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Belarusian Activist's Trial For Flying Banned Flag Postponed

The banned Belarusian national flag flies in Vitebsk in December.
VITSEBSK, Belarus -- Two trials against a well-known Belarusian activist for displaying a pre-Lukashenka-era national flag have been postponed in the eastern city of Vitsebsk, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Syarhey Kavalenka, 36, a member of the Belarusian Conservative Christian Party-Belarusian Popular Front, was sentenced in January 2010 to three years of "limited freedom" for "the illegal display of the banned Belarusian national flag" in a public place.

In accordance with that verdict, Kavalenka had to report to local parole officers every Thursday and stay home between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

On November 24, the parole officers told Kavalenka's wife that "from now on [your husband] has to stay at home after 7:30 pm."

But Kavalenka refused later to sign a document confirming that he was informed about the changes to his regime and that he agrees with them.

Later the same day, several police officers from Vitsebsk's Pershamay district police department came to Kavalenka's apartment and took him into detention.

The police informed the activist that he was charged with "verbally insulting police using vulgar words."

Kavalenka spent a night in the police department and was brought to the Pershamay district court on November 25. The hearing was postponed until today after Kavalenka demanded that his lawyer be present.

But Judge Ina Hrabouskaya on December 5 had to postpone the hearings until December 9 after a Belarusian-Russian translator requested by Kavalenka did not show up in the courtroom.

The judge also postponed another hearing against Kavalenka on December 5. Local police say they recognized Kavalenka on photos and videos circulating on the Internet that show him placing the banned Belarusian national white-red-white flag on the roofs of two buildings in Vitsebsk on November 27.

Kavalenka told RFE/RL that he had nothing to do with those flags.

The judge decided to postpone the hearings on that charge to December 13 because, she said, the police did not show in the charges filed against Kavalenka that the defendant had been found guilty of committing a similar illegal act in the past.

If found guilty, Kavalenka could be sent to a labor camp to serve the rest of his "limited freedom" term.

The current, mostly red and green, official flag of Belarus was adopted after a widely criticized referendum under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's administration in 1995, replacing the red and white flag of the 1918 Belarusian People's Republic and post-Soviet independence from 1991.

The red and white flag is thus regarded by some as a symbol of challenge to Lukashenka's legitimacy.

Read more in Belarusian here