Stefanovich: The objective of the authorities was to clear the list of political prisoners
According to the website of the Investigative Committee of Belarus, the persons, charged in the "graffiti case", have been released under the recognizance not to leave.
We asked the deputy head of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich to comment on it.
RFE/RL: In your opinion, why weren't the “graffitists” released simultaneously with all other political prisoners?
Stefanovich: In my opinion, if they weren't released because there was a list of six people, whose release was demanded by Belarusian human rights activists. Perhaps, it was also demanded by the European Union, although in the recent years the EU has been speaking of just three persons.
Unfortunately for the "graffiti artists", they were arrested right in the midst of these processes. I
think that the state machinery just couldn't work that fast, they needed time. I believe that there are two sides to the release of the graffitists. One of them is official, which is reflected in the statement, posted on the website of the Investigative Committee – the change of restraint is possible for
formal grounds. This includes the admission of guilt, remorse and compensation for damage caused by these "crimes". In the latest statements of the Investigative Committee we no longer hear the horror stories, such as the incitement to hatred and insult of veterans.
The other side is informal, and this release is closely associated with the general process of release of political prisoners. The authorities evidently needed to clear the list of political prisoners.
Until recent, the Embassies knew nothing about the case of "graffiti", it was us who told them.
By the way, one of the aims of the Investigative Committee in the process of prosecution of these guys was to discredit them in the eyes of international organizations and embassies. There was a charge of inciting hatred, so-called "hate crime", which is persecuted worldwide.
For our organization, the political nature of this case was clear from the very beginning, because we didn't believe that there were traits of malicious hooliganism in these actions. As we wrote in our statement, all damage that was done could be compensated within a civil case.
RFE/RL: Will the authorities make the next step and drop the criminal case?
Stefanovich: There are several options. They can change the charges or drop the case. However, I believe that it is more likely to be brought to court, but the punishment won't include real deprivation of liberty. Otherwise there was no need to release the accused from custody.
There is a popular sign: if you come to the court's by yourself, you are most likely to get out by yourself, too. If a person is released from custody on the eve of the trial, it is very unlikely that it will be again taken in custody in the courtroom.