Lukashenka fires four judges who convicted opposition activists
Alyaksandr Lukashenka, by his June 18 presidential edict, dismissed 14 court judges, including four judges notorious for imposing prison and jail sentences on opposition activists.
In particular, Natallya Chatvyartkova was relieved of the position of deputy chairperson and judge of the Partyzanski District Court in Minsk on the grounds that her term of office had expired.
On May 14, 2011, Ms. Chatvyartkova sentenced former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikaw to five years in prison, finding him guilty of "organizing mass disorder" in connection with a post-election protest staged in Minsk on the night of December 19, 2010. In the same trial, she sentenced Aleh Hnedchyk to three and a half years in prison and Uladzimir Yaromenak, Illya Vasilevich and Fyodar Mirzayanaw to three years in prison on a charge of participating in mass disorder.
Mr. Lukashenka also dismissed Alyaksandr Khadanovich and Tatsyana Pawlyuchuk as judges of the Tsentralny District Court.
According to the edict, Mr. Khadanovich served on the court as a substitute for Ms. Pawlyuchuk, who was expected to return to her job after a period of "social leave" but resigned "of her own free will."
Ms. Pawlyuchuk had convicted many opposition activists before taking the leave in May 2010.
In addition, Hanna Samalyuk was dismissed as judge of the Frunzenski District Court in Minsk on the grounds that her term in office had expired.
Last year the European Union added Mses. Chatvyartkova and Samalyuk and Mr. Khadanovich to its list of Belarusians subject to entry bans and asset freezes.
In an interview with BelaPAN, human rights defender Hary Pahanyayla suggested that the dismissals were not directly related to politics.
"The judges might have been implicated in corruption scandals or abused their powers," Mr. Pahanyayla said. "Or they may have retired for health reasons. There is so little transparency in our judiciary that we can only guess what really happened."
In any case, the edict shows how flawed the government's staffing policy is, he said. "Judges today are in very short supply and their workload is quite heavy," Mr. Pahanyayla explained. "They have between 12 and 15 cases at the same time. Very serious reasons are needed to fire them under such circumstances."
Human rights defender Aleh Volchak noted that the judges might have stepped down voluntarily because of the "high moral and psychological pressure on them."
Belarusian judges have rather low salaries and heavy workloads and are forced to impose politically motivated sentences, Mr. Volchak said. "In addition, they are subjected to EU sanctions and resented by people," he said. "Relatives and acquaintances point their fingers at them and talk about them, especially in small cities."