Expert opinion on the case of Homel activist Yury Rubtsou
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Minsk. December 23, 2014.
On December 21, it was reported that opposition activist Yury Rubtsou had been sent to open-type correctional facility No. 7 in the village of Kuplin, Pruzhany district, Brest region.
On October 6, Yury Rubtsou was sentenced by the court of the Tsentralny district of Minsk under Art. 391 of the Criminal Code (insult of a judge) to 1 year and 6 months of imprisonment.
The criminal prosecution of Yury Rubtsou is linked to his arbitrary detention on April 28, 2014 during a sanctioned peaceful assembly “Chernobyl Way” for wearing a T-shirt with the inscription “Lukashenka, Go Away!” After the detention, he faced administrative charges under Art. 17.1 (disorderly conduct) and 23.4 (disobedience to lawful actions of the police officers) of the Code of Administrative Offences and later sentenced to 25 days of administrative arrest by Judge Kiryl Palulekh of the court of Savetski district of Minsk.
According to the human rights organizations, the detention of Yury Rubtsou was arbitrary and violated his rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. It should be noted that the practice of arbitrary detention of civil society and political activists on false charges of “using foul language in public” and “disobedience to the lawful demands of police officers” is of systemic nature in Belarus, especially on the eve of major political events. In particular, on the eve of the World Ice Hockey Championship in Minsk, according to the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, 38 activists were subjected to arbitrary detentions and arrests, some of them several times, including Yury Rubtsou.
According to the charges, Yury Rubtsou insulted the judge during the trial. It is essential that Yury Rubtsou was brought to the court building without a shirt, which offended his dignity, and the judge did not take any measures to protect his rights and dismissed his request to give him glasses to study the case. The case was not heard in the courtroom, but in the Judge’s office. Moreover, the Judge ordered the removal of a public defender Volha Mikalaichyk. The Judge’s actions clearly contradicted the Code of the Republic of Belarus “On the Judicial System and the Status of Judges”, as well as the Judicial Code of the Republic of Belarus.
In connection with flagrant violation of his rights, Yury Rubtsou expressed his legitimate discontent and protest, calling such trials a “show”, and the judges, who issue such unlawful decisions, “scum”. These words were interpreted as statements aimed personally against Judge Kiryl Palulekh, while Yury Rubtsou comments on the minutes of the hearing were rejected by the same judge as groundless.
The verdict was based only on testimony by the police officers (including those who witnessed at the trial on April 28), a clerk of the court and Judge Palulekh himself.
Yury Rubtsou’s counsel, who participated in the trial of April 28, was not questioned either during the preliminary investigation or during the trial. There were no procedural obstacles to interviewing the lawyer as a witness according to the current criminal procedural legislation. According to Article 18 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the criminal prosecution authority is obliged to take all measures prescribed by law for a comprehensive, complete and unbiased investigation of the circumstances of the criminal case, to gather evidence, both incriminating and mitigating the accused, to establish the circumstances relevant for the proper consideration of the case, to protect the rights and the legitimate interests of the persons involved in the criminal case.
These circumstances, in our opinion, indicate that the investigation and trial of the case from the beginning were accusatory, the investigating authorities and the court did not take measures for a comprehensive and unbiased consideration of the case, which, in turn, is one of the necessary components of a fair trial.
The above-mentioned circumstances of the case, as well as the conditions of detention of Yury Rubtsou in an open-type penal facility, provide reason to consider Yury Rubtsou a political prisoner.