The illegal Belarusian state treatment of a minor
6 September 2020 | ByHELP-mediagroup
The situation with the state’s repressions in Belarus, and the government attempts to whitewash its behavior, is growing worse each day. On September 3rd, 16 y.o. Timur M. was detained for questioning in connection with the participation in “mass riots” under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. During his detention, beatings from the Belarusian riot police left Timur in a coma. He was eventually hospitalized and placed in intensive care, still under state guard. After a partial recovery, Timur was detained and brought before the Investigative Committee to generate charges. During this process, Timur suffered a post-traumatic attack and was re-hospitalized. Timur’s lawyer was not promptly allowed to see his client at the hospital.
On August 12, on the third day of protests against falsification of presidential election results and during massive illegal arrests, riot police officers attacked 16-year-old Timur M. while he was walking to his friend’s house. As he recalls, “the men in black got off the bus and began to beat everyone with batons.” Timur was beaten and pushed into a prisoner transport vehicle (PTV). People were stacked on top of each other, while riot police sat, walked on, beat and verbally insulted them. After arriving at the police station, they continued to beat Timur, thrusting a baton deep into his throat and kicking it, shoving the baton on his eyes and threatening to blind him, and repeatedly struck the baton on his heel bones. Timur was forced to sing the national anthem of the current regime and was tortured with electric shocks. Despite Timur’s repeated informing the offices he was only 16 years old (and a legal minor according to Belarusian law), the riot police officers continued their violence. Heavily beaten, Timur fell into a coma, and was eventually taken to the intensive care unit at City Children Hospital #3. Surprisingly, neither the hospital nor the police informed his parents that he was hospitalized. His parents eventually received a call from local school authorities (in Belarus, government bodies such as secret police often share their data with other state-run institutions, such as schools or factories, as part of an expansive program of social punishment).
After the night of bullying and torture at the police station, Timur was diagnosed with a concussion, an open fracture of the zygomatic-orbital complex, rhinosinusitis of the right maxillary sinus, convulsive syndrome, periorbital hematoma, multiple bruises of soft tissues and limbs, and traumatic erosion of the cornea of both eyes. Two days after arriving at the hospital, Timur awoke from the coma and said he was the luckier one, because he saw “a man being tortured with a baton pushed into his rectum and a 14-year-old boy beaten in the groin.”
As for the criminal investigation into the abuse of a minor, no police representatives attempted to see Timur or listen to his story. Despite wide media coverage, an investigation has not even been initiated. According to the (now former) Minister of Health Volodymyr Karanik, the hospital forwarded Timur’s medical records to law enforcement agencies. However, the Prosecutor General’s Office said that they did not know whether an investigation was initiated or not.
After his public statement on Timur’s case, Vladimir Karanik was reassigned from his position as Ministry of Health to a new position as the Governor of Hrodna. On August 26th, he then changed his stance on Timur’s case, saying the 16y.o. had psychotropic substances in his blood on the night of his detention and that it was a case of “psychotropic poisoning”.
However, according to all available medical records and Timur’s lawyer Stanislav Abrazey, there was no evidence of alcohol or narcotics in Timur’s body. Moreover, as the lawyer told the news portal tut.by, “we have a certificate and a conclusion that states that no illicit or psychotropic substances for which he was tested were found. When a person is admitted to the hospital with injuries, they take blood samples and check whether he is intoxicated, so that if there are consequences or criminal investigation into the story, this fact will be revealed. In this case, the medical protocol was followed properly and he was tested.”
On the evening of September 3, the Investigative Committee posted a video as evidence of Timur’s participation in the mass riots.
The Investigative Committee stated that, after examining CCTV footage, they found that, on the 10th of August, 16 y.o. Timur M. was “at the epicenter of the riots” in Minsk. They also claim that Timur was involved in an armed attack on the driver of a towing truck. However, the video presented as evidence by the Investigative Committee has multiple inconsistencies. The only timestamps in the footage are from August 10th, two days prior to the activities he is charged with, and the boy alleged to be Timur is seen wearing different clothing in different video scenes. At the underground metro entrance, the boy is wearing a bright yellow blazer over a red and black striped T-shirt. Date and time of recording are not specified. In the next scene, the alleged boy on the street wears no blazer. The footage is dated August 10, 22.47 and 23.05, while Timur was detained on the 12th.
It is clear Timur, and others like him, must be saved from the punitive machine of the Belarusian state. Individuals like Timur are not only at health risk, but their very lives are at stake after witnessing these terrible crimes.
Legal Perspective of Timur M. Case In Both Belarusian and International Law
By Iryna Sh., MLaw, expert in international human rights law, Lund, Sweden
This case shows that the system of punitive and correctional institutions in Belarus is full of injustice. The state is trying to evade responsibility under both national and international law.
Cases of torture brought to the prosecutor’s office are left uninvestigated. Instead, the state is trying to protect itself by awarding fines to people and arresting them for participating in “mass riots” under Art. 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Republic of Belarus. Moreover, the state initiates criminal proceedings against persons who “severely assaulted” riot police officers, but not vice versa.
We see the injustice of the system, and we have laws within our criminal and civil code to convict the responsible parties. However, it is impossible to enforce these laws when the state and police work against people instead of protecting them, as should be the main role of both the state and the police.
Looking at Timur’s case from the perspective of Belarusian law, even if he had taken part in the protests that night, he could not have been charged with a crime under Article 293 (mass riot) as he was 16 years old on the day the alleged crime was committed and is therefore a minor under the Belarusian criminal code (Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, art. 4, para. 8). According to Article 27 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, persons between the ages of 14 and 16 are criminally responsible only for the crimes included in the exhaustive list in paragraph 2 of the article. Mass riot (Art. 293) is not included in that list, therefore persons between the ages of 14 and 16 can not be held responsible for participation in mass riots in accordance with the Criminal Code. The same logic applies to the argument put forward by the Investigative Committee, where they try to prove Timur’s alleged participation in the protests with the help of doctored CCTV footage.
Consequently, according to the Criminal Code of Belarus, the actions of the state are illegal. Moreover, it is defamation and violation of constitutional human rights. According to Timur’s own testimony on August 12, he did not participate in the protests and was instead on his way to his friend’s house when he was unlawfully taken to the police station and tortured.
From the perspective of international law, Belarus is a member of the multiple human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations Convention against Torture, and others. Therefore, Belarus is obliged to honor, protect and abide by the human rights contained in the human rights treaties it has ratified.
Timur M.’s case illustrates violation of the right of “access to justice” due to the government’s unwillingness to open a case and conduct an investigation, as well as the prohibition of a lawyer’s access to their client. There is also a violation of the “right to a remedy” under Article 2, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
3. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes:
(a) To ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity;
(b) To ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy;
(c) To ensure that the competent authorities shall enforce such remedies when granted.
Numerous facts confirm that Belarus is not following these covenants. State employees, who should be held accountable for their actions, are not held so in Belarus today. The state does not have a competent judicial system, as observed by the thousands of people detained for peaceful protests, the lack of investigation for numerous cases of torture, and evidence of police officers giving false testimony against detainees and bringing false cases against those who disagree.
Additional covenants, such as the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, are clearly not being satisfied. Article 2 of the Convention against Torture reads as follows:
1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
All three paragraphs of the Article are applicable to the current situation in Belarus. The UN acknowledges there is evidence of torture occurring in Belarus. Even if the Belarusian regime is silent or denies any cases of torture, we must use all available legal remedies, both internal and international, to prove that torture took place and demand accountability of both the government and individuals responsible for the crimes. The right not to be subjected to torture is jus cogens norm of international law; therefore, the government of Belarus has to abide by this norm, and must refrain from and take all possible steps to prevent torture.
In today’s Belarus, we see a power imbalance between the state and the citizen, where the testimony of the victims is set against that of the government. When the government is trying to evade responsibility and justify its actions with condemnation of victims and fabrication of criminal and civil cases against them, there are few pragmatic improvements from talking about any respect and protection of fundamental human rights, such as access to justice, legal remedies, freedom from torture, etc. What we can do instead is to use all legal means, both the internal judicial system and the international mechanisms. The international community can contribute by continuing to bring attention to the current situation. As we have seen previously, international outrage and condemnation can play a role in reducing violence against the Belarusian people.