MINSK -- The prosecutor in a high-profile case in Minsk has asked a court to sentence a Belarusian civil society activist and former prisoner of conscience to 6 years in prison on a hooliganism charge that rights activists have called politically motivated.
Prosecutor Alyaksandr Karol said at the trial on October 23 that Dzmitry Paliyenka should also be sent to forced treatment for alcoholism, adding that the prison term could be cut by one year due to a recent mass amnesty approved by lawmakers.
Paliyenka went on trial on October 17. He slashed his arm in the courtroom to protest against his closed-door trial. An hour after his protest, the judge announced an open trial, allowing Paliyenka's friends, relatives, and supporters to enter the courtroom.
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 and pleaded not guilty to all four charges, which also included 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 wanted 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."
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.