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Belarus: Georgian Youth Activist Describes Jailing In Minsk

Activists from Zubr protesting the Georgians' detention are arrested on 26 August Giorgi Kandelaki and Luka Tsuladze -- two activists of Georgia's Kmara, an organization that was instrumental in deposing the Georgian government during the bloodless Rose Revolution in 2003 -- were arrested in Minsk on 24 August, reportedly because the authenticity of their passports raised official "doubts." The following day a KGB official announced on Belarusian Television that they would be deported from Belarus for meddling in the country's internal affairs (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 1 September 2005). But the authorities subsequently changed their mind once again, and a district court in Minsk on 29 August sentenced the two Georgians to 15 days in jail each for "petty hooliganism," finding them guilty of a fight that they had allegedly started in a prison cell. Amnesty International declared them prisoners of conscience. On 2 September, the Minsk City Court released them, finding the district court's verdict "ungrounded." Kandelaki gave an interview to Natalya Radzina from Belarus's Charter-97 human rights group, which was posted at its website ( on 5 September under the title "Paranoia is a sign of the regime's death throes." Below is a translation of this interview.

Charter-97: Giorgi, why did you come to Belarus?

Giorgi Kandelaki:We came with a very simple aim -- to support the democracy-oriented youth of Belarus. It is funny that the Belarusian authorities believe that we are experts in the theory of nonviolent resistance. On the eve of the Rose Revolution in our country, we used a handbook written by the Belarusian movement Zubr. Our aim was to give emotional support to Belarusians. Our friends from Zubr have sufficient knowledge.

Charter-97: Tell us about your arrest.

Kandelaki: On coming to Minsk we knew that checking in at a hotel is tantamount to [undergoing the required] registration [for foreigners]. The hotel sends registration data to the police. After that we noticed that the police began to shadow us and that our telephones began to be tapped. On the eve of our arrest, our registration term expired, but we decided to remain in Belarus for some more time and prolonged our registration. Apparently, there was no time to report that to the police, and they found a formal reason to detain us.
As soon as the authorities -- either in Serbia or Georgia or Ukraine -- espoused such paranoia, their death throes began.

We were detained when we were walking jointly with Zubr coordinator Uladzimir Kobets in downtown Minsk. When we showed our registration documents to the plainclothes policemen who stopped us, they looked like fools. But they arrested us all the same. Later, I learned that a prosecutor's authorization of the prolongation of our arrests mentioned that something was allegedly wrong with our documents. The most absurd thing was that the authorization also mentioned that we were not occupied with "publicly useful work," which implied that we were vagrants in Minsk. I told them I am a Georgian journalist. Lukas said he is a theater director and works for Georgian Public Television. But that made no impression on them, they simply did not listen to us. Then they took us to a pre-trial detention prison. We thought that they would release us after a day, But it happened otherwise.

Charter-97: What were the conditions like in your cell?

Kandelaki: I had the impression that the very format of that institution creates a legal vacuum there. In our cell we met people who were kept there for two or three months without trial or investigation. The conditions contradicted human dignity. The prison bed was an ordinary wooden board, on which eight to 10 people had to sleep. A cover was not allowed. When we were evicted from the hotel, we wanted to take at least towels out of our things but they did not allow us. Of course, they did not allow us to take any warm clothes either. We only managed to take toothbrushes with us. It was awfully cold at night. Only after five days, thanks to the publicity raised by Belarusian human rights activists and Georgian diplomats, we were able to take some of our things to the cell.

Charter-97: How did the Belarusian police behave toward you?

Kandelaki: After the night I spent in the pre-trial detention, an interrogator asked me mockingly: "Well, Mr. Kandelaki, how do you like being in the Republic of Belarus?" I told him that some day he would be ashamed of what he does. He answered that "this will never happen."

The behavior of the police was arrogant and impudent. We were isolated from any information, we were not told why we had been arrested. Even though Georgian consul in Kyiv Zurab Kvachadze and Georgian consul in Moscow Zurab Pataradze visited the pre-trial detention facility, they were not allowed to meet with us. And we were not told that they had come and were trying to see us. On the contrary, we were persuaded that nobody was interested in our lot, that there was only one telephone call from somewhere, and that was all. The Vienna Convention [on Consular Relations] was violated all the time.

On Sunday [28 August] in the evening, a man named Bondarchik was placed in our cell. He began talking about music. The most interesting thing was that he talked about those groups whose compact discs we had in our suitcases. We realized that he was a provocateur, and we refused to speak with him. After half an hour he requested that he be transferred to a different cell. They took him away and, I think, simply released him. But the following day we were taken to court and accused of insulting and threatening that man Bondarchik, who spent just half an hour in our cell. We were being persuaded to give up on a lawyer but after we insisted on having one, they found some random man. He told me: "Son, I understand everything, but the judge will not put his head under the hammer." As a result, we got 15 days in jail each.

I know one thing -- we will manage to make accountable all those responsible for our illegal arrest. Those people will surely be punished after democracy is established in Belarus.

Charter-97: How did you leave Belarus?

Kandelaki: The Belarusian authorities did not acknowledge that their actions were unlawful; they simply found excuses to release us after they became afraid of the consequences of the scandal [connected with our arrest]. The reason for the release of Luka Tsuladze was that his name was allegedly written down incorrectly in the police report. I was released allegedly because my knowledge of Russian is poor and it was difficult to conduct an investigation and court proceedings against me. However, as you see, my command of Russian is quite good. The most absurd thing is that we have to pay for our stay in that pre-trial detention center.

Charter-97: Did you feel the solidarity of [other] Belarusians during your arrest? Do you know that three activists of the [Belarusian youth organization] Zubr are now under arrest for acting in solidarity with you?

Kandelaki: We met with one of the arrested Zubr members in the cell and he told us what happened. These people are real heroes. They are educated, cultured young people, the real patriots of their country. I have no doubt that they will very soon secure freedom and democracy in this country.

Charter-97: What, in your opinion, is the real motive behind your arrest in Belarus?

Kandelaki: The entire system of power in Belarus is based on total paranoia. Even our cellmates doubted that the Belarusian authorities have enough wit not to put themselves in a stupid situation. This is an empirical feature of such regimes. As soon as the authorities -- either in Serbia or Georgia or Ukraine -- espoused such paranoia, their death throes began.

Apart from this, according to our information, Moscow intervened in this affair. A signal to arrest us came from there. Paranoia in this regard exists in Russia, too. If a democratic wave sweeps across Belarus, Russia's plans to reanimate the empire will completely collapse. The recent deportation from Moscow of Marko Markovic, an active participant in the Orange Revolution and producer of the [Ukrainian rock music] group Okean Elzy, shows whom we are dealing with.

Charter-97: What would you like to say to young Belarusians?

Kandelaki: I admire them. I believe in them. And they must believe in themselves and pursue their goal without turning back. The Belarusian people are very wise and they will say "no" to the dictatorial regime. The time has come.

(Translated by Jan Maksymiuk)

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