Minsk City Court confirms sentence in trade union case
The Minsk City Court has upheld today the sentence of 4 years of restricted freedom earlier handed down to Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik, leaders of the trade union REP, on charges of tax evasion.
Judge Siarhei Khrypach has rejected the defendants’ appeal, ignoring the line of defense lawyers who argued that the incriminating evidence was either irrelevant or obtained in violation of the law.
Lawyer Liudmila Kazak stressed that the prosecution failed to present any proof that the email account which contained bank statements belonged to the REP leaders. The lawyer also said that the Saviecki District Court took into account some testimonies, but for some reason rejected other witnesses.
This is all evidence of a violation of the right to a fair trial and the accusatory bias of Judge Fiodarava, who passed the sentence, Ms. Kazak said during today’s hearing.
In addition, the lawyer stressed that the case must be considered in the light of Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (freedom of association).
“The sentence should be reversed due to the absence of a dangerous act,” lawyer Kazak said.
Lawyer Natallia Matskevich focused on the numerous flaws of the trial and the improper application of the criminal law.
She said that the bank statement used in the case was not officially certified and recalled the refusal of Lithuania, Denmark and Sweden to support the prosecution.
“The defense did not ask to pass a sentence on the basis of international standards. Moreover, this category does not exist. The defense asked to pass a judgment on the basis of the international norms that Belarus voluntarily assumed, which is confirmed by provisions of domestic law,” lawyer Matskevich said.
Despite this, the judge sided with the prosecutor who argued that the sentence was “lawful and fair.”
“We continue to insist that all charges against Mr. Fiadynich and Mr. Komlik should be removed. We are convinced that the prosecution of the leaders of the independent trade union REP are politically motivated and linked to their active trade union work,” Valiantsin Stefanovich, activist of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, said after the hearing.
On August 24, 2018, Henadz Fiadynich, chairperson of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of Radio Electronic Industry Workers (REP), and Ihar Komlik, the Union’s accountant, were found guilty of committing a crime under Part 2, Art. 243 of the Criminal Code (large-scale tax evasion). The trade union leaders were sentenced to 4 years of restricted freedom and are not eligible to hold managerial posts for the period of 5 years.
On the same day, a coalition of Belarusian human rights organizations issued a statement calling to quash the sentence as politically biased. Similar calls were later voiced by EU representatives, trade union associations and international human rights organizations, including Front Line Defenders and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.