From The Street To The Courtroom, First Anti-Lukashenka Protester Jailed
By Robert Coalson
A Belarus court has sentenced an opposition activist to four years in jail for taking part in mass protests in December 2010 against the reelection of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Vasily Parfenkov, 27, was the first to be tried of about 30 protesters detained after a police crackdown on a December 19 rally in Minsk. The group includes four opposition presidential candidates.
The prosecution had asked for a six-year sentence.
The trial is expected to be just the first of dozens of similar prosecutions of people who attended the Election Day demonstration. That protest was brutally dispersed by riot police, and several candidates who ran against Lukashenka and about 700 demonstrators were detained. Some 50 people remain in custody or under house arrest awaiting trial.
Human rights activist Lyudmila Hraznova was among those who were not admitted into the session.
A Template For Future Trials
She said today's trial was just the beginning. "Ensuing trials will use this beginning as a template," she said. "So this is a symptomatic beginning, a symptomatic trial. I have no optimistic hopes.”
The small courtroom was full to overflowing and many opposition supporters and activists were unable to enter the nominally open trial.
After the prosecutor presented a lurid description of the protest, including the claim that police afterward found the square littered with empty vodka and cognac bottles, Parfyankou admitted that he participated in the protest, but denied that any of the demonstrators carried weapons or acted violently.
The 27-year-old Parfyankou has been an activist for about a decade and is known for his role in protecting a Soviet-era mass grave at Kurapaty in 2001-02, when activists maintained a round-the-clock vigil to prevent the site from being bulldozed for a new highway.
Belarus Helsinki Committee Chairman Aleh Hulak was also unable to squeeze into the courtroom. He told RFE/RL he expected the court to rubberstamp accusations against Parfyankou that have already been presented in the state media.
"They’re going to try to confirm the conclusions that were already circulated in the state press and on television," he said. "We’ll see. We’ll be able to say more after the first day, if indeed today doesn’t also turn out to be the last day [of the trial].”
West Not Happy
Parfyankou’s trial comes despite mounting criticism from Western governments and human rights activists over Belarus’s crackdown in the wake of the election. According to official results, Lukashenka won 79 percent of the vote, but political opponents and outside observers have denounced the election as unfair and falsified.
The United States and the European Union have already imposed sanctions against Belarus and stepped up support for the opposition there. The New York-based NGO Freedom House has issued a statement saying the crackdown and arrests “reflect an insecure, paranoid leader who senses his time is running out.”
In an indication that Minsk does not intend to back down, Belarus’s Justice Ministry has rescinded the licenses of four defense attorneys. Two of them defended journalist Iryna Khalip, the wife of opposition presidential candidate Andrej Sannikau. Sannikau remains in jail and Khalip is under house arrest on charges stemming from the December 19 protest.
The third attorney worked for jailed former presidential candidate Ales Mikahlevich, and the fourth is the mother of the third.
RFE/RL’s Belarus Service contributed to this report
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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