Minsk court ends ‘graffiti case’ trial with lenient sentence
Judge Ala Skuratovich of Minsk’s Frunzienski District Court announced yesterday evening her verdict in so called ‘graffiti case’ trial, sentencing the three defendants to fines ranging from 6.3 to 10.5 mln rubles (USD 300-500).
Maksim Piakarski, Vadzim Zharomski and Viachaslau Kasinerau were accused of drawing several political graffiti in Minsk, as well as defacing a billboard with the image of a police officer. They were detained, together with two more persons (Yaraslau Ulyianenkau and a Russian national Pavel (last name unknown)), on August 11 as a result of a brutal police raid on an apartment in Minsk. The latter two were later released on bail, while Maksim Piakarski and Vadzim Zharomski were taken into custody before charges were brought against them. Viachaslau Kasinerau was taken to hospital with a double fracture of the jaw inflicted as a result of the violent detention.
On August 20, Maksim Piakarski and Vadzim Zharomski were formally charged under Part 2, Art. 339 of the Criminal Code, and all the three episodes were combined into one case. In connection with these arrests and the detention of Maksim Piakarski and Vadzim Zharomski, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" issued a statement calling the detainees new political prisoners. On August 31, Maksim Piakarski and Vadzim Zharomski, were released from pre-trial prison No. 1 in Minsk. Shortly after the detention, the Investigative Committee issued a statement in which it accused them of committing extremist actions, in citing ethnic and social hatred even before the completion of the investigation and the trial.
On December 9, Maksim Piakarski, Vadzim Zharomski, Yaraslau Uliyanenkau, and Viachaslau Kasinerau faced final charges. The initial criminal charges against Maksim Piakarski for drawing political graffiti (Part 2, Article 339 of the Criminal Code, “hooliganism committed by a group of persons”) were replaced by Article 341, “desecration of facilities and damage to property.” Yaraslau Ulyianenkau was cleared of all the charges.
Viachaslau Kasinerau and Vadzim Zharomski still faced charges under Part 2, Article 339 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism committed by group of persons), with the latter facing an additional charge under Article 341 of the Criminal Code.
The trial opened on Monday, January 25.
During yesterday’s court session, Viachaslau Kasinerau said he was threatened with violence during the investigation. He said the key motive for damaging the billboard was his personal dislike for police officers, who are involved in human rights violations.
The mother of another defendant, Vadzim Zharomski, said during the hearing that her son was beaten by police officers back in 2007, therefore he had a profound hostility towards them.
The prosecutor asked to sentence Maksim Piakarski to a fine of 105 mln rubles, Viachaslau Kasinerau – to 1.5 years of suspended imprisonment, and Vadzim Zharomski – to 2 years of suspended ‘correctional labor’.
However, the Judge sentenced the activists to heavy fines: Viachaslau Kasinerau – 6.3 mln rubles, Maksim Piakarski – 8.4 mln rubles, and Vadzim Zharomski – 10.5 mln rubles.
Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich, who monitored the trial, said after the verdict was announced:
“In my opinion, the ‘graffiti case’ was overblown by intelligence agencies on the eve of the presidential election, but they arrested the wrong guys, they are extremely opposed to totalitarianism and show no hostility towards the society.”
Valiantsin Stefanovich stressed that the sentence was impacted by public attention and the attention of human rights defenders.