Human rights activist deported
Last Friday, Andrei Yurov, a Russian human rights activist, head of the international supervisory mission, and Moscow Helsinki Group Director for Development, was deported from Minsk. He was detained late last Thursday evening. Police arrived at the apartment he rents in Minsk and explained that Yurov had no legal right to remain in Belarus: on 4 March, his name had been included on the blacklist of those forbidden entry to the country.
“Formally, I was detained to verify whether or not I knew that I was on the blacklist,” Yurov told Novaya Gazeta on returning to Moscow. “Naturally, I did not and could not have known that; such lists, if they exist, are most probably strictly classified information.” Yurov went on to say that the police had insisted that they were not looking specifically for him, but were on a regular surveillance tour of rented apartments to check the documents of any foreigners. Yurov spent the night in detention and, next morning, he was ordered to leave the country within 24 hours. Yurov has no idea why he has been blacklisted.
“I am in charge of the entire scope of the mission’s activities and I am at a loss as to what the KGB might have had a problem with,” Yurov says. “The Belorussian authorities’ actions are unprecedented. We deal only with matters of fundamental human rights; we are in no way connected with the opposition; we do not give assessments of the authorities’ actions. There has been nothing that might be construed as interference in the country’s internal affairs; on the contrary, we have often been accused of producing “lukewarm” statements. Prior to this incident, we had always told journalists that no pressure had ever been exerted on our mission and its work. That was a very positive thing for Belarus. This is no longer the case.”
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not too sympathetic towards Andrei Yurov. According to Alexander Lukashevich, the foreign ministry spokesman, the situation “is regrettable” but “fortunately, the matter has now been completely settled.” Press Secretary of the Belorussian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Andrei Savinykh stated that the Ministry was not aware of any blacklist of Russian citizens forbidden to enter Belarus.
Yet Boris Nemtsov and several Russian journalists have been added to this list without any warning. A week ago, a Ukrainian human rights activist, Maxim Kitsyuk, was denied entry to Belarus — again, because of the blacklist.
Presidential candidate seeks political asylum
Ales Mikhalevich, a former Belorussian presidential candidate, who was arrested on suspicion of organising mass protests and released under recognisance not to leave, secretly left the country on 13 December and is seeking political asylum in the Czech Republic.
On Friday, this was confirmed by Karel Schwarzenberg, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, who said that he knows Mikhalevich personally and believes that the Czech Republic should grant him political asylum.
Mikhalevich’s wife, Milana, told Novaya Gazeta that she has no contact with her husband: Ales is in a refugee camp; he cannot use his mobile phone and they did not see each other before he left the country. ”It was wise of Ales not to tell me that he was leaving,” says Milana confidently. “That protected me from KGB visits and interrogations. Right after Ales left, we were under surveillance when we went out, but that is all over now.”
Alexander Lukashenko’s comment on Ales Mikhalevich leaving the country was quite surprising. On 18 March, in an interview with a few carefully selected Russian media (in particular, the newspapers Zavtra (Tomorrow), Pravda (Truth), and Selskaya Zhizn (Country Life)), he claimed that he knew that one of the candidates “has run away somewhere.”
“I pray to God they all run away! Let them all run away. Nobody needs them there. Nobody needs them here either,” said the Belorussian President. Lukashenko’s prayers were in vain: after Mikhalevich disappeared, the KGB confiscated the passport of Dmitry Uss, another former candidate and also accused in the mass protests case. So he cannot escape for sure.
The President admits a journalist was under surveillance
The President’s interview with Russian media was rich in unexpected statements. For instance, Alexander Lukashenko openly stated that the phones of Irina Khalip, a Novaya Gazeta correspondent charged with participating in mass protests, were being monitored by the special services.
Let me remind the reader: Irina Khalip was arrested on her way to the hospital with her husband Andrei Sannikov, a presidential candidate, beaten in the square by the special forces. During the arrest, she was talking on the phone with the Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) radio station and stated, on air, that she and her husband were being forcefully taken out of the car and beaten.
“Irina Khalip was apprehended, arrested, and beaten; that is what was happening during the arrest. And then she allegedly telephones — and that is what they broadcast on the air. They are — screams — arresting us; they are beating me; they are beating me on the head…,” Lukashenko says with bitter anger. “All her phone calls are monitored and nobody was beating her while she was in the car … That is typical provocation… A few seconds later, she was on the same phone saying – Mom, see that the child eats well and there is enough food, and all that. Literally, a few seconds later. I should say that was beautifully done.”
As Lyutsina Yurievna, Ira’s mother, explained, Ira did make a phone call asking after the child. But it was not “a few seconds later”; it was hours later, and the phone call was made from the detention facility on Okrestin Street, from a mobile phone borrowed from one of the detainees.
“We always knew that our phones were bugged”, says Lyutsina Yurievna. “I remember how, last May, Ira called me from abroad, asking if she should buy some cognac to bring home; after that, she received threatening phone calls from the KGB saying things like: no cognac for you!… They openly demonstrated that we were under surveillance. I have no doubt that not only the phones of all the family members are bugged, but the entire apartment. But I don’t care – let them listen all they want.”