Convicted protesters lose appeal in “resisting arrest” trial
The Minsk City Court upheld today the sentences of imprisonment earlier handed down to two protesters arrested on charges of using violence when resisting arrest at an election rally. The sentences were condemned as politically motivated by the country’s human rights community.
Uladzislau Yestsihneyeu and Pavel Piaskou were sentenced to three years and three years and three months in prison, respectively, for their involvement in an incident that took place in the city of Maladziečna on June 19. The two men allegedly participated in a scuffle, after riot police officers attacked peaceful protesters in an attempt to disperse the crowd. One of the riot policemen was seen waving a gun. The uniforms of two officers were reportedly damaged, as a result. They also claimed to have suffered “injuries”, which were described as “scratches on the knees and elbows.” The alleged victims, however, failed to provide any evidence.
During today’s appeal hearing, Yestsihneyeu’s defense lawyer argued that the length of the sentence is clearly disproportionate to the severity of the offense. The counsel asked the appeal court to order a non-custodial sentence, stressing that the defendant is a first-time offender and has to support his disabled mother.
Piaskou’s lawyer urged the judge to overturn his client’s conviction, since his resistance to the police officers was caused by their excessive use of violence. The defendant’s involvement in the brawl does not constitute a criminal offense, the lawyer argued, pointing to Art. 36 of the Criminal Code, which exonerates acts committed in a state of “extreme necessity”, i.e. to prevent “danger directly threatening a person, the rights and legitimate interests of that person or others, the interests of society or the state, if this danger in these circumstances could not be eliminated by other means and if the damage caused is less significant than its prevention.”
The lawyer also underscored that none of the witnesses for the prosecution (all of them were police officers) actually saw the incident, thus questioning the veracity of their testimonies.
“Prosecutor Habrukovich is a shameless liar and you could see everything captured on video,” political prisoner Pavel Piaskou said at the hearing.
The court ignored these claims and ruled to uphold both sentences. The verdict is final, but can be appealed under a number of secondary procedures, including the Supreme Court’s president.