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Leanid Sudalenka: "I will stop respecting my legal profession if I give up"

2024 2024-06-19T12:07:44+0300 2024-06-20T12:04:11+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

On June 17, Homeĺ Regional Court, as part of special proceedings, sentenced former political prisoner, lawyer, and human rights defender Leanid Sudalenka to five years of imprisonment in a high security colony and a fine of 26,000 roubles (around 7,700 euros). This verdict in absentia did not come as a surprise to Leanid; he is not going to ignore it and will use all possible remedies, both national and international. The human rights defender speaks about his trial in absentia, special proceedings, violation of rights during the trial, and his future plans.

"If the government calls everything alive and independent "extremist", then this is the problem of the government itself"

After I was released from prison last year, I made a personal decision not to stay silent. Not to stay silent, but to speak about the conditions created by the Lukashenka regime for all political prisoners in Belarus. Of course, I understood the consequences that could await me. However, I thought my voice is very important, as it is the voice of a surviving witness. After all, if we keep silent about what is happening now, then our children will be tortured in prisons as well. Therefore, it is not surprising that literally three months after my release, on the first of October last year, a new criminal case was initiated against me for other facilitating extremist activities, under both parts of the article.

I would like to emphasize that in Lithuania, where I am, after I left Belarus 11 days after my release, I did not commit any criminal offenses. What I am accused of is not a crime in Lithuania. Because all the media that I have spoken, am speaking, and will speak to, as well as in other EU countries, are not extremist.

And the fact that the Belarusian authorities call everything alive and independent "extremist" is the problem of the government itself. Last week I gave an interview to representatives of the German Bundestag, and according to the authorities, should the Bundestag also be recognized as an "extremist" formation? What if I go to the U.S. State Department tomorrow and give an interview there?

Therefore, I expected this verdict. I was worried about the insane size of the fine, even in European context, which is inadequate to the standard of living in Belarus. Why such huge fines? What are they for, if we talk about the principles of reasonableness and justice? As for the term, I assumed that it would be close to the maximum, that is, six years, but they gave me five. And if you add the three years I've served, that makes eight. This is about the same as the terms of the rest of Viasna team; I mean Valiantsin Stefanovich, Ales Bialiatski, and Uladz Labkovich.

Five years of imprisonment in a high security colony and a huge fine: the verdict of human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka

Leanid Sudalenka is one of the first human rights defenders who faced criminal prosecution after the 2020 presidential election.

"I do not know what was the exact cause for me being sentenced to five years of high security colony”

Now I am studying the process of special proceedings itself and preparing for a strategic lawsuit on this topic. I even made a request to the Constitutional Court to check the special proceedings procedure for compliance with the Constitution. I see two huge problems here: Article 115 of the Constitution says that justice is carried out on the principles of competition and equality of the parties. But in reality...

Because of the persecution I was forced to leave the country, because if I had stayed, my health and even my life would have been in danger. It is clear that I could not return to the country to participate in the trial. Moreover, there are no legal protection tools left in Belarus now. As an example, I will cite the behavior of my defender, the so-called special proceedings lawyer, who never contacted me, despite the fact that she read my messages. I asked her a very simple question: "If you defend me, then let's agree on the legal position, and if you don't, then please recuse yourself." But she did not get in touch with me, did not answer. I'm not even talking about lawyer ethics here, but again about the Constitution, since I was deprived of the right to defend myself in court. I do not know any procedural document. I do not know what was the exact cause for me being sentenced to five years of high security colony. I only know the article.

The lawyer had no right to say anything at all during the trial: if she said that Sudalenka was innocent, then she did not confirm it with me, maybe I admit my guilt? And if she said that Sudalenka was guilty, then she is an accomplice.

Immediately after the verdict, I sent requests to the court by regular mail, since e-mail does not work in an IT country that flew into space. All the electronic requests that I made to the Supreme and regional courts, the Ministry of Justice, and the lawyer, they all went unheeded. So I say that in Belarus, e-mail does not work for those citizens who were forced to leave the country due to persecution. I don't specifically say fugitives, because they themselves will become fugitives when constitutional legality returns to the country. I will return with it and demand responsibility for each of them. Because I believe that a criminal offense was committed against me by a group of people by passing a deliberately unjust sentence.

"Don't be afraid, let them be afraid of us!"

I demand to get acquainted with the verdict through regular mail. I also plan to appeal to the Prosecutor General with a statement so that he will initiate a criminal case against these people for committing a crime against me, which entailed grave consequences: a person in the judge's robe, a person in the prosecutor's uniform, and a person in plain clothes who has a lawyer's licence.

I will use all domestic remedies, file an appeal within ten days, and then bring this case to international platforms and create the first precedent. I am already the first person in the Homieĺ region who went through special proceedings, and I am the first human rights defender who was detained and who fully served his time.

By the way, the fact of systematic violations of my civil and political rights is confirmed by the practice of the UN Human Rights Committee. For example, in case No. 1354/2005 (Sudalenka v. Belarus), prohibited discrimination was applied to me for political reasons; in cases No. 1750/2008, 2114/2011 violations of the right to freedom of expression were established; in case No. 1992/2010, violation of the right to peaceful assembly; in case 2929/2017, the right to non-interference in private life; in case No. 1383/2005, the right to freedom of association has been violated; in case No. 1992/2010, violation of electoral rights.

Someone had to pave the way. I'll just stop respecting my legal profession, which I've devoted almost my whole life to, if I give up. And I am inspired by the words uttered by my colleague Ales Bialiatski: "Do not be afraid," who quoted what Pope John Paul II said. And I repeat after Ales: "Don't be afraid, let them be afraid of us!"

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