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Dzmitry Paliyenka has said he used pepper spray in self-defense.
Dzmitry Paliyenka has said he used pepper spray in self-defense.

MINSK -- A Belarusian civil society activist and former prisoner of conscience has slashed his hand in a courtroom to protest against his closed-door trial, which rights activists called politically motivated.

Dzmitry Paliyenka's trial then was suspended and when it resumed an hour later, the judge announced an open trial and the plaintiff's friends, relatives, and supporters were allowed to enter the courtroom.

Paliyenka pleaded not guilty to all four charges, namely attacking a man with pepper spray, vandalism, inciting hatred towards police via the Internet, and publicly insulting the interior minister.

After listening to the testimony of several alleged victims in the case, prosecutors said they were dropping three charges and want Paliyenka to be prosecuted for malicious hooliganism in connection with the pepper spray incident.

On October 16, Amnesty International issued a statement calling on Belarusian authorities to "uphold the right of former prisoner of conscience Dzmitry Paliyenka to a fair trial and ensure his hearing is open to the public."

“Dzmitry Paliyenka’s prosecution follows a well-documented history of being targeted and harassed by the authorities for his activism. The Belarusian authorities must drop all charges against him that stem from the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and open his trial to public and media scrutiny,” said Aisha Jung, a senior campaigner with Amnesty International.

Paliyenka was arrested in March following an incident in which he allegedly used pepper spray against a man. Paliyenka has insisted that he had to use pepper spray in self-defense.

It is not Paliyenka's first trial.

Two years ago, he was handed a 2-year suspended sentence after being arrested in April 2016 during a protest in Minsk and charged with threatening to attack a police officer and the distribution of pornographic materials.

Paliyenka denied the charges calling them trumped up and politically motivated.

In April 2017, a court in Minsk ruled that Paliyenka, who continued his civil rights activities, must serve the rest of his term in prison.

Amnesty International recognized Paliyenka as a prisoner of conscience in April 2017.

In October last year, Paliyenka was released from prison after serving 18 months behind bars.

Critics of authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has been in power in Belarus since 1994, say his government routinely uses the justice system to suppress dissent.

HRW concluded that Kazakh women receive "insufficient protection and have little recourse for justice" when it comes to domestic violence. (file photo)
HRW concluded that Kazakh women receive "insufficient protection and have little recourse for justice" when it comes to domestic violence. (file photo)

Human Rights Watch has called on the Kazakh government to take "urgent steps" to address legal gaps that leave female victims of domestic violence vulnerable and without support.

The rights group said in a brief report on October 17 that women in the Central Asian nation receive "insufficient protection and have little recourse for justice."

"Kazakhstan should have made much greater strides in protecting women from violence, but instead women continue to suffer," Viktoriya Kim, assistant Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

"The government has renewed its commitments to provide help, but at the same time is sending women, and abusers, the message that abuse inside the home isn't to be taken seriously," she added.

In 2009, the country attempted to address the issue when it adopted a domestic violence law that provides for short-term protection orders aimed at stopping contact between a survivor and their abuser for up to 30 days and ensuring access to shelters and other services for victims.

Critics, though, noted that the move fell short as it does not specifically criminalize domestic violence.

Kazakhstan's president, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, said in his first state address following his June election victory earlier this year the government "urgently needs to tighten the penalties for sexual violence…and domestic violence against women."

During a series of interviews with domestic violence survivors, activists, legal authorities and social workers, HRW said it found that Kazakh authorities are neither "adequately preventing violence nor holding abusers accountable."

It says that police fail to routinely inform women about services available to them and how to protect themselves with regard to domestic violence.

"Women said that police often encourage them to drop their complaints and reconcile with their abusers," the report said.

"Women in Kazakhstan have the right to a life without violence, abuse, and harassment," Kim said. "Kazakh authorities should ensure their safety and take urgent steps to fulfill its international obligations on domestic violence."

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