Vitsebsk BPF members fined 3 mln over illegal distribution of party’s newsletter
Judge Alena Protas found Kastus Smolikau and Leanid Autukhou, both members of the Belarusian Popular Front’s Vitsebsk office, guilty of violating mass media legislation. The BPF members were charged with distributing the newsletter called “Magistrate,” more than 299 copies of which were found by the police. However, the count was conducted in a rather extraordinary way: not by copies but by “big packs” and “thick bundles” – these were the arguments mentioned in court to prove the illegal excess in the edition’s circulation.
According to Kastus Smolikau, during his detention he only possessed 2 copies of the newsletter. The remaining copies were found by the police when inspecting the car driven by Autukhou.
“In my opinion, we were for nothing. Is there any violation of the distribution of the newsletter, when we only gave out a few dozen, and how can one trust the police report with the amount of more than a thousand copies, when in our presence it was not documented? The policemen testified in court that they saw “two packs” or “several large bundles.” And when prompted by Judge Alena Protas, they confidently answered that, well, of course, there were far more than 299 copies,” says the BPF activist.
Leanid Autukhou has further claims to the judge:
“I was denied my legal right to have an interpreter, since I could not perfectly understand the Russian language in its legal specifics. The Judge at first said, “That’s your right to speak Belarusian, I will try to understand you.” And what if I do not understand everything?”
Mr. Autukhou asked for an interpreter for a dozen times. And every time he got a rejection, even when he clearly misunderstood what the judge wanted from him. His request to impeach the Judge was also rejected. There was a possibility that the Court’s Chairman could intervene. But the recently appointed Yauhen Burunou told Leanid Autukhou that the answer to his complaint would be issued only within 30 days...
In such a situation Autukhou had to say that he could not take part in the trial. Meanwhile, the judge persistently pushed the activist to saying the words “I refuse to testify” in order to indicate this in the court minutes.
However, the activists do not know what was finally reflected in the minutes. When asked in what language their Belarusian-language explanations were written, Alena Protas rudely told that she should not answer any questions.
It was the first time Mrs. Protas tried opposition activists: she has been recently appointed to this position to replace another employee. Journalists and human rights activists, as well as observers for the first time saw her in action. And all of them agreed that she not only violates the rights of defendants, but also showed incorrect behavior, unreasonably raising her voice and talking to the defendants with obvious disdain... Smolikau and Autukhou are going to appeal her decision to the Regional Court, as the trial was conducted with obvious violations.