That was the time…
Brief reflections on the current events.
Not long ago in Minsk two very symptomatic court proceedings against activists of the democratic opposition ended. I mean trials over the democratic movement activists Paval Sieviaryniets, Mikolai Statkievich and Andrei Klimau. All the three men are accused of staging group actions that violate the public order. The responsibility for this crime is provided in Article 342 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus.
It should be noted that this has not been the first attempt to institute criminal proceedings against the organizers and active participants of the protests staged by opposition.
After the 1999 Freedom March, during which demonstrators and riot police had brutal fights in Minsk downtown, criminal proceedings by terms of article 186-3 (a similar article of the Criminal Code as adopted in 1960) were instituted against five people – the head of the BSDP (NH) Mikola Statkievich, Valiery Shchukin and three young people who were accused of active participation in "group actions". Importantly, Shchukin and Statkievich were placed in custody in the detention prison. Mikola Statkievich was on hunger-strike of protest. It should be noted that the 1999 Freedom March really went down in history of Belarus as an event notable for brutal fights between the demonstrators and police and really nazi-like reprisals undertaken by riot police against the detained participants of the action as they were taken from police stations to the distribution detention center. By the way, I want to note that almost all of the names of the riot police officers that took the detained people from the city police stations to Akrestsina Street are known. Their names and also evidence given by several dozens of victims to the tortures were included into the alternative report sent by the Human Rights Center Viasna to the UN Committee against Tortures. The time will come and the investigators will determine the part each of these uniformed scoundrels played in the events that happened in the night of 17 and 18 October 1999, and then a fair and independent court, acting in the name of the Republic of Belarus, will inflict on them punishments fitting their actions. They will be punished just like they were punished for what they had done in the former GDR, Poland, Argentina, Chech Republic. How will they excuse their actions? They will blame it on the time, will say they had families, children to support so they beat the detained people, threw them down on the bus floor, trampled on them, made the women sing merry children's songs and put rubber truncheons into the men's mouths.
Getting back to the criminal proceedings instituted against the opposition activists in 1999, it should be noted that unlike 2005 the international community could exert an impact on the Belarusian regime. In 1999 A.Lukashenka was asked to take part in the summit of the OSCE countries in Istanbul. The main reason for taking part was the immediate release and closure of criminal persecution against the opposition activists. The authorities had to release M.Statkievich and V.Shchukin from the detention center. However, none of the five criminal cases were closed, three of the men that left for Poland were sentenced in their absence.
Today it is 2005 and A.Lukashenka has not been invited to OSCE summits for quite long. A rigid authoritarian system has been installed in the country, the country is virtually cut off from the rest of the world. Opposition demonstrations gather fewer people than in 1999. Everyone is scared. Fear controls the country. But there are still people who do not want to keep silent and be scared. They still take to streets to protest. After the referendum on 16 September 2004 people took to streets in Minsk several days in a row. They protested against the mean falsification of the elections and referendum. The referendum that from the very beginning was unconstitutional and aimed at further usurping the power in the country. The actions were exclusively peaceful, no outbreaks of violence from the demonstrators could be observed.
A similar action took place in Minsk on 25 March, the Freedom Day. All the demonstrations ended in the way typical of the past few years – forced dispersal and mass detentions. Several dozens of people were sentenced to administrative arrests, including P.Sieviaryniets and M.Statkievich. However, the authorities thought that was not enough. Criminal proceedings to investigate the events of 17-18 October and 25 March were instituted.
It was very interesting to hear the procurator Vadzim Pazniak who appeared for persecution in both hearings in court. I wondered whether he, as a professional lawyer, understood the absurdity and madness of the charges brought against the defendants? Did he understand what happened in the country on 16 October 2004?
Both trials resembled a kind of the theater of absurd. The people were tried because they had been protesting against the unconstitutional falsified referendum to prolong the presidential powers of A.Lukashenka beyond any limitations!
But why should I be surprised, in 1996 there was impeachment initiated by the parliament, a statement made by the then chair of the Central Election Committee Viktar Hanchar about the unknown number of printed referendum ballots, dispersal of the parliament. I wonder what our tenacious procurator's organs and State Security bodies did then. Whose safety did they protect then and continue to protect now? Did they, as professional lawyers, not see in 1996 that the proposed amendments to the Constitution would completely destroy the system of separation of powers in the country and lead to autocracy? Or maybe they did not know that as a result of the referendum the powers of the president will be prolonged to an extra two years? Did the 1996 referendum ask the people whether they wanted Lukashenka to rule seven years instead of five years that he was elected to? What did they think about on 16 October 2004?
I am sure they have all a good understanding of everything. They would simply say later on that that was the time and they had families and children…
So Judge Yesinovich will say the same then. But now he sentenced P.Sieviaryniets and M.Statkievich to three years of restricted freedom, taking away one year because of amnesty. According to the verdict, Sieviaryniets and Statkievich organized gross violation of the public order, disrupted the operation of the public transport for five minutes, shouted and whistled, which interfered with the peaceful citizens' life.
Though A.Klimau did not block the traffic, he was all the same found guilty of grossly violating the public order because he had allegedly gathered several dozens of thousands of citizens that peacefully protested against the existing regime. He was also sentenced to one year and a half of restricted freedom.
It should be noted that now any unauthorized actions by the opposition in the city center will be viewed by the law enforcement agencies as "gross violation" of the public order. So they will quickly turn their attention to the chains of concerned people, where the participating people are oftener brought to administrative account for unauthorized picketing. Trials, arrests, fines, referenda. The time has stopped.
But everything has its start and its ending. The time will come when hundreds of thousands of people tired of the "stable debility" of the stability will take to the streets of the capital and voice their choice in favor of the new Belarus. This time will come.