Political trials behind closed doors becoming the norm in Belarus


On Monday 30 October another trial began of one of the leaders of the opposition – the head of the organization “Youth Front” Zmiter Dashkevich. He is chargeв with the leadership and active participation in an unregistered organization. He faces a possible two year period of imprisonment.

More than a hundred supporters of Zmiter Dashkevich came to the court building on Monday – human rights activists, politicians, western diplomats however no one was allowed into the courtroom. The trial is being held behind closed doors, and the court is surrounded by a heightened police presence. The heads of the court in the Oktyabrsky district of Minsk gave no explanation for their decision to Dashkevich’s lawyer or family.  His father, Viacheslav Dashkevich, is quite convinced that the trial is political.

“So a person cannot think what he wants to think? He didn’t do anything criminal: he didn’t steal, or kill, or insult anyone. The reason is that he had his own opinion. At the beginning I didn’t approve of his actions, but I understand that he chose such a road of his own free will”.

24-year-old Zmiter Dashkevich is the head of an informal youth organization that has been active now for 10 years and that has branches throughout Belarus. The former leader of this organization, Pavel Sevyarinets, is still serving a two-year sentence of limitation of freedom and many members of the organization have been subjected to administrative arrest and fines.  Zmiter Dashkevich  was one of the organizations of the tent city on the central square in Minsk during the opposition protests in March of this year. Leader of the Belarusian opposition Aleksandr Milinkevich comments:

“We worked together during the elections. “Youth Front” proved a very active organization, and did a great deal for waking people up, for overcoming fear and mobilizing people”.

Aleksandr Milinkevich was not able to get into the courtroom. He notes that over the last year this is the fifth trial which is closed to the public and which has a political agenda. This shows, he believes, that the authorities are afraid of publicity. Mr Milinkevich anticipates that political repression in Belarus can only increase, however he is convinced that this will not prevent civic opposition.

The German Ambassador in Belarus Martin Hekker, together with colleagues, was also not permitted into Dashkevich’s trial. He expressed great surprise that the trial was declared closed to the public.

“Germans previously had closed and secret trials. Millions of people were murdered on the rulings of such tribunals. Germans drew conclusions from that. We are now trying to understand why closed trials are taking place in Belarus.  Why have they not learned from the lessons of Stalinism and the terror trials, which we had in Germany?”

Mr Hekker said that he had a personal reason for coming to that political trial of the leader of a Belarusian youth organization. Almost 70 years ago his aunt was sentenced for taking part in the German democratic movement during the Nazi period.

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