A brief review of the first day of the hearing of Ales Bialiatski’s case: The trial of Ales Bialiatski has begun in Minsk
3 November 2011
Today, November 2nd 2011, in Minsk the trial of Ales Bialiatski, vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights and head of the human rights center Viasna, has begun.
Ales Bialiatski has been under arrest since August 4, 2011. He is charged under Part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code (income concealment on a large scale). The reason for the prosecution of the human rights activist was that the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice and the Poland General Prosecutor's Office provided information on Bialiatski's foreign bank accounts to Belarusian authorities within agreements of legal assistance. The maximum penalty according to this article is imprisonment up to seven years with the confiscation of property.
The beginning of the process
The process had limited transparency: at the beginning of the trial, filming in the room was forbidden; several people were removed from the courtroom because of the T-shirts they wore, i.e. the ones with the inscription "Freedom to Ales Bialiatski", and recently a number of European human rights activists were not allowed to enter the country: http ://spring96.org/be/news/46981.
Nevertheless, the trial was attended by representatives of the US and European embassies, Belarusian politicians and former political prisoners, human rights activists, civil society activists and cultural workers. At the same time the names of all those present as well as the names of the organizations they represented were registered by security service officers.
International observers were unpleasantly surprised that Ales Bialiatski was in a cage during the trial and during a part of the trial, handcuffed.
Application of the defense
The trial began with motions of the parties. Ales asked the court to change the preventive punishment, to release him on his own recognizance and to keep the process in the Belarusian language. Both motions were denied. The first motion was later duplicated by the counsel in writing, but the judge rejected it again. He explained this by saying that Bialiatski was accused of committing a serious crime and similiar requests were not granted to other citizens having been accused of analogous crimes. Also, a petition for the examination of acts which occurred during Ales's border crossing were also not granted.
In the first stage of the hearing, the prosecutor made a statement to the effect that if Ales will sincerely answer questions honestly in court and not interfere with the investigation and the process, the prosecution may seek to change the preventive measure against him. In response to the statement, Bialiatski's lawyer stating that the Belarusian Code of Criminal Procedure does not invite drawing a connection between preventive punishments and the answers of the accused during questioning in court. According to Olga Salomatova, a representative of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Warsaw) - a participating organization of the Committee of International Control over the Human Rights Situation in Belarus - who was present at the hearing, said that such a statement by the prosecutor could be regarded as contempt of court, demonstrating pressure on the accused.
Nevertheless, a motion was granted on the translation of financial documents, which among other things reflected the purpose of funding. The records upon which this allegation was founded, were presented in foreign languages. Also, the defendant was provided with an interpreter, and during the first part of the process the lawyer was next to the advocate, 1.5 meters from the defendant.
The prosecution and prosecutorial questioning
After consideration the petitions the court turned to the investigation. The prosecutor read the indictment, and the interrogation of Ales Bialiatski began in regards to sources of income, professional activities, etc. Ales made a statement that the allegations against him are devoid of any logic, as well that the whole trial was a manifestation of the prosecution of human rights activities. In particular, Ales has not confirmed the facts of the transfer of funds from his accounts to the accounts of other human rights activists, arguing that he feared persecution against them by the KGB. In addition, Bialiatski expressed distrust of the bank documents upon which the allegations were based due to the fact that they are not translated into Russian or Belarussian languages and are not properly certified.
Ales said that money he received went solely to support the human rights center Viasna and other Belarusian human rights organizations.
His testimony lasted 2.5 hours, and all the while Ales stood while
other participants in the trial sat. In the opinion of observers this
constituted a violation and abuse of the accused.
The judge ignored the counsel's request to direct the court to request the organizations funded by the activities of the center Viasna, for details on funds they received transferred through BialiThe prosecution and prosecutorial questioningatski's account.
At 17.29 the trial was adjourned until 10:00 am November 3.
The position of the International Observation Mission
In assessing the facts, the International Committee of the International Observation Mission to Monitor the Human Rights Situation in Belarus, stressed that
1. The institution of such preventive measures for Bialiatski is excessive even for Belarusian legislation, taking into account the thousands of pledges and the position of Ales Bialiatski as well as his status at the international level.
2. The position of Belarus on the prevention of international observers from Europe by the failure of granting them visas on trumped-up reasons runs contrary to international obligations that Belarus has assumed.
3. The denial of a number of important defense motions suggests that the trial will not be based on principles of fairness, impartiality and respect for human rights.