Hrodna human rights defenders convicted for photos with Ukrainian flag
On April 3, human rights defenders Viktar Sazonau, Uladzimir Khilmanovich and Raman Yurhel spent six hours in the Leninski district police department of Hrodna. They were first questioned and then charged with administrative offenses. The police reports were based on photos posted on the websites of Radio Racyja and harodniaspring.org. The human rights activists were accused of staging several unsanctioned pickets, though their actions could not be viewed as mass gatherings.
On March 25, Viktar Sazonau, Uladzimir Khilmanovich and Raman Yurhel were photographed with Belarusian and Ukrainian flags in several historic sites of Hrodna. The pictures were later posted online to congratulate the city residents on the anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian People's Republic.
The consideration of their administrative cases was actually held behind closed doors. Judge Natallia Kozel of the Leninski District Court, known for announcing numerous politically motivated verdicts since the time of the mass strikes of Hrodna entrepreneurs in the 2005 and the 2006 presidential election, denied the defenders’ motion to arrange the consideration of the charges in the building of the Leninski District Court and to make the trial open. As a result, Natallia Kozel fined each of the activists 25 basic units, which now equals 3.75 million rubles.
The human rights defenders disagree with this interpretation of the legislation and are going to appeal against the ruling to a higher court.
The situation is commented upon by Uladzimir Khilmanovich: “Hrodna police and the court reached the point of absurdity, as thousands of people are photographed on the streets with various symbols on various holidays, and they then display their pictures on websites and social networks. By the logic of those in charge of the police and the courts in Hrodna, they all need to be punished with administrative penalties. In fact, we are now faced with not just a violation of our constitutional rights, but political persecution on ethnic grounds – it turns out that Belarusians, representatives of the titular nation, cannot celebrate national holidays.”