka's relatives, who visited him in a jail hospital in Minsk on March 5, told RFE/RL that he looked weak and had lost some 30 kilograms since he started the hunger strike in December.

Kavalenka told his relatives he would continue the hunger strike.

He was detained in December 2011 for allegedly violating the terms of his parole on an earlier conviction on charges of "illegally displaying the banned Belarusian national flag."

Relatives Allowed To Visit Belarusian Activist In Prison Hospital

Jailed Belarusian activist Syarhey Kavalenka

RFE/RL's Belarus Service
VITSEBSK, Belarus -- A judge in the eastern Belarusian city of Vitsebsk has allowed relatives of jailed opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka to visit him in a prison hospital in Minsk.

Syarhey Kavalenka, 37, was sentenced in Vitsebsk last week to 25 months in jail for a parole violation, and sent to a prison hospital in the capital, Minsk, on February 28.

His wife was allowed to visit him before the transfer.

Kavalenka has reportedly lost some 30 kilograms while on hunger strike and his four-day trial was delayed several times due to health concerns.

He was detained in December 2011 for allegedly violating the terms of his parole relating to an earlier conviction on charges of "illegally displaying the banned Belarusian national flag."

Belarus Crackdown

After a disputed presidential election on December 19 in Belarus, hundreds of protesters still remain in jail. Candidates who ran against the incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka could be jailed for up to 15 years. This page brings you some of the best ongoing reporting on the postelection crisis from RFE/RL's Belarus Service.


Photogallery Belarus: Scenes Of The Crackdown

Police in Belarus beat demonstrators with batons and rounded up opposition leaders in a violent crackdown after an election on December 19 that returned incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka for a fourth term with 80 percent of the vote.

Video Police Crack Down On Opposition In Minsk

Thousands of protesters gathered in downtown Minsk soon after the polls closed on December 19 as oppositon presidential candidate Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu addressed the crowd, calling for President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to step down. Security forces in antiriot gear forcibly dispersed the crowd, detaining hundreds and beating protesters with batons.

Video Journalist Beaten Amid Minsk Protests

An RFE/RL correspondent was beaten and his camera was broken as he covered police dispersing opposition protests in downtown Minsk. Security forces used batons to break up the crowd and detained hundreds of protesters.

Audio Slide Show Outrage In Minsk As Lukashenka Claims Victory

RFE/RL writer at large James Kirchick reports from the scene of a police crackdown in Belarus as thousands protested the reelection of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Video Belarus Protesters Hold Vigil Outside Prison

Opposition supporters in Belarus have been holding candlelight vigils outside the Minsk prison where hundreds of their fellow activists have been detained since mass protests on December 19. The detainees include several political candidates who ran against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

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