Syarhei Kavalenka jailed for 2 years for Belarusian flag
On Friday 24 February Belarusian opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka was sentenced to 2 years and 1 month imprisonment – effectively for hoisting the prohibited Belarusian national flag on a New Year tree on the central square in Vitebsk.
In January 2010, Syarhei Kavalenka received a three-year “restricted freedom” sentence for hoisting the prohibited white, red and white flag, the historical symbol of Belarus “in a public place”.
Andrzej Pochobut, himself imprisoned by the regime earlier, writes in the Polish Wyborcza newspaper that the photo of the Belarusian flag on a New Year tree began an Internet hit. At the time, he says, Lukashenko was flirting with the West, hoping for western loans and therefore the authorities avoided a high-profile trial at the time.
He was then arrested on 19 December and charged with violating the terms of his sentence. He admitted to having forgotten on a few occasions to report to the police or had been late. Judge Alena Zhuk rejected his explanations and stated that his guilt had been proven.
Pavel Levinau from the Belarusian Helsinki Committee says that the trial was not fair and the judge was biased, simply supporting the prosecution.
He went on hunger strike in protest. He was force-fed in January but says he has resumed his hunger strike. As reported he looks terribly weak and the first day’s hearing was adjourned because he needed medical treatment. After that his family and journalists were excluded from the hearings.
“I was not guilty of any hooliganism. My displaying of the flag was my political protest action and it is for that reason that I’m being tried today”, Syarhei Kavalenka said in his final words to the court.
Syarhey Kavalenka said after the sentence was announced that he plans to continue his hunger strike, demanding his release. “The authorities are cynically killing my husband. This is a death sentence for him”, his wife Aleksna Kavalenka told Andrzej Poczobut from Gazeta Wyborcza.
Syarhey Kavalenka’s lawyers intend to appeal.
This imprisonment makes Kavalenka the ninth Belarusian political prisoner. There are 7 people in prison over the protests against the rigged presidential elections on 19 December 2010, including two presidential candidates Andrei Sannikov and Nikolai Statkevich.
Photos by Siargiej Sierabro