Viasna trial to begin on January 5
The Lieninski District Court of Minsk set the trial date in the criminal case against Viasna human rights defenders. Viasna Chairman and Nobel Peace Prize 2022 laureate Ales Bialiatski, his deputy Valiantsin Stefanovich, and Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign coordinator Uladzimir Labkovich are in the dock. Zmitser Salauyou, another defendant, has left Belarus and will be tried in absentia.
Judge Maryna Zapasnik will preside over the trial, which begins on January 5, 2022. Viasna rights defenders are charged with ‘smuggling by an organized group’ (illegal movement of cash across the customs border of the Eurasian Economic Union on a large scale by an organized group) under Part 4 Article 228 of the Criminal Code and ‘financing of group actions grossly violating the public order’ under Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code. Three human rights defenders have been in custody since July 14, 2021. They face 7 to 12 years of imprisonment. It has not yet been announced that the trial will be closed to the public.
Prosecutors claim that in the period from 2016 to 2021, foreign accounts of human rights defenders received money from various structures and foundations, which were intended to finance the “illegal” activities of the HRC Viasna and other organizations in Belarus.
This money in the total amount of at least 201,000 euros and 54,000 US dollars was allegedly cashed and brought from Lithuania to Belarus in several stages without declaration.
According to the case files, between May 2020 and July 14, 2021, the defendants purposefully prepared citizens to participate in group actions that grossly violate public order. In addition, under the guise of human rights and charity activities, including on behalf of Viasna and the unregistered foundation BY_HELP, they financed such actions and provided other material support, the prosecution believes.
Human rights defenders are accused of:
- paying fines for persons convicted of “administrative offenses against the public order and the public administration” and “other offenses related to protesting against the actions of public bodies”
- reimbursing expenses for paying fines to such persons
- paying bills for meals in places of administrative detention instead of some persons “who have committed the named administrative offenses”
- paying lawyers, including those who provided defense in criminal cases “associated with a gross violation of the public order and protesting against the actions of public bodies”
“Internet resources of HRC Viasna in social networks and messengers were used to provide informational support for their activities,” the indictment reads.
The Chairman of the Investigative Committee by agreement with the Prosecutor General approved absentia proceedings against Zmitser Salauyou.
The criminal case was investigated by the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Investigative Committee.
Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, Valiantsin Stefanovic, and other Viasna members were searched by the Financial Investigations Department officers on July 14, 2021. Rights defenders were charged under part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code and placed in custody. A year later these charges were dropped and replaced by harsher ones.