Swiss national gets 2 ½ years in prison for tearing balaclava off riot policeman
Natallia Hersche, a Belarus-born 51-year-old Swiss national, has been sentenced today to two and a half years in prison for removing a balaclava from a riot police officer during a protest on September 19.
Ms. Hersche was found guilty of “violent resistance to a law enforcement officer” (Art. 363, Part 2 of the Criminal Code) over an incident that happened during a women-only peaceful demonstration in central Minsk. The woman was detained, but reportedly “resisted arrest,” which resulted in a “slight damage to the mask in the area of the eye slit” and a “scratch near the right eye.”
The alleged victim, member of the OMON special police unit Siarhei Konchyk, also filed a lawsuit for 1,000 in damages, which the court granted.
Natallia stressed that at the time of her arrest she remembered about deaths in Belarus and that is why she made an attempt to escape in order to save herself.
“I was sure that this was the road to death. I was afraid that I would become one of the victims that I knew of at that time,” she said at the trial, describing how people in olive uniforms tried to push her and other women into a police van and did not introduce themselves. “When I was a few steps from the vehicle, the idea spontaneously came to me that if I looked into the eyes of that person [riot policeman Konchyk], then, no matter how funny it sounds, he would take pity on me and let me go. I turned to him and made an attempt to remove the balaclava. It was not my intention to hurt him physically.”
The guilty sentence by Judge Siarhei Shatsila of the Saviecki District Court of Minsk was based on testimonies of the victim and his commanding officer. The court, however, ruled to classify the photo evidence of the alleged damage, citing security reasons. Video footage of the incident, another piece of evidence that could have exonerated the defendant, was erased by the police one month after Hersche’s arrest, despite her lawyer’s timely request for it to be examined as key evidence.
In her final statement, Natallia Hersche said:
“I live in a European democratic country. Democratic principles of freedom are essential principles of all tiers of government. And the rights of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly are clearly defined by the Constitution and guaranteed by the state. Where the police don't hide their faces in front of peaceful demonstrators. This is how I see my homeland. Belarus of the future. A free Belarus.”
In response to the sentence, the Swiss-German human rights organization Libereco issued a statement calling the verdict a “symbol of the criminal nature of the Lukashenka regime.”
“For months, the dictator’s regime has used massive violence against peaceful demonstrators: Torture, abuse and rape – the regime does not even shy away from political murder. In this environment, Belarus has long been unable to provide fair trials. We consider Natallia Hersche a political prisoner and hostage of the Lukashenka regime,” Lars Bünger, President of Libereco, said.