"Ales turned to the spectators and smiled very widely and heartily"
On March 3, there were five relatives of the defendants in the courtroom, propagandists, lots of young men in civilian clothes, and the handcuffed human rights defenders in a metal cage. In that atmosphere, the verdicts were announced: from 7 to 10 years of imprisonment. One of the spectators described the last court session in the Viasna case and the human rights defenders’ reaction to the verdict. Here is his monologue.
Close to the courtroom entrance, there were many people in civilian clothes who looked busy solving some problems and trying not to attract attention. A tall man in civilian clothes approached the metal detector frame, behind which those willing to hear the verdict were queuing, and told the relatives of the defendants to come forward for the personal inspection procedure. Around five relatives of the defendants came forward and were allowed into the courtroom. In the courtroom, the last three benches for the public were already occupied by young men in civilian clothes. A woman from the queue asked whether those young men were acquaintances with the defendants, to which they replied ‘no’. Meanwhile, the public kept asking why only five spectators were allowed into the courtroom.
On that day, Valiantsin [Stefanovic] stood closest to the public, although Uladz [Uladzimir Labkovich] had been in that place throughout the trial. Valiantsin greeted each acquaintance with a smile and a wink. He seemed to be in good spirits, at least he looked dignified despite his hands being handcuffed behind his back. At a distance of several meters, one could see that the faces of Ales [Bialiatski] and Valiantsin were very pale. Apparently, the lack of sunlight, normal food and vitamins, and the stressful situation in which the prisoners had been for more than a year and a half, had taken their toll on them.
Before the trio of the judge and two assessors entered the hall, a girl with a badge appeared in the doorway and warned the public that photos could not be taken after the judge entered the courtroom. The judge and two assessors entered the courtroom, and the presiding judge began to read out in a low voice: “In the name of the Republic of Belarus… …found guilty..." The text of the verdict was read for more than 25 minutes. There was silence in the courtroom, only the prosecutor and Uladz' lawyers made some notes with their pens when the judge det the fate of the confiscated property.
Apart from the metal cage, Ales Bialiatski was surrounded by two guards in body armor.
After the verdict was announced, the judge asked whether the convicts understood the order of appeal, upon which silence hung in the air, as if each of the human rights defenders was protesting against the unjust sentence. When the convoy demanded that the public should leave the courtroom, Ales turned to the spectators and smiled very widely and heartily for a few seconds, so that it was simply impossible not to see his reaction. By that he showed that he is indomitable, that he has enough strength to fight, and that the verdicts announced are just an obstacle that he would overcome.
“Caged and handcuffed human rights champions, this is what the Belarusian justice looks like today”
“They need to know that it's not all in vain”: the wives of convicted human rights defenders comment on the verdict
We asked Natallia Pinchuk, Nina Labkovich, and Alina Stefanovic, the wives of political prisoners convicted today, to comment on the court’s decision.