Front Line Defenders condemns charges against Leanid Sudalenka
On 14 October 2015, human rights defender Mr Leanid Sudalenka was summoned to the Department of Customs Investigation of Gomel city and informed of the charges against him. He is accused of disobeying the lawful demands of persons in the execution of their duties.
Leanid Sudalenka is a Gomel-based human rights defender and head of the Gomel city branch of the civil society association Justice Initiative, which provides victims of human rights violations with legal support. It specialises in preparing individual complaints to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The human rights defender is a lawyer and active campaigner for the abolition of the death penalty in Belarus.
On 14 October 2015, the human rights defender was summoned to the Department of Customs Investigation of Gomel city and informed that he is charged with disobeying the lawful demands of persons in the execution of their duties, which is an administrative offence under Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code. If found guilty he could face up to 15 days detention ora fine of up to 9 million Belarusian rubles (approximately 450 Euro). The trial against him will take place on 20 October before the Central District Court of Gomel city.
The charges relate to an incident, that took place on 25 August 2015, when Leanid Sudalenka was travelling by train from Vilnius (Lithuania) to Gomel. Once the train had crossed the state border of the Republic of Belarus, the Belarusian military unit 2044 of Smorgon border group began checking passengers' passports. The human rights defender was personally searched and then asked to leave the train at Molodechno station. Considering that prior to the passport control, Mr Sudalenka already underwent the examination of his luggage by an official of Minsk regional custom without any problems, he asked for the reasons of personal search. However, the officials only threatened him with liability for disobedience. On arrival to the Molodechno train station 12 custom officials grabbed him and brought him to a Minsk regional custom officelocated at the station, where they exposed him to a body and luggage search for two hours. Subsequently, he was given a report by an official from the Border Service, Mr Paul Durko, in which he explained that the reason behind the personal search was suspicion of “presence of electronic media with extremist content".
The practice of targeted personal searches is commonly applied by the authorities in Belarus towards persons who are believed to be critical of the political regime in Belarus. These includee human rights lawyers like Mr Sudalenko, who has been working on cases involving state officials. Previously, on 24 May 2015 a personal search was carried out on him following examination of his passport by the “Kamenny Log” checkpoint officials. Sudalenka's enquiry with the State Border Committee about the reasons of such targeted harassment was dismissed on 15 October 2015.
Front Line Defenders expresses its grave concern at the charges against the human rights defender Leanid Sudalenka and continuous harassment against him, as it believes these acts to be linked to his legitimate and peaceful human rights work.