“This is not a Belarusian internal problem”


The launching of an international campaign “For the Freedom of Political Prisoners in Belarus” was announced today, 16 September,  in Kyiv at a press conference.  Ukrainian human rights activists and Belarusian dissidents spoke of political persecution in today’s Belarus and called on the Ukrainian authorities to support the campaign in their defence.

The press conference was addressed by Volodymyr Chemerys, member of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Halyna Bocheva, representing Amnesty International in Ukraine, Oleksandr Demchenko from the Initiative “Solidarnist”, as well as from Belarus: Yulia Kozulina, daughter of ex-presidential candidate and political prisoner, Aleksandr Kozulin, Yury Khashchevatsky, dissident and film director, and Valery Levonevsky, dissident, leader of the movement of Belarusian businesspeople. A video account from Polina Astreiko, wife of one of the political prisoners facing trial in the near future was played to those present. 

After the presidential elections in Belarus and the demonstrations which followed, hundreds of people joined the list of political prisoners in Belarus.  Most of them received sentences of between a week and several months for taking part in peaceful protest actions. However in the near future another three trials are to take place where the accused face serious sentences of up to 6 years imprisonment.

Ex-candidate in the Belarusian presidential elections, Aleksandr Kozulin is charged with organizing “mass disturbances” and with “malicious hooliganism”. The “malicious hooliganism” with which he is charged was the entirely lawful attempt to reach the “All-Belarus people’s rally”, during which he was detained and brutally beaten by special units of the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs. The other charge against him alleges “the organization of group actions disturbing public order” pertains to the breaking of the protest march in Minsk on 25 March.  Many protestors received injuries during the dispersal.  There were also reports of people having been killed, but it has not been possible to check these.

Mykhail Astreiko, Enira Bronytska, Aleksandr Shalaiko, Timofei Dranchuk -  members of the organization “Partnerstvo” which was involved in observing during the elections – were presented with various charges, even terrorism. However charges under only one article have got as far as the court – taking part in an unregistered organization, the maximum penalty for which is 6 years imprisonment. This article was added to the Belarusian Criminal Code in advance of the 2006 election campaign.

Mikhail Avtukhevich’s case is an example of the arbitrary despotism of the local authorities in Belarus. Infringements in tax documents were “discovered” after he raised the issue of corruption in the Tax Inspectorate, although there had been no problems during previous checks.  Mikhail has been on hunger strike now for more than 40 days.

The campaign in their defence is being coordinated by the Belarusian Initiative Group which is made up of Belarusians living abroad and the “Internet community” “Tretiy shlyakh” [“Third Way”].

On this day, 16 June, the first protest actions of this campaign have been taking place in Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, France, Finland, Russia, Germany, the USA and Canada.

The participants in the press conference, held in the UNIAN centre, discussed the measures planned within the framework of this campaign, both here in Ukraine, and throughout the world. They called on the Ukrainian government to endorse the movement in defence of Belarusian political prisoners. “If Ukraine really wants to become a regional leader, it should be guided not only by considerations of economic expediency, but by human rights and civil liberties”, Oleksandr Demchenko,  the coordinator of the Initiative “Solidarnist” stressed.

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