30 facts about political prisoner Mikalai Autukhovich
Mr. Autukhovich is a Belarusian entrepreneur, sentenced to 62 months in jail for alleged storing and trafficking five fire cartridges, whereas the real reason was his struggle against corruption. We decided to remind about the most important facts from his life.
1. Mr. Autukhovich comes from an ordinary Vaukavysk family. His mother worked first at the bakery, and then – in the school cafeteria. She got divorced when the children were still small. Mikalai has a younger sister, who works in the polyclinic in Vaukavysk.
2. Mikalai graduated from the vocational school in Beastavitsa with the profession of mechanic. His friends say that although he wasn't an excellent student, he studied hard and was always interested in technology.
3. After completing his studies, Mr. Autukhovich got in missile troops in Saratov, where he graduated from the school of ensigns. Then he was sent to Afghanistan.
4. Having returned to his homeland, Mikalai continued working in the army. However, he quickly realized that the system was breaking down and it was necessary for him to think about his own business. He bought a car and started carrying vegetables from Belarus to Russia. Seeing that he could earn good money this way, he left the military service.
5. In Vaukavysk, Mr. Autukhovich had to struggle for the apartment he was to be given as a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. The authorities wanted to give the apartment to somebody else, but he managed to defend his right with the assistance of the-then deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the 12th Convocation Mikalai Aksamit, with whom Autukhovich also cooperated afterwards.
6. The first business of Mikalai Autukhovich in Vaukavysk was renting the former military barracks he had repaired.
7. Mikalai Autukhovich became really famous after creating "Taxi 22222" in Vaukavysk. His service was an example for all Belarus. Accurate Mercedes cars, polite drivers in white shirts, 24-hour work of the call service and affordable prices have made Autukhovich's business really successful. Taxis became a real salvation for the city with underdeveloped public transportation. Even students and pensioners could afford a trip on "22222".
8. In 2003, there was issued a president's decree, under which employers could hire no more than three employees, whereas 60 people worked in Autukhovich's company. He had to fire them and immediately transfer them to the company "Nika-Trans", registered by his wife. The two companies entered into a contract for services. Later Autuhovich was called the inventor of the scheme that allowed people to make profits without breaking the law. However, since 2004 there started massive check-ups of the both companies. The tax inspection insisted that Mikalai Autukhovich violated the law.
9. In 2004, Mr. Autukhovich became a candidate in the parliamentary elections. It cannot be called his personal desire, his friends and colleagues rather advised him to go into power. He had quite a noticeable campaign, posters with his electoral program could be seen at each bus stop. The key points were freedom of entrepreneurship, reducing the tax burden on business and deregulation.
10. The authorities saw that Autukhovich was trusted by the electorate, and therefore started interfering with his electoral meetings – they either refused to provide him with premises or didn't warn the people about the meetings. Therefore, the candidate started coming to the electoral meetings of his rival, headmaster of school No. 6 Tamara Navasad. The voters were simply offered to stay for a few minutes to talk with him. That's how most of his electoral meetings passed.
11. The preliminary vote count showed that the entrepreneur received a confident victory at the city precincts, where observers were present. Autukhovich's electoral team didn't manage to direct observers to village precincts. As a result, the commissions counted 64 % of votes in favour of Novosad and just 28 % in favor of Autukhovich.
12. In the meantime, the entrepreneur had a real war with the tax inspectorate. He explained the perseverance with his having provided the Committee for Combating Organized Crime with information which witnessed the corruption of local authorities. The documents included information about bribes, illegal check-ups and the abuse of official authority. The main accused was then chairman of the tax inspection Tamara Stasevich and her deputy Hanna Misko.
13. Autukhovich's business partners told him to pay the money and not start any struggle. They said it was senseless and he needed to pay them as everyone else did. However, Mikalai Autukhovich took a principled stand: "If you start giving them money, they will never get off. I have already given consent to confirm that Misko's son had allegedly worked in my enterprise, so that he could be employed in the Ministry of Emergency Situations. What happened next? Their appetites and demands only increased!"
14. A criminal case was brought against Tamara Stasevich and Hanna Misko. However, all documents which could confirm their manipulations, were immediately destroyed at the tax inspection. As a result, the officials escaped real punishment.
15. However, Tamara Stasevich was obliged to pay some damages caused to the state. The matter is that her elder daughter Natallia tried to enter the Hrodna Agrarian University, but was not able to successfully pass the exams. Then her mother agreed with Vaukavusk inter-district gas supply that they would record an afterthought, as if she worked for them, so that he could be given a target direction to the university. Instead of it the official promised to close her eyes to the violations discovered at the enterprise during the check-ups. Thus, the state organization paid for the studies of the official's daughter. When this became known, Mrs. Stasevich was obliged to pay a compensation to the state.
16. Despite the criminal cases, Mrs. Stasevich continued working in the tax inspection and was event promoted to the first deputy head of the Hrodna Regional Tax Inspection. He daughter worked in the inspection as well. Hanna Misko still heads the Vaukavysk District Tax Inspection.
17. In 2006, Mikalai Autukhovich was accused of tax evasion and the carriage of passengers and luggage without registering a commercial firm. The entrepreneur was sentenced to 3,5 years in a maximum security prison with confiscation of property and deprivation of the right to engage in entrepreneurial activities for 5 years.
18. Defending himself and his business, Mr. Autukhovich declared hunger-strikes more than five times. The longest hunger-strike lasted 74 days. As a result, he lost 38 kg of weight and was diagnosed with kidney failure.
19. In 2007, the investigator of the Hrodna Regional Department of Financial Investigations Mikalai Alikhver, who brought Autukhovich's case to court, won the Green Card lottery. Since 2008, he has resided in the USA.
20. Mikalai Autukhovich was released from jail in early 2008 as a result of pressure on the Belarusian authorities from the EU and the U.S.
21. However, in a year Mikalai Autukhovich was detained again. He was charged with preparing a terrorist act and sentenced to five years in jail for possession of five fire cartridges found during a search. Two more months were added to the sentence, as he was released early the previous time. Mr. Autukhovich regards this sentence as punishment for his struggle against the local corruption.
22. Mikalai Autukhovich was defended by the famous lawyer Pavel Sapelka, who was deprived of his license for defending the people detained in the Independence Square during the peaceful protests on December 19, 2010. Mr. Sapelka noted that the case against Autukhovich was completely fabricated. "It is quite useful to find why it was Autukhovich who became the goal? I think this is because the Belarusian authorities don't need such a businessman. A normal businessman must be a scared villain, hated by the people. Autukhovich didn't match the image of the local oligarch. He is independent and clean before the law, is not indifferent to the problems and needs of the citizens, is strong-willed and resolute in defending his rights. He could find common ground with the government, but did not do it. He could shirk his profits, but instead engaged in charity and helped to the needy. However, as we know, those who are loved by our people, are hated by our authorities. The imprisonment didn't break him, and such a man is more dangerous for the authorities than dozens of political demagogues, pseudo-leaders of pseudo-structures,” stated the lawyer on the eve of the proceedings in the Supreme Court.
23. Mikalai Autukhovich started serving his second sentence in Ivatsevichy colony. However, he was transferred to Hrodna prison after being recognized a repeated violator of the prison regulations.
24. The political prisoner sent journalists a letter with a description of the prison conditions. The building of Hrodna prison is very old, there is a high humidity regardless of the season. Even in summer, prisoners wear warm clothes. The administration periodically turns off the lights in order to save the money. As a result, the prisoners are deprived of the opportunity to make even tea.
25. In such conditions, the old diseases of Mr. Autukhovich exacerbated and he also got some new ones. He has been suffering from toothache for a long time, but was denied prosthetics. Due to stress and poor nutrition his blood sugar rose significantly. His eyesight deteriorated.
26. In order to stop pressurization and provocations, last year Mikalai Avtukhovich had to cut his belly open. The reason was the openly derisive attitude of the administration of Hrodna prison. Two years in a row the prison authorities kept giving him disciplinary penalties short before the expiry of the prior ones.
27. Despite the unjust punishment and appalling conditions in jail, Mr. Autukhovich didn't lose his spirit. He also learned Belarusian and English.
28. All this time Mikalai Autukhovich maintained an active mail correspondence with more than 80 people, including residents of Canada, USA, Poland, Russia and even South Korea. Most letters were sent by Minskers.
29. On April 8 Mikalai Autukhovich was released from jail. However, he will be put under preventive supervision for 16 months, which means that he will have to stay in Vaukavysk and periodically register at the police.
30. Mikalai Autukhovich has become a symbol of unwavering, principled businessman who struggles for truth and justice until the end. His fellow countrymen remember and support him despite all attemts of the state propaganda to discredit him.