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Minsk Court Sentences Three For Role In December Protests

  • RFE/RL

Alyaksandar Atroshankau sits in a barred cage in a Minsk court room.

Alyaksandar Atroshankau sits in a barred cage in a Minsk court room.

A Minsk court has handed down a multiyear jail term to one man and multiyear hard labor sentences to two others for their role in a December protest against the disputed reelection of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Alyaksandar Atroshankau, 30, the press secretary to one of Lukashenka's rival candidates, Andrey Sannikau, was sentenced to four years in a top-security jail for participating in mass disorder.

Sannikau is currently detained pending his own trial.

The two other men, Dzmitry Novik, 23, and Alyaksandar Malchanau, 22, were sentenced on similar charges to terms of 3 1/2 and three years, respectively, in a labor colony.

"I can only tell you that my husband and I will survive this sentence," said Darya Korsak, Atroshankau's wife, who spoke to reporters outside the courthouse. "And moreover, we will be able to survive this dictatorship."

Opposition On The Defensive

Atroshankau, who formerly worked as a news correspondent for the Belarusian pro-democracy website charter97.org, denied the accusations against him, including that he tried to forcefully enter a government building.

In their case against the men, prosecutors presented a grainy video that allegedly showed the defendants participating in a mass opposition rally December 19.

Thousands of Belarusians had attended the election day protest against what they claimed was a rigged election that cemented longtime President Lukashenka in power. Official results said the man described as "Europe's last dictator" won with nearly 80 percent of the vote.

The protest was brutally dispersed by the police. More than 600 demonstrators and seven of the nine presidential running against Lukashenka were detained, prompting condemnation and sanctions from the West.

Thousands crowded Minsk's Independence Square on December 19 to protest Lukashenka's disputed reelection.
According to one of RFE/RL's correspondents in Minsk, the video presented as evidence was the same one that prosecutors had introduced in the trial of opposition activist Vasil Parfyankou. On February 17, Parfyankou became the first December rally participant to be sentenced to jail.

'Simply A Reprisal'

Rights advocates were quick to brand the trial of the men as a politically motivated farce.

Belarusian activist Valyantsin Stefanovich said that the prosecution's charges presented today were groundless.

"What happened was simply a reprisal against these people," he said. "There was no evidence of armed resistance, setting fire to things, and all the rest that the prosecution alleged. Even Malchanau, who admitted that he broke [a wooden barrier around a government building] and took down a flag -- even his punishment is not consistent with what he did. This is not the correct qualification of the crime. And in the other cases, there is no evidence of guilt. This is just a show of reprisal."

Garry Pahanyaila, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Commission, said the harsh sentences were likely meant to scare the opposition, and were handed down through a corrupt system.

Opposition protester Alyaksandar Malchanau
"If this case is politically motivated the main goal is definitely to punish and to scare the public, to make it into fear this sick government," he said. "Those who depend on executive power pursue so-called 'justice': Prosecutors demand inadequately strong punishment and judges give them publicity in their sentences."

According to RFE/RL's Belarus Service, since the December crackdown the country's KGB security service has continued to target opposition activists, their family members, and supporters.

Meanwhile, former opposition presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich, who said he had to sign an agreement on collaborating with the KGB in order to secure his release from jail, said on February 28 he was subjected to torture while being held.

Mikhalevich said the jail guards made him stand outside naked in the freezing cold, deprived him of sleep, dragged him on the floor while he was handcuffed, kept him in an overcrowded cell, and interrogated him without a lawyer present.

Another former Belarusian opposition presidential candidate, Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu, was rushed to the hospital with high blood pressure after a stand-off with a KGB official. Nyaklyaeu is currently under house arrest and the official is stationed in his apartment.

written by Richard Solash, with reporting from RFE/RL's Belarus Service. Read more in Belarusian here
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