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Testimonies by Secret Witnesses and Interrogation of Customs Officers: Fourth and Fifth Court Sessions in Viasna Case

2023 2023-01-13T21:54:41+0300 2023-01-13T21:54:41+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

On January 11 and 12, the trial of the Viasna case continued in the Lieninsky District Court of Minsk. The defendants Ales Bialiatski, the chairman of the Viasna Human Rights Center and a Nobel laureate, his deputy Valiantsin Stefanovic, and the coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign Uladzimir Labkovich are being tried according to Part 4 of Art. 228 (‘Smuggling by an organized group’) and Part 2 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (‘Financing of group actions that grossly violate public order). The human rights defender Zmitser Salauyou, who had to leave Belarus due to criminal prosecution, is also being tried in absentia. The infamous Judge Maryna Zapasnik is considering the case, and Prosecutor Aliaksandr Karol supports the state prosecution. We will tell you what happened at the fourth and fifth court sessions in the high-profile case against the human rights defenders of Viasna.

Fifth court session: Interrogation of customs officers and far-fetched figures

At the fifth Viasna case trial, more witnesses and their testimonies were interrogated and read. At the first court session, Ales Bialiatski stated that in total about 100 witnesses were interviewed and 120 searches were conducted throughout the country.

Today, Judge Zapasnik at last voiced the testimonies of the classified witnesses, one of them surnamed Karpovich. At the first hearing, Valiantsin Stefanovic insisted that the pseudonym ‘Karpovich’ stands for the pro-government propagandist Alena Krasouskaya, and asked to remove her from the courtroom. The judge did not satisfy the request of the human rights defender, because that was allegedly only his assumption. For ‘security purposes’, the names of the other two witnesses in the case file were changed.

Besides, on January 12, employees of the customs service were interrogated. A Customs Committee specialist stated that in 2011-2021, two million dollars were allegedly brought to Belarus in the interests of the Viasna HRC. The import of large amounts of cash without declaration was criminalized in Belarus in 2016, therefore the amount of only about 250,000 dollars appears in the criminal case file. It became clear from the customs officers’ testimonies that those amounts had been dictated to them by some other state agencies. It is not known where these figures came from and how the prosecution is going to confirm them.

Fourth court session: Testimonies of classified witnesses; Sick human rights defenders in handcuffs

On January 11, the court continued to study the witnesses’ testimonies. However, none of them was questioned in person for various reasons—mainly because they are abroad. At the court, their testimonies given during the investigation was read aloud. Among them, for example, there was the testimony by Barys Bukhel, a human rights defender from Mahilioŭ.

Besides, the judge got acquainted with the records of the interrogation of two witnesses under false names. However, Judge Zapasnik did not read those statements out loud ‘for the reasons of safety’ of the secret witnesses.

During the trial, the three human rights defenders were still kept in a cage and in handcuffs, despite their requests at the previous hearings to have them removed. Uladzimir Labkovich, for whom an ambulance was called to the court yesterday, is still sick. Ales Bialiatski also got sick.

Trial against Viasna leadership: Day 1

Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, and Valiantsin Stefanovic filed motions to conduct the trial in the Belarusian language and to remove the handcuffs, as they degrade their dignity. The first petition was not granted by the judge, and the second was not even considered. Rights advocates continue to communicate in the Belarusian language in the courtroom.

Trial against Viasna leadership: Day 2

Zmitser Salauyou, who is being tried in absentia, said he knew neither the name nor even the gender of the court-appointed lawyer who shall represent him at court. The trial now proceeds with the questioning of witnesses. There are about 100 of them in the case.

Trial against Viasna leadership: Day 3

The trial over Viasna leadership continues in the Lieninski District court of Minsk. Among the defendants is Nobel Peace Prize 2022 laureate Ales Bialiatsi. On January 10, the third court session was held.

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