More political prisoners in Belarus?
Arrest of the leaders of entrepreneurs’ movement Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Liavonau and Uladzimir Asipenka makes obvious the new wave of political repressions in Belarus. It has been stated by human rights activists, activists of the Belarusian opposition and former political prisoners at a press-conference held on 12 February in Minsk.
A human rights watchdog Aleh Vouchak called the arrest of Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Liavonau and Uladzimir Asipenka ‘provocation of the regime’. He reminded that the Afghan war veteran Mikalai Autukhovich has recently signed a collective letter to Alexander Lukashenka on behalf of the association of Afghan war veterans Defenders of Fatherland. He refused to receive the award dedicated to the 20th years of pull-out of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The human rights watchdog attracted attention to the fact that Autukhovich was arrested on 8 February, two days before Vaukavysk-based court was to consider the question of conditional early release of the entrepreneur.
‘We all know that on 10 February at 10 a.m. the hearings on conditional early release of Mikalai Autukhovich were to have taken place at the court of Vaukavysk’, Aleh Vouchak said. ‘In such a way the regime reacted to the 20th anniversary of the pull-out of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. They imprisoned Autukhovich and made him a political prisoner again. As a former investigator, I am not afraid to call him political prisoner. Two episodes the entrepreneurs are charged with are arson of the house of former chief of Vaukavysk police department Katsuba and arson of a garage and a car of tax inspector Mandzik, is beneath criticism. These people withdrew their evidence, as there are people held criminally liable in these criminal cases already.’
It should be noted that on 10 February the term of detention under guard of Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Liavonau and Uladzimir Asipenka was extended for 7 days. The arrested were transferred from the detention centre in Akrestsin Street to the remand prison. Despite of the fact that investigators haven’t filed charges against the businessmen, the term of detention was extended in connection with a ‘wtiness’ of arsons who had emerged all of a sudden.
‘Yesterday we got through to that ‘witness’, who is to confront the arrested allegedly,’ Aleh Vouchak says. ‘It turns out that he withdraws accusations too. He says that last time he talked to Mikalai Autukhovich 4 years ago, so he has no claims to the detained businessmen’.
The human rights activist finds no sense in detention of entrepreneurs in the case which took place 5 years ago. ‘I think authorities have no evidence of their guilt. I am saying that as a former investigator,’ he noted.
Aleh Vouchak stated that veterans of the war in Afghanistan intend to fight for release of Mikalai Autukhovich and his friends: ‘The regime has 7 days left. They are to release our comrade before 15 February, when we will celebrate 20 years of the pull-out of troops from Afghanistan. We state that all officers will support the arrested fully.’
The leader of the Afghan War veterans’ association Defenders of Fatherland Alexander Kamarouski calls the arrest of leaders of entrepreneurs’ movement political order.
‘The arrest of our companions in arms is a political order by the authorities’, he says. “It is simply bulldozing by bandits. No one would ever believe that Autukhovich who has three war decorations could take matches and go and set on fire that ‘barn’ of the police chief. And he was arrested by a special task police squad, by 30 policemen! It has been made for intimidation obviously.’
Alexander Milinkevich, For Freedom movement’s leader, stated that today the Belarusian authorities are continuing the policy of crackdown on the opposition on political motives.
Milinkevich reminded about illegal forcible draft of youth leaders, about expulsion of students from universities for their political views. According to the leader of For Freedom movement, in the conditions when political crackdown continues, the dialogue of Belarus with the European Union is impossible.
‘Dialogue at all costs is impossible. I am for a dialogue which starts from a ‘zero variant’, from reverse of politically motivated persecution. I believe that when there are people obviously persecuted on political grounds, it’s too early to open such a dialogue.’
The former political prisoner Alexander Kazulin believes that Europe should pay attention to political crackdown taking place in Belarus now.
‘It is not a simple case, it’s emblematic’, Kazulin said about the arrest of small entrepreneurs. ‘It seems a little strange for us there is no response from the EU and embassies still. In the last resolution of the European Parliament supported by absolute majority of European MPs, the main condition was absence of political prisoners and political repressions in Belarus.’
The former prisoner of conscience also believes that Europe shouldn’t be engaged in the dialogue with Lukashenka’s regime.
‘After my 2.5 years of stay in three Belarusian prisons, I can responsibly state that the institute of justice and rule of law has been completely destroyed in our country’, Kazulin said. ‘And this arrest of Vaukavysk entrepreneurs is another total lawlessness. If there would be no official reaction by the Belarusian regime, the question arises how the dialogue could be continued. Is there a law in our country, or is it absent? If there is a dialogue under way, it should be conducted in an honest, sincere and civilized manner.’
Other former political prisoners have roundly condemned the arrest of Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Liavonau and Uladzimir Asipenka. They call upon showing solidarity with Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Liavonau and Uladzimir Asipenka.
‘All the things are taking place at the moment resemble intimidation, the new stage of taking hostages’, Andrei Kim said.‘If the dialogue with Lukashenka be the highest consideration for the European Union and the US, it would mean trouble’, said the former political prisoner Artur Finkevich. ‘Unfortunately, Europe does not want to notice repressions against democrats still’.
Bear in mind that on 8 February Almaz special police force and policemen of the operational group on organized crime arrested leaders of entrepreneurs Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Liavonau and Uladzimir Asipenka. After searches in their apartments, entrepreneurs were taken to Minsk to Akrestsin Street detention centre. They are charged with arson of a policeman’s house 5 years ago.