Artak Kirokasyan: This is a trial of the entire independent civil society sector in Belarus
General and Chairman of the Civil Society Institute (Armenia) Artak Kirakosyan,
who has been closely following the trial of FIDH Vice-President Ales Bialiatski,
has commented on the “new charges” that were brought against the Belarusian
human rights defender on 16 November.
- Today, the hearing of the criminal case against the head of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Ales Bialiatski was resumed after a break. You are keeping an eye on the trial. How could you comment on the new charges that everyone has been waiting for?
- I believe that the authorities themselves have become hostages of the situation that they created, and now they cannot figure out how to get out of it in the best way possible. It is absolutely clear to everyone that the trial is politically motivated, and I think the authorities are now deliberately slowing the trial to look around, waiting, perhaps, for some changes in the views of the international community or within Belarus. In my opinion, all this is merely an attempt to delay and buy time.
- The previous session ended with the prosecutor's motion for a break to draft the new charges, significantly different from the previous ones. In fact, the new wording of the charges says nothing to an outsider; in reality, it remained the same – tax evasion on a large scale. In your opinion, did the authorities decide not to apply Article 193.1, the possible move suggested in independent circles?
- I think in this case, all these formalities are of no special role, because everyone is waiting for a political decision to be made. I think for the authorities the situation is also too hard, they spun a story to which it is difficult to find a reasonable solution, and therefore are dragging the trial to look at the possible reactions.
Today, the authorities decided not to burn bridges, as it would surely be in case of bringing charges under Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code; and they still do not really know yet what to do next. However, it should be noted that time does not work for them, because of the increasing international support for Ales; and the organization that I represent – the International Federation for Human Rights – is taking significant moves in this direction and will consistently pursue this line. To us, it is not just a question of our colleague, our friend Ales Bialiatski. I want to emphasize that this is not only his trial; this is a trial of the entire independent civil sector in Belarus.
Considering this, I think the authorities have, just like is case of similar regimes, put themselves in a position to which there is no decent way. It is too late – they have crossed the border. Now, in my opinion, the issue is to somehow justify their actions in front of everybody, and in front of the Belarusian people – as the denigrating campaign, currently underway in the state media, is purely state-ordered, and the verdict must somehow meet it – and in front of the international community, too. But in fact it is already impossible. The only possible solution would be to admit their mistakes and unconditionally acquit Ales Bialiatski. But the Belarusian authorities are not apparently capable of this.