Belarusian Laborer Alleges He Was Tortured Into Murder Confession

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

TATARYA VILLAGE, Belarus – A Belarusian laborer who claims that he was tortured into confessing to a murder is facing a looming state execution.  Vasily Yusepchuk was convicted on June 29 by the Brest Regional Court for allegedly murdering six elderly woman.  The deadline for staying the execution of Yusepchuk passed on Tuesday, as the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko did not grant a pardon to Yusepchuk.

The use of capital punishment has been outlawed in every European nation other than Belarus.  And in recent years Belarus has decreased its use of the practice.  In 2008 only 4 people were executed by the state and only two so far this year.  Critics of Yusepchuk’s conviction, including the Council of Europe, have pointed out that Belarusian judges have been pressured in the past to sentence to death defendants against whom there was questionable evidence.

“We are deeply concerned that Vasily Yusepchuk…may face imminent execution after the Belarus Supreme Court has rejected his appeal against the death penalty.”

The calls from human rights organizations to pardon Yusepchuk comes at the time when the Belarusian President has been attempting to court favor with the west.

Medical experts for Yusepchuk have stated that the confession that Yusepchuk gave to police was a result of torture.  Amnesty International has confirmed that Yusepchuk was beaten twice will being detained prior to trial.  Additionally, other international human rights organizations have noted that Yusepchuk is illiterate and “under torture…could have confessed to anything.”

Yusepchuk’s mother believes that her son’s conviction came about as a result of his Gypsy ethnicity, also known as Roma.

Growing outcry in the face of the execution has surfaced in a number of European cities.  Protesters gathered outside of the Belarus embassy in Moscow on Thursday to protest Yusepchuk upcoming execution, as well as the continued use of the death penalty by Russia’s western neighbor.

For more information, please see:

CBS NEWS – Gypsy Laborer Face Execution In Belarus – 13 October 2009

THE OLYMPIAN – Gypsy laborer faces execution in Belarus – 13 October 2009

WORLD AP – Gypsy laborer faces execution in Belarus – 13 October 2009

Belarus Restricts Political Party Membership Among Soldiers

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MINSK, Belarus – Under a recently passed law it will now be illegal for any member of the Belarusian military to be a member of a political party.

The new statute was passed by the parliament of Belarus on October 8.  The nation’s Defense Minister noted that “without doubt, one in active military service must suspend his activities in political parties since the moment of call-up and till the end of the service.”  In the future any soldier who refuses to surrender their membership will be subject to penalties.

Critics say that the law was passed as a way to silence political oppositions leaders already in the military and draft leaders of political opposition movements into the military, thereby at least temporarily removing them from the nation’s political atmosphere.  In the past the military had opted not to draft political opponents.

The new law also contains a provision that bans soldiers from participating in strikes during their service and increasing existing restrictions on soldiers’ traveling.  Soldiers were already prohibited from joining general public organizations that had political aims.

One of those activists who have been affected by Belarus’s recent crackdown on opposition leaders is Andrei Tsyanyuta.  Tsyanyuta recently appeared in district trial for “failing to appear in the military enlistment.”  Andrei claims that despite being a university student, he has been unable to receive a deferment.  He claims that his political activities caused him to lose his status as a student.

For more information, please see:

DEMOCRATIC BELARUS – Belarusian Soldiers To Be Punished For Political Party Membership – 9 October 2009

RFL – Belarusian Soldiers To Be Punished For Political Party Membership – 9 October 2009

NAVINY – Conscript soldiers to face penalties for political activities – 9 October 2009

HUMAN RIGHTS CENTER – Soldiers will be punished for membership in political parties? – 8 October 2009

CHAPTER 97 – Oppositionist Andrei Tsyanyuta to stand trial for nonappearance in military enlistment office – 25 August 2009

Italian Court To Review Prime Minister Immunity Law

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ROME, Italy – The Constitutional Court in Italy began hearing arguments on Tuesday as to whether the legal immunity that was given to Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is in violation of the nation’s constitution.  The court’s final ruling could have far reaching political implications for the Prime Minister.

The law in question, also known as the Alfano Law, protects the top four national public officials, including the Prime Minister, President, and the Speakers of both Houses of Parliament, from prosecution while they hold office.  This law was passed by political supporters of the Prime Minister in the Italian parliament soon after his re-election.

Prior to the passage of the immunity laws, there were numerous legal proceedings pending against Berlusconi.  Those actions include an allegation that Berlusconi bribed a British lawyer to give false testimony to protect the Prime Minister’s business interests.  Other cases involved tax fraud, false accounting, and domestic corruption charges.  Yet another claim was concluded prior to the passage of the immunity law, where a Milan court imposed damages against Berlusconi’s family for attempting to bribe a judge.  Prosecutors in Milan and Palermo are also investigating the Prime Minister’s alleged ties to organized crime.  These legal actions will recommence if the Alfano Law is struck down.

The opponents of the immunity law allege that the law was passed with the specific intention to protect Berlusconi from looming legal entanglements.

Berlusconi has denied wrongdoing in all of the allegations against him and has expressed no intention of considering resignation in the event the immunity law is struck down.  Despite continued allegations of corruption through his term as Prime Minister, Berlusconi has maintained a domestic approval rating above 50 percent.

The 15-member Court is expected to announce its verdict within two weeks.  In the event that the Court upholds the immunity, political opponents have announced the possibility of pushing for a national referendum on the law.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Court to rule on Berlusconi’s immunity law – 6 October 2009

FINANCIAL TIMES – Italy’s top court weighs Berlusconi’s immunity – 6 October 2009

REUTERS – Italy’s top court debates Berlusconi immunity law – 6 October 2009

TELEGRAPH – Silvio Berlusconi’s lawyers: Italian PM is above the law – 9 October 2009

THE TIMES – Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi ‘could resign’ if immunity law struck down – 18 September 2009

EU Court Sentences Three Kosovo Albanians For War Crimes

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter

PRISTINA, Kosovo – Three former Kosovo guerrilla fighters were sentenced by a European Union court on Friday in connection with war crimes during the 1998-1999 Kosovo War.  Each of the fighters had fought in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the separatist conflict against Serbian forces.

The EU Rule-of-Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), which is in charge of certain war crimes prosecutions, concluded that the three men had participated in the torturing and detention of civilian victims, notably ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.  According to a EU court spokesman, the three were guilty of “war crimes through inhumane treatment of civilian detainees and…beating and torture of civilian detainees.”

Latif Gasgi, Nazif Mehmetim, and Rrustem Mustafa had originally been sentenced in 2003, but two years later a retrial was ordered by the Kosovo Supreme Court.  Gasgi and Mehmeti were sentenced to six and three years respectively, while Mustafa was sentenced to four years in prison.

One incident on which the charges were founded occurred on in July of 1998.  Gasgi, while stationed at a checkpoint in central Kosovo, opened fire on a civilian Kosovo Albanian family after they failed to stop at the checkpoint.  These acts fell within the definition of the war crimes.  “Gasgi committed the criminal offence of war crime against the civilian population, punishable by Kosovo and international law.”

These convictions come on the heels of the EU arresting four Serbians who allegedly committed war crimes during the Kosovo war.

Mustafa is currently a official in the Kosovo parliament and has been a leading political figure in the Democratic Party of Kosovo.  He was also the commander of the KLA during the Kosovo War.

For more information, please read:

AP – Court in Kosovo convicts 3 ex-rebels of war crimes – 2 October 2009

RADIO NEDERLAND – Kosovo jails 3 ex-fighters for war crimes – 2 October 2009

REUTERS – Kosovo jails 3 ex-fighters for 1998-99 war crimes – 2 October 2009

TAIWAN NEWS – Court in Kosovo convicts 3 ex-rebels of war crimes – 2 October 2009

Serbian Court Convicts Bosnian Officer of Attacks that Killed 50 Soldiers

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BELGRADE, Serbia – On Monday a Serbian court convicted Bosnian security officer Ilija Jurisic of ordering an attack that killed approximately 50 soldiers in 1992.  Jurisic was sentenced to 12 years in prison for war crimes.

The War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court for War Crimes concluded that Jurisic, a citizen of both of Bosnia and Herzegovina, had ordered the attack on a column of Serbian soldiers as they withdrew from the Bosnian town of Tuzla in May, 1992.  This decision, which found improper battlefield conduct, killed 50 Yugoslavian soldiers while injuring another 44.

Bosnian officials have claimed that it was the Yugoslavian soldiers that first fired in this event.  Jurisic’s lawyer has labeled the court’s verdict ‘scandalous’.

Jurisic’s trial has strained already fragile relations between Bosnia’s Muslim and Serbian populations.  The Bosnian war, which continued the breakup of the old Yugoslavia, began in 1992 after Croats and Muslims in Bosnia voted to split off from the Serbian-led Yugoslavia.  Fighting came to an end in 1995 through the Dayton Accords.  Since he capture by Serbian authorities, Bosnia has demanded Jurisic’s release from a trial that it believes is politically motivated.

Jurisic maintained throughout the trial that he was innocent of the charges.  Prior to the start of the trial in February of 2008, Jurisic was detained for two and a half years.  He had been arrested by Serbian authorities while on a business trip in Belgrade.

Following the Serbian court’s verdict there were protests on Tuesday involving thousands of ethnic Bosnians in Tuzla.

For more information, please see:

B92 – Protests in Tuzla over Jurisic verdict – 29 September 2009

BALKANINSIGHT – Jurisic Sentenced to 12 Years – 29 September 2009

BLIC Online – Jurisic sentenced to 12 years in prison – 29 September 2009

SETIMES – Serbia sentences Bosnian for war crimes – 29 September 2009

AP – Bosnian jailed in Serbia for war crimes – 28 September 2009

REUTERS – Serbia jails Bosnian Croat for 1992 war crimes – 28 September 2009

Polish Parliament Passes Resolution Condemning Soviet Invasion in WWII

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – On Wednesday, the Polish parliament passed a resolution that condemned the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union in 1939 at the beginning of World War II, labeling it a ‘war crime’ and ‘genocide’.  In response the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, indicated that it felt “deep disappointment at the Polish attempt to compare Nazi Germany with the Soviet Union.”

Recent documents given to the Institute of National Remembrance of Warsaw by the Ukrainian government offer new evidence indicating that Soviet police forces (NVKD) were directly responsible for the killing of 350 Poles the Roviensky oblast from 1939 to 1940.  Those were just a fraction of the approximately 20,000 Poles that would be killed in the Katyn forests.  Those killings, known as the Katyn Massacre, and the subsequent deportations of Polish citizens to Soviet internment camps, were the reasons behind the passage of the Polish resolution.

According to the documents from the Ukrainian government, the NVKD’s purpose in committing the killings was in part to eliminate leading members of Polish society, including landowners, military officers, and intellectuals.  At the center of the NVKD’s actions was a coordinated effort to remove the leading citizens of, thereby undermine, Polish society.

The Soviet Union argued that their invasion of Poland in September 1939, following Germany’s invasion of western Poland, was necessary to protect the Polish, Ukrainian, and Belarusian citizens from the oncoming German forces that were left unprotected by the collapse of the Polish government.  The Russian government has never admitted that the invasion was the result of aggression on the part of the Soviet Union.

For more information, please see:

POLSKIE RADIO – Ukraine exposes Katyn executioners – 25 September 2009

RIA NOVOSTI – Moscow Says Resolution on Soviet ‘aggression’ harms ties – 24 September 2009

EPOCH TIMES – Polish Resolution Names Soviet Invasion as Tyrannical – 23 September 2009

UPI – Poles Accuse Russia of WWII Genocide – 23 September 2009

Opposition Protesters Clash In Belarus Clash With Police

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MINSK, Belarus – On Wednesday police arrested 30 activists who were involved in a peaceful opposition rally in central square of Belarus’s capital city, Minsk.  Approximately 50 people had gathered to mark the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of Viktor Gonchar and Anatoly Krasovsky, political opposition leaders.

After surrounding the group of protesters, who were made up primarily of students, riot police pushed those who had gathered out of the square.  During the incident a number of protesters were hit by the police, who used clubs to arrest those that did not leave the square.  The police also attempted to prevent the journalists at the scene from taking pictures.  Some photographers, who were recording the incident, were beaten by the police.  They were threatened by police if they did not delete what they had recorded.  Among those arrested was Mikalai Statkevich, a leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party.

In recent months the European Union has called upon Belarus to improve its protection of basic democratic freedom.  The president of the EU issued a statement on Thursday, urging Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to “refrain from the use of force in dealing with peaceful demonstrations and to ensure that representatives of independent media are able to perform their tasks without interference.”  Lukashenko, who has held the office since 1994, has been accused of ruling Belarus in an authoritarian manner.  In recent years Lukashenko has been labeled by the United States as “Europe’s last dictator.”

Wednesday’s incident involving protesters and state police comes on the heels of other recent protests in the capital city.  On September 9, 20 people were detained by police while protesting the close military relationship that Belarus has developed with Russia.

The whereabouts of Gonchar and Krasovksy are still unknown.  The state investigation into their disappearance was closed in 2003.

For more information, please see:

BELARUS NEWS – EU expresses concern over police crackdown on demonstration in Minsk – 18 Septemeber 2009

DEMOCRATIC BELARUS – Belarus Police Beat, Detain 36 Opposition Protestors – 17 September 2009

EARTHTIMES – Belarus cops smash ‘disappeared’ person memorial march – 17 September 2009

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Belarus: Police break up protest, make arrests – 17 September 2009

AFP – Belarus police beat, detain 30 opposition – 16 September 2009

REUTERS – Belarus police break up anti-Russia protest – 9 September 2009

Russian Journalist Attacked After Questioning Government Response to Plant Explosion

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Abakan, Russia – MIkhail Afanasyev, blogger and editor for the online magazine Novy Fokus, was attacked this past Wednesday in the southern Siberian city of Abakan.  His attack came after he was critical of the Russian government’s response to an explosion at a Siberian hydroelectric plant in August.

The explosion at the Sayano-Shushenskaya chemical plant killed over 70 workers.  After the explosion Afanasyev raised questions about whether the official government reports on the number of people killed in the explosion was lower than the number actually killed in the blast.  Afanasyev also questioned whether there was more the government could have done in rescuing those that might still be alive in the rubble.

Within 24 hours of Afanasyev questioning the government’s response to the explosion, Afanasyev and two of his colleagues at the Novy Fokus were charged by local government prosecutors in Abakan with defamation for his criticisms of the government’s response to the explosion.  Prosecutors accused him of “discrediting the honor and dignity, and undermining the business reputation, of the leaders of the republic and Sayano-Shushenskaya.”  Initially, Afanasyev’s computer and mobile phone were seized, but after mounting international criticism, the investigation and charges against him were dropped.

Afanasyev has been the target of violence before from law enforcement.  In 2007 Afanasyev was attacked and beaten by two men who identified themselves as police officers.  Russian officials have filed at least six libel charges against Afanasyev since 2003.

For more information, please see:

AP – Russian report critical of dam accident attacked – 9 September 2009

International News Safety Institute – Russian Journalist ‘beaten’ after dam criticism – 9 September 2009

The Moscow Times – Journalist Critical of Dam Disaster Attacked – 9 September 2009

International Press Institute – Russian Journalist Charged with Slander over Report on Siberian Power Station Disaster – 21 August 2009

The New York Times – Russian Blogger’s Claims About Plant Accident Lead to Libel Charge – 20 August 2009