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Valiantsin Stefanovich on graffiti trial: No changes in the system happened; January is disturbing

28.01.2016  |  Society   |  Piotr Kuchta,  EuroBelarus
Valiantsin Stefanovich on graffiti trial: No changes in the system happened; January is disturbing photo by Uladz Grydzin

"Let's hope that there’ll be no imprisonments, yet the process once again claims that the graffiti trial is politically motivated," - the Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" said.

On January 25 the trial of "graffitists" started in Minsk. The defendants in the case are Maksim Piakarski, Vadzim Zharomski, and Viachaslau Kasinerau.

Maksim Piakarski is facing up to 3 months in prison, Vadzim Zharomski and Viachaslau Kasinerau Zharomsky - up to 6 years in prison.

As Valiantsin Stefanovich, the Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Center "Viasna”, who monitored the early days before the court, said in the interview with the "EuroBelarus" Information Service, it seems that the case has been prepared for one situation, whereas the output came to be different.

- It was particularly visible during the second day of the trial on January 26, when the materials of operational search activities were voiced. They included the materials of wiretapping that were conducted from May to August. The first recordings dated May 8th – that is, still before the activists made the first graffiti. The logical question is why did they were wiretapped? In my opinion, there’s no reason to listen to those who paint graffiti on fences. Probably, the special services drew attention to these activists due to the fact that it was the year of elections and, according to the special services they posed some threat. But as we see, they pose no threat to the state, except for drawing graffiti on buildings, which was originally qualified as hooliganism, actions that express disrespect for society, particular insolence, cynicism, etc.

Let us recall that on August 11 Vadzim Zharomski, Viachaslau Kasinerau, Maksim Piakarski, as well as Yaraslau Ulianenkau were arrested in August 2015 over graffiti on a concrete fence depicting the swastika and the Soviet hammer-and-sickle emblem in red circles with crosses through and a diamond-shaped piece of Belarus' traditional ornament between them. The image also featured a message that said in Belarusian, «Belarus Must Be Belarusian.»

Piakarski, Zharomski and Kasinerau were charged and released on their own recognizance at the end of August. Kasinerau was hospitalized with a double jaw fracture sustained after the arrest and was not taken into custody. Ulianenkau was released on his own recognizance shortly after the arrest and later had the criminal case against him closed.

- Now, it is very strange to listen to those telephone talks: the activists talk about going to the store, the need to buy a brush, paint and clay; and it's bugged and written, as if they didn’t agree on buying clay, but agreed to buy RDX instead. The process leaves the impression of the absurd. On the first day of January 25, the prosecutor read several volumes with the findings of examinations of paint and varnish materials. On January 26 the materials of the so-called sound control were announced – the recording of conversations of the activists with the law enforcement officials. The latter were, obviously, interested in not only the fact of damage, but tried to interpret these actions. For example, they asked why it was done on the eve of May 9, why the Soviet hammer-and-sickle – "the symbol of the victorious country" – was crossed, etc. And these materials look ridiculous in the case, as the law enforcement officials were talking with the activists without their lawyers, with procedural violations, and, therefore, the court shouldn’t have taken it into account as evidence because they were produced with violation of the law. It seems that the case has been prepared for one situation, whereas the output came to be different.

As Valiantsin Stefanovich recalls, the activists were arrested “a little bit earlier than the political prisoners were released”.

- And afterwards, when the Belarusian human rights activists have started to actively state that such qualification of their actions as malicious hooliganism is inappropriate and they will be recognized as political prisoners, they were released have been put under the house arrest. The question is how this all is going to end. The continuation will be on Friday; and, as you know, then the gravest part of the charges will come, which provides up to 6 years of imprisonment.

The owner of the billboards has no claims to the activists and even filed a petition to stop the criminal prosecution, "but the fact is that the termination of cases because of the reconciliation of the parties is for the court’s decision."

Let us recall that before the start of the trial, the activists Pavel Siarhei and Maksim Shytsik displayed a banner reading “No To Political Persecution”. They also chanted, “Art Is No Crime”. Then they were forcibly taken out of the courtroom. Pavel Dabravolski, a reporter for the tut.by portal, who was covering the trial, was also detained along with the activists, HRC “Viasna” informs. Right after their detention the activists and the journalist were beaten by police officers.

- The beating of a journalist and the activists, who were protesting in the courtroom, is, in general, a separate issue. I do not know what were the motives of the police officers that have beaten the people, but they did everything possible to draw attention to the case. The activists committed an administrative offense; but there is no reason to take them to a separate room and beat with legs for 20 minutes. Journalist was on duty, he had the press badge on him, and was under the protection of the law on mass media. He did nothing wrongful; he was filming the detention of protesters when he was dragged into that room, and now the Interior Ministry says that "he entered it on his own" and "continued illegal actions." But the system never responds adequately to the actions of its employees.

This all demonstrates that nothing has principally changed; everything remains as it was. In general, this January is disturbing. It used to be more or less calm in late 2015; however, in January we can see that the persecution of journalists-freelancers, who work with foreign media, has recommenced. It doesn’t look very hopeful.

Let's hope that the activists won’t be sentenced to imprisonment; however, the trial convinced me yet again that the graffiti case is politically motivated. And it shows that more or less independent groups of this kind draw attention of security services. And there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that if we were confident that the security services keep an eye on really extremist groups that are really dangerous for Belarus. But while the graffiti trial started, we were reading about Cossacks meetings, about pro-Russian camps with the participation of the acting police officers; and here the activists are facing jail for the inscription "Belarus should be Belarusian."

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