Critical bloggers Piatrukhin and Kabanau sentenced to three years in prison
The Kastryčnicki District Court of Mahilioŭ ruled today in a criminal case against Brest-based bloggers Siarhei Piatrukhin and Aliaksandr Kabanau. Judge Volha Krauchanka found them guilty of organizing group actions that grossly violated public order (Article 342 of the Criminal Code) and insulting a government official (Article 369 of the Criminal Code). Piatrukhin was also convicted of insulting a judge of the Brest Regional Court (Article 391 of the Criminal Code). Both bloggers were sentenced to three years in a general-security penal colony. In addition, Piatrukhin and Kabanau will have to pay 750 rubles in moral damages to Vital Autushenka, a riot police officer from Mahilioŭ, who, according to the verdict, was insulted by the bloggers’ publications.
According to prosecutor Tatsiana Amosava, Piatrukhin and Kabanau, in collusion with Siarhei Tsikhanouski and Mikalai Statkevich, carried out “coordinated and purposeful activities to create social and political tensions in the run-up to the 2020 elections” and “implemented plans to organize a protest movement” under the guise of pickets and collecting signatures for the nomination of presidential candidates.
According to the prosecutor, the consequences of their activities were felt even after they were detained. Politician Pavel Seviarynets and blogger Ihar Losik were also mentioned in the case file.
Piatrukhin and Kabanau pleaded not guilty to the charges. They were not allowed to explain their position in court, as on February 11 they were removed from the first hearing for violating court order.
The defendants’ later requests to be brought to court were denied and the two-month trial was held without them. As a result, the bloggers could not make their last statements and were not allowed to attend the final session, in which the verdict was announced.
According to the defense lawyers, Halina Azolina and Iryna Tachkar, their clients’ guilt has not been proved and is based on assumptions. The findings of the investigation, they argued, raise more questions than answers. In their view, the prosecution did not provide evidence of guilt that could not be refuted.
According to the lawyers, Piatrukhin and Kabanau acted within the limits of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. In their videos on the YouTube channel “People’s Reporter”, they expressed their vision of the situation in the country.
The counsels stressed that the investigation mentioned Tsikhanouski and Statkevich in the case file to show the seriousness of the defendants’ criminal intentions, but did not substantiate their interaction.
Siarhei Piatrukhin and Aliaksandr Kabanau are well-known bloggers and activists. The Brest-based bloggers covered local problems in YouTube videos. In 2019, both ran for the Parliament.
The bloggers were detained in the summer of 2020.
Kabanau disappeared on June 15. The blogger was sentenced to 15 days of detention, but ended up in a pre-trial prison in Minsk.
Siarhei Piatrukhin was detained on June 16 in a village near Minsk, after which he was also taken to the Minsk pre-trial detention center.
Since then, the bloggers have been in pre-trial detention. Human rights activists called both bloggers political prisoners.