Three more trials expected over photos in Vitsebsk
According to the Vitsebsk police, there were seven participants in an unsanctioned rally – these were the persons whom the police somehow could identify in the photographs. A human rights activist, three journalists, two civil society activists and an unidentified passerby who liked the idea of being photographed near the closed house of culture.
The idea of the photo session was to continue the topic raised by an unknown graffiti artist: he painted a paper bird leaving a cage... The participants were also holding paper birds and cages. Now they are facing administrative charges for staging an unsanctioned rally.
Probably the police officers were alarmed because the pictures appeared on Facebook on November 5, the day marked in many countries with rallies in support of journalists. But the people in Vitsebsk did not express any demands, had no posters or banners – they just took a picture, says a BCD activist Alena Shabunia:
“When I got a call from the Chyhunachny district police department, at first I did not understand. Where are they inviting me? What action did I take part in? Then, when I was told that the photos are the action, I was even more surprised. People in Vitsebsk take photos with balloons, with soft toys, ice cream, in fancy dress - and then you can think that they express some demands or political opinions. Why invent something that has never happened? Why impute some opinion when it’s a photo? The police had better search for real offenders, rather than looking at the photos on the Internet!”
The trial of Alena Shabunia, who was charged under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code, is scheduled for November 28. On the same day, journalist Alena Stsiapanava will be tried for the same offense. Vitsebsk coordinator of the BCD’s organizing committee Tatsiana Seviarynets must appear in court on December 1.
Journalists Dzmitry Kazakevich and Kanstantsin Mardvintsau will stand trials on November 28 and December 1, respectively.
Human rights activist Pavel Levinau stresses the way in which activists are summoned to court:
“No one received a summons. The date of the trial was appointed by a policeman, head of department of prevention and protection of law and order of the Chyhunachny district police department Aliaksandr Rybakou. He personally wrote the date in the report, which says that the person facing administrative charges “has been served with a summons”. However, none has ever received any documents. And the fact that Vitsebsk police are working with the courts so closely does not indicate independence of the judiciary as a separate entity.”
The materials of the administrative cases against the activists show that the interest in the photographs was manifested by a higher body, the regional police department, who ordered the district police department to address a group of people whose actions had evidence of an offense. The document was signed by the chief of department of crime prevention of the Vitsebsk regional police department Aliaksandr Kalinouski. Many Vitsebsk activists remember him when he was working in the Kastrychnitski district police department. He then initiated many lawsuits against activists. However, charges based on photos have never been used before.
The photos of journalists and activists were posted on a Facebook account called “Our People in the City”.