Freedom Day in Vitsebsk: detentions, trials, arrests, fines
BPF activist Kanstantsin Smolikau and Leanid Autukhou stood trial that lasted for 9 hours. Judge Ina Hrabouskaya pronounced her verdict at about 9 p.m. yesterday: she ruled to punish the two activists with 5 days of arrest each for alleged violation of the legislation on mass rallies. In addition, four activists of the Belarusian Christian Democracy and head of the BPF’s city office Aliaksandr Kuzniatsou were detained on their way to the court. The latter was eventually sentenced to a fine for an alleged traffic violation.
The trial that took place at Kastrychnitski District Court of Vitsebsk was unprecedented. Leanid Autukhou, head of the BPF’s regional branch, and Kanstantsin Smolikau, activist of the same party, were detained on March 22 in the shopping center “EVIC” while handing out self-made newsletter “Magistrate”. A police report treated this as violation of the order of organizing a mass event, for the newspaper had an article about Freedom Day. Another police officer told the court that he did not speak the Belarusian language, but understood the word “come” as a call for participation in an unsanctioned rally.
Leanid Autukhou failed to prove to the court that he had applied for permission to hold the rally, but did not receive any answer from the district authorities, either positive or negative. Kanstantsin Smolikau unsuccessfully argued that the article in the newspaper that they were handing out could not be regarded as a “public call”. Judge Ina Hrabouskaya denied Smolikau’s right to legal protection: when he entered a motion for a lawyer, the Judge said he was “delaying the process”, as he reportedly could have done it before, when the court was adjourned. After that, Leanid Autukhou requested the disqualification of the Judge, but without success. He was also banned to file a complaint to the chairman of the court, since Ina Hrabouskaya did not agree to make a small break. Then a complaint against irregularities in the trial was filed by the counsel who insisted that the complaint should be heard prior to the pronouncement of the ruling, as stipulated by law. However the Judge, deciding to continue the trial after the working hours were over, refused to take a break until tomorrow, ignoring the counsel’s request.
Not paying attention to the numerous violations in the police reports, conflicting witness statements, and the absence of other witnesses, Ina Hrabouskaya ruled to punish the activists with five days in jail. Part of this term was already spent in the detention center while awaiting trial after arrest on March 22.
The decision will be appealed to the Regional Court, say the activists, because during their arrest and the trial their rights were repeatedly violated, including the right to legal protection and the right to a fair trial.
The trial was held under the control of police officers who outnumbered the activists’ associates. There were people in plain clothes and in uniform, as well as a police cameraman who freely shot in the courtroom.
Meanwhile, not everyone managed to get to the courtroom. On their way to the trial police detained BCD activists Alena Shabunia and coordinator of the organizing committee Tatsiana Seviarynets. They were traveling in the car of Aliaksandr Kuzniatsou, head of the BPF’s city branch. The car was topped by traffic police and Kuzniatsou was fined 300,000 rubles for alleged traffic violation. However, the passengers were not released, but were kept waiting for two hours – until the expected finish of the Freedom Day rally.