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Smuggling and financing protests: Viasna human rights defenders' final indictment gets more serious

2022 2022-09-26T13:02:12+0300 2022-09-26T13:02:12+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Ales Bialiatski, head of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", his deputy Valiantsin Stefanovich and coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign Uladzimir Labkovich have been kept behind bars for a year and two months now. They were initially charged under part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code (tax evasion), but recently they have been charged with harsher crimes.

Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich
Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich

It was revealed that the criminal case of Valiantsin Stefanovich, presumably also Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, and other Viasna activists under part 2 Article 243 of the Criminal Code (tax evasion) was recently dropped. The human rights activists were accused of "failure to register the organization they manage as a legal entity and as a taxpayer, and failure to submit relevant information to the tax authorities, which concealed from the tax authorities the information about the payments made, the persons who received payments on behalf of the organization (for rendered services), and evaded from registering the organization as a tax agent." But Ales Beliatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, and Valiantsin Stefanovich were not released from custody — they face new charges. They are now accused of smuggling (illegal movement of cash across the customs border of the Eurasian Economic Union in large amounts by an organized group) under Part 4 Article 228 of the Criminal Code and financing group actions that disrupted public order under Part 2 Article 342 of the Criminal Code. It is known that the state's claims relate to the same amount of money that was specified in the tax evasion charges, but now the actions of human rights defenders are determined to be a different "crime." The three Viasna political prisoners now face 7 to 12 years in prison. They remain behind bars.

Viasna lawyer Pavel Sapielka comments on the new charges:

"The regime raises the stakes, bringing one accusation after another that is even more ridiculous. First, our colleagues were kept in jail for over a year on charges that they had to drop even at a time of deepest legal crisis. But a new more ridiculous and harsher charge emerged, which criminalizes helping victims of political repression and supporting the work of the Viasna Human Rights Center. Leaving aside the question of how and to what extent all this aligns with facts and is supported by reasonable evidence, we would like to get an answer from the authorities to the long-standing question: how could an organization that had been arbitrarily (according to the UN Human Rights Committee) deprived of registration comply with any formalities?"

On 14 July 2021, the Department of Financial Investigations officers conducted searches in the homes of Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, Valiantsin Stefanovich, and other Viasna activists. They were later charged with tax evasion.