The persecution of Belarus’ civil society will increase ahead of the 2015 presidential election, Zmitser Dashkevich, co-chairman of an opposition youth organization called Malady Front (Young Front), said after leaving the detention centre in Akrestsina Street in Minsk.
The 32-year-old Dashkevich was released from the jail on Monday evening upon completion of a 25-day jail term.
At least 30 opposition activists have been arrested and sentenced to between 10 and 25 days in jail since late April in a crackdown apparently meant to prevent any protests during the May 9-25 Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk.
According to Mr Dashkevich, members of opposition groups were grabbed and jailed ahead of the championship despite the fact that many of them were no longer actively involved in politics.
Mr Dashkevich said that the police threatened to open a new criminal case against him if he violated terms of ‘preventive police supervision’ again. ‘I’ll continue political activities despite these threats,’ he said. ‘However, my priorities are somewhat different now that I have a wife and a job. I`m not so active as before. Not that this makes much difference for authorities. Some people are in jail even though they have done nothing for several years. Any statement or media interview, any article is viewed as a coup attempt or something like that.’
In the run-up to the presidential election, opposition activists are likely to be slapped prison terms of two to three years merely for ‘being alive’, Mr Dashkevich said.
He estimated that about 150 people had ended up in the detention centre on Akrestsina Street because of the world hockey championship.
‘The jail is absolutely packed with people,’ Mr Dashkevich said. ‘Since May 5 and 6, detainees have been taken to the jail in Zhodzina because the jail in Akrestsina Street has no room.’
Mr Dashkevich estimated that one-third of its inmates are prostitutes, one-third are opposition activists, and one-third are alcoholics and homeless people.
Zmitser Dashkevich and another activist of Young Front, Eduard Lobau, were detained on December 18, 2010; they were accused of beating two local residents. Dashkevich and Lobau expressed strong dissent and insisted on their not knowing the alleged victims but the both were adjudged guilty of especially malignant hooliganism (Article 339, part 3 of the Criminal Code). On March 24, 2011 Zmitser Dashkevich was sentenced to two years of imprisonment in a minimum security penal colony, Eduard Lobau – to four years of a medium security penal colony.
Opposition activists and human rights defenders considered the detention as part of police preventive action performed before the 2010 presidential election. International human rights organisations recognised them political prisoners.
On August 28, 2013 Zmitser Dashkevich was released from prison. But the former political prisoner is still under preventive police supervision: he is forbidden to stay out of his home from 8 pm to 6 am. Furthermore, Mr Dashkevich is obliged to appear at Pershamayski district Directorate of Interior in Minsk thrice a week.
www.belsat.eu/en, via BelaPAN