Special hearings on Belarus took place in Lithuanian parliament today.
They were timed to the Eastern Partnership summit, which would start in Vilnius, and had the aim of developing recommendations for the European Union and its policy towards Minsk.
The hearings were chaired by the deputy chairman of the Committee on International Relations of Lithuanian parliament Audronis Azhubalis and a parliament member Mantas Adomenas. In the hearings took part the head of the parliament’s Committee on International Relations Benediktas Juodka, leader of the parliamentary opposition and former Prime Minister of Lithuania Andrius Kubilus, relatives of Belarusian political prisoners Natalia Pinchuk, Maryna Lobava, Maryna Adamovich, the mother of the kidnapped journalist Dzmitry Zavadski Volha Zavadskaja, the chairwoman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Zhana Licvina, the council member of the human rights center Tacciana Raviaka, charter97.org web-site’s editor in chief Natalia Radzina, the director of the Belarusian Human Rights House in Vilnius Hanna Hierasimava, representatives of the political opposition – co-chairmen of the organizational committee for creation of the party Belarusian Christian Democracy Paviel Sieviaryniec and Vital Rymasheuski, the leader of the Just World party Siarhiej Kaliakin, the leaders of Tell the Truth civic campaign Uladzimir Niakliajeu and Andrej Dzmitryjeu, deputy chairman of the Movement for Freedom Aliaksandr Lahviniec, a lawyer of the executive panel of the NGO Assembly Jury Chavusau and the coordinator of Eastern Partnership’s Civil Society forum from Belarus Andrej Jahorau.
The event was also attended by Lithuanian parliament members, the parliament’s ombudsman, representatives of foreign embassies and foundations.
As he was opening the hearings the Lithuanian parliament member Mantas Adomenas stated that human rights should not be forgotten with all the attention going to transit and exports. According to him, Lithuania should be the Europe’s mouthpiece for the Belarusians aiming towards freedom. “What is happening in Belarus reminds of the Soviet Union times”, - he said and emphasized that it is nowadays impossible to imagine that in Lithuania “journalists would be forbidden to tell what they want”. “This is the difference between Lithuania and Belarus. I can hardly imagine for political prisoners to be there in Lithuania”, - Mantas Adomenas claimed.
The leader of the parliament’s opposition Andrius Kubilus noted that the hearings were the indication that the situation in Belarus had not been forgotten. He claimed that sometimes one should actually force themselves to understand that “what is taking place in Belarus, and what people experience in their daily lives, are not just violations of human rights and democracy. There are human tragedies behind these words”. “It is impossible to put up with the current situation in Belarus, but our joint effort is required for that”, - he concluded.
Former political prisoners and relatives of the repressed spoke first at the hearings.
Paviel Sieviaryniec thanked Europe for the principled position on political prisoners. “If it was not for your adherence to the principles I would probably not have been here with you now, because it is only Europe’s firm stance that restrains the incumbent regime from more brutal repressions. Once such a principled position of Europe led to the world’s recognition of the fact of Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia”, - he claimed. Paviel Sieviaryniec emphasized that Belarusian political prisoners were hostages in the literal meaning of the word. “The regime keeps holding a critically important number of people, keeps bargaining. At the Belarus’ MFA they do not even hide the fact that there are political prisoners. The EU should proceed with sticking to its principles and insist on their release and exoneration”, - the politician said. He highlighted that another leverage over Lukashenka would be the Ice Hockey World Championship, which is scheduled to take place next year in Minsk.
Then spoke political prisoner Ales Bialiatski’s wife Natalia Pinchuk. She told about the situation, in which her husband is now. According to her, the conditions of his imprisonment have worsened. In the course of last year he did not have any long-term meeting and received only one parcel.
The mother of the disappeared journalist Dzmitry Zavadski Volha Zavadskaja reminded that nothing changed on the case of the kidnapped Belarusians in the past 12 years. “All the terms expire, and we are afraid that the topic of violent disappearances may vanish. It is very important for these crimes, which are crimes against humanity, were not forgotten”, - she claimed.
The wife of political prisoner, former presidential candidate Mikalaj Statkievich Maryna Adamovich shared in detail the latest news on his situation. The conditions have worsened. Maryna Adamovich emphasized that exoneration of political prisoners should remind on the agenda regardless of whether Belarus’ authorities do that or not.
The mother of political prisoner, Young Front’s co-chairman Eduard Lobau Maryna Lobava spoke at the hearings. She claimed that the conditions of her son’s imprisonment might be equated to tortures. “Only economic sanctions, introduced immediately after the events of 2010, helped release many political prisoners. Only owing to targeted economic sanctions, which took place, we now have 10 political prisoners instead of 50. Like before. The release of political prisoners and holding of free and fair elections should be demanded of the Lukashenka regime. After the fulfillment of these demands, one may speak of any dialogue or any cooperation”, - Maryna Lobava emphasized.
The chairwoman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Zhana Licvina told about the situation with the freedom of speech in Belarus, having noted that the control became total over media. She listed the latest dangerous trends: practice of the use of the extremism law against a publishing house, emergence of such formulations as “activities against the interests of the Republic of Belarus”. She also expressed a concern of authorities’ intention to introduce the obligatory registration for most popular internet information sources.
A human rights activist Tacciana Raviaka told about the situation with Ales Bialiatski and listed the names of all the political prisoners in Belarus, having reminded that another criminal proceeding would start the next day on the case of a youth activist Vasil Parfiankou. This shows, according to her, how vulnerable political prisoners are after being released. “If activists engage in politics, they are immediately subjected to repressions”, -she said. The human rights activists observed that Belarus ignored its obligations in the framework of international organizations: none of the UN’s Human Rights Committee decisions were followed.
Political scientist Jury Chavusau told about the violations of the freedom of association in Belarus. He noted that a number of organizations have not been able to get registered for 10 years. Many are pushed out of the country to go abroad, criminal responsibility keeps existing for acting on behalf of non-registered organizations.
Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum’s coordinator for Belarus Andrej Jahorau pointed out the problem of EU’s assistance to democratic organizations. He claimed that sometimes programs are implemented with the support of the European Union, which are used by the authorities for persecuting civil society activists.
A co-chairman of the organizational committee for the creation of the party Belarusian Christian Democracy Vital Rymasheuski quoted independent Lithuania’s first chairman of the parliament Vitautas Landsbergis, who said that the export of corruption takes place from East to West, when Western countries start treating dictatorships with pragmatism. The Belarusian politician noted that such an attitude, realpolitik, is being used by Europe in its relations with the Belarusian regime. That is why, according to him, it is time to raise the issue of protecting the democratic values in the EU countries.
The head of the United Civic Party Anatol Liabiedzka reminded that a business forum was taking place in Vilnius that day. “This is where we should have spoken. Probably, Lithuanian businessmen would have had their eyes opened. It would also be useful for them to listen to Vladislav Baumgertner – a businessmen close to the Kremlin, who spent several months in detention in Belarus”, - he said. The politician emphasized that MFA’s head Makej, who would take part in the Eastern Partnership summit, was not a minister at all, but a simple “mailman”, who executes the orders from the dictator.
Uladzimir Niakliaeu stated that Makej was not only a mailman, but an accomplice to the Lukashenka regime’s crimes. According to him, Belarus needed its own Magnitsky list, because the people, who violate human rights, feel their impunity. Uladzimir Niakliaeu noted that visa restrictions alone were not enough for the officials, who carried out repressions.
Movement for Freedom’s deputy chairman Aliaksandr Lahviniec pointed out that Belarus first and foremost needed a European perspective. According to him, this is the only guarantee of a good standard of living in our country.
The leader of the Just World party Siarhiej Kaliakin made a specific suggestion. According to him, there currently were not 10-12 political prisoners in Belarus.
“Those are all the country’s residents. Tens of thousands of people are in prisons, and each one of them is tortured. Gigantic number of people undergoes repressions. The creation of an international tribunal should be initiated on the situation in Belarus”, - he claimed.