The organizing committee of Charter’97 has determined nominees for National Human Rights Award 2008.
Award “For Personal Courage” in defending human rights is given to Franak Vyachorka, Zmitser Barodka, Maxim Vinyarski, Artsyom Dubski, Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau, Uladzimir Asipenka and Yana Palyakova.
He started his fight for human rights and dignity, including the right to study in his native language since his youth, when the Belarusian authorities shut down Yakub Kolas Belarusian Lyceum where he studied. Then Franak and many other students made a stand for their Alma mater: they staged protest rallies, wrote petitions, handed out leaflets and continued to study in their lyceum underground. Now Franak Vyachorka is one of the founders and leaders of “Moladz BNF” (“Belarusian Popular Front”) organisation. For participation in street rallies he was imprisoned to remand prison in Akrestsin Street many times, he was beaten up and fined. In early 2009 Franak Vyachorka was forcibly drafted to the army despite health problems and a statement of a medical board. The young activist was taken to the military unit near Mozyr handcuffed. In the army Franak upholds his legal right to be a Belarusian solder proper: to speak mother tongue, to use Belarusian military terms. Oddly enough, in today’s Belarusian army it is not easy to be a Belarusian.
He is called a real hero of Belarusian Resistance, moreover, the first youth organisation created by Barodka in his native town of Barysau was called “Volat” (“Brave man”). Then Zmitser became one of the founders of “Zubr” movement, and now he is one of the leaders of “European Belarus” civil campaign. Many years Zmitser Barodka have been taking part in all protest rallies of the opposition, inspiring Belarusians by his courage and firmness. Dozens of times Zmitser was beaten up. Arrested, but as said by him, he hadn’t a second of hesitation that he had chosen the right course. This year the Barysau dweller was an active participant of “Freedom to political prisoners!” campaign, one of the organizers and participants of relay hunger strike of solidarity with Vaukavysk businessmen. Zmitser Barodka has three children, and as said by him, he fights for their future life in a free EUropeab Belarus.
An activist of “European Belarus” Maxim Vinyarski is one of the organisers of “Freedom to political prisoners!” campaign and Days of Belarusian Solidarity. In spring young people gathered in the streets of Minsk every day, they held portraits of political prisoners and demanded their immediate release. Nothing could stop them: either beating, or intimidation, or arrests and fines. Maxim Vinyarski knows well important how solidarity is, as he had spent more than 110 days in prisons himself. “None of us can feel free while at ;least one political prisoner is behind the bars,” is the credo of the youth leader.
In 2008 Artsyom Dubski, an activist of “Young Front”, was sentenced to restriction of freedom in the notorious Case of Fourteen for participation in re rally of entrepreneurs. Later one more criminal case was opened against “too active” young man. Artsyom left for Ukraine, but he couldn’t stand aside from the events in his mother country for long and returned to continue the struggle together with his friends. However at the border policemen found Dubski in the train and arrested. The trial sentenced him to a year of imprisonment for violation of the rules of serving the sentence. He was on hunger strike in prison and in the colony several times protesting against pressure exerted on him and defended his rights. “Amnesty International” recognized Artsyom Dubski Prisoner of conscience.
Mikalai Autukhovich is a real hero. He participated in the war in Afghanistan where he had been sent under an order of the Soviet government. He was awarded Red Star order, “For Courage” medal and “Medal of Honour For Combat Services”. Since 2003 Autukhovich experiences crackdown of the regime because of his principled stand and active citizenship. He has lost his business and was imprisoned for the second time: the first time he was imprisoned on false economic charges, and now under even more absurd accusations of terrorism and arson. During the first arrest Autukhovich was recognized a political prisoner by the US, and second time he was arrested a day before the term of punishment finished. Autukhovich was on two long-term hunger strikes in prisons, they lasted 50 and 90 days. He doesn’t plead guilty. The life of the political prisoner is in danger, as he has a number of grave chronic diseases. Many human rights activists and experts believe that Autukhovich is persecuted as he was a founder of an independent organization of Afghan war veterans. But the courageous Afghan war participant does not give up, he continues to vindicate his Honour.
One of the leaders of businessmen’s movement from Vaukavysk is persecuted since 2003 for his support of his colleague and friend Mikalai Autukhovich, defending his economic rights, withstanding the pressure of local authorities and fiscal authorities that are ruining their firm. In 2005 Lyavonau was sentenced to a prison term on false charges. Together with Mikalai Autukhovich he was recognized political prisoner. The US pushed for release of the businessmen and other prisoners of conscience by imposing economic sanctions against the Belarusian regime. The political prisoner was released, but in a year he was arrested on arson charges together with Autukhovich. Yury Lyavonau spent half a year in prison, and then charges against him were lifted. After release he continued struggle for liberation of his friends.
It today’s Belarus it is hard to be not only a democrat and a human rights activist, but simply an honest person. A tax inspector Uladzimir Asipenka fell out of grace after he demanded to stop corrupt practices in his agency. In February 2009 he was arrested together with Yury Lyavonau and Mikalai Autukhovich. The fabricated criminal case against the businessmen doesn’t hold water as human rights watchdogs say, buy the political prisoners remain behind the bars. Uladzimir Asipenka does not admit guilt, he considers criminal prosecution a revenge of the authorities, but he does not lose heart and remains true to his principles.
Yana Palyakova (posthumously)
A human rights activist from Salihorsk Yana Palyakova was in the forefront of the battle for justice and she helped common people in defending their rights. The life of human rights activists in Belarus is hard. It is especially hard for those who live in provinces, where every dissenter is under a constant clampdown of special services. A whole range of dirty and cruel means was used against the young woman – beating up, intimidation, defamation, intrigues, and criminal prosecution. After Yana Palyakova was sentenced to 2.5 years of restriction of freedom, Yana Palyakova committed suicide. The regime thinks they achieved their aim: Yana Palyakova does not life of dishonest policemen, unashamed judges and prosecutors. But unselfishness of the human rights activist, her readiness for self-sacrifice for the sake of others, even when they are indifferent and ungrateful, will always be an inspiration for freedom fighters in Belarus. Yana Palyakova departed this life unbroken.
The National Human Rights Award was founded by Charter’97 in 1998. In different years the award was granted to participants of camp on October square of Minsk in March 2006; political prisoners Alyaksandr Kazulin, Zmitser Dashkevich, Mikhail Marynich, Artur Finkevich, Paval Sevyarynets, Mikola Statkevich, Mikalai Autukhovich; activist of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union Alena Zakhozhaya; believers, who went on hunger strike to defend “New Life” protestant church; Ivona Matsukevich, the head of the parish committee of St. Joseph’s church; human rights activists Valer Shchukin and Halina Yubko; wives of disappeared opposition leaders and a journalist Iryna Krasouskaya, Zinaida Hanchar, Svyatlana Zavadskaya, wife of former political prisoner Tatsyana Klimava-Leanovich; People’s Artist of Belarus Zinaida Bandarenka; opposition activist Uladzimir Plashchenka; defenders of Kurapaty memorial complex; creative association “Pahonya” ; music bands N.R.M., Novaye Neba; Yakub Kolas Belarusian Humanities Lyceum closed down by the authorities; journalists Pavel Mazheika, Mikola Markevich, Viktar Ivashkevich, Lyubou Lunyova, Yuras Karmanau, Maryna Koktysh, Henadz Barbarych, Yuliya Darashkevich and other famous public figures, politicians and journalists.