2 years in prison for removing state flag: New trend of repression in Belarus
On November 26, entrepreneur Heorhi Vasilenka was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for replacing the official flag with a white-red-white one in Lenin Square in Homieĺ. The city’s Centraĺny District Court found him guilty under Part 2 of Article 339 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism).
In his last statement, Vasilenka said that what he did was not a criminal offense, asking the court not to impose a sentence of imprisonment.
The judge, however, sentenced Heorhi Vasilenka to two years of restricted liberty in an open-type facility, so called “khimiya”, the exact punishment earlier requested by the prosecutor.
Local human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka, who attended the trial, stressed that the accused had not been convicted before and admitted his guilt, so he could have counted on a non-custodial sentence. Before the trial, the accused was on bail.
On August 16, Vasilenka hoisted down the state flag from the flagpole and raised instead, as investigators put it, “a symbol that is not an attribute of power”, namely a white-red-white flag.
The only witness who testified in court that the replacement of the state flag “offended her personal feelings” was an employee of the city government’s department for ideology and culture.
Human rights defenders emphasize that the defendant was convicted of “hooliganism”, rather than “desecration of state symbols”, the charge earlier used to sentence at least three persons over the past few months.
Illia Smolski and Yury Kastsiuk, both residents of Brest, were sentenced to one year in prison each. The same penalty was imposed on a man in the city of Ivacevičy, whose name remains unknown.
Twelve more persons are under arrest awaiting trials on the same charges.