Political prisoner Volha Zalatar, who staged events for neighbours in one of the offstreet yards in Minsk, has been transferred to the pre-trial detention centre in the Belarusian city of Homiel.
In early December, Minsk City Court passed a guilty verdict in her case.
Volha has been behind bars for over 9 months. The trial started in mid November; she was accused of ‘organisation of actions that grossly violate public order, and training such actions’ (Article 342 of the Criminal Code) and ‘establishing an extrmist formation’ (Art. 361-1). Volha did not admit her guilt. She believes that she was charged with ‘an absurdist crime’.
“My heart is torn apart as the degree of hatred grows and the amount of pain and resentment increases. Repentance and mutual forgiveness are needed. This is the only way to stop the social and political crisis in the country. The materials of the case give meaning to my actions, which I did not mean. Ordinary human actions, reactions, and feelings are criminalized. There is a picture of a poster in the case file, which says, ‘Peace. Love. Freedom’. And I support every word of it. I want Peace for my home country,” the defendant said in her last plea.
On 3 December 2021, judge Anastasiya Papko sentenced Volha Zalatar to four years of imprisonment; earlier, public prosecutor Zhanna Baranava demanded she get five years in jail. In fact, Volha’s only ‘fault’ was being an administrator of the local chat and organising ‘unauthorised mass events’, i.e. tea parties, walks, concerts.
Volha Zalatar was detained on March 18 when she was taking her daughter to a music school. The law enforcers stopped her car and took her home to conduct a search. After the search Volha was first taken to the local police station, then she was placed in temporary detention, and the next day she was taken to detention centre Nr 1 in Minsk.
In early April, her defence lawyer Andrey Machalau said that after detention his client was tortured by officers of the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption (notorious GUBAZiK/GUBOPiK).
“At first they beat her on the head with their hands, then started strangling her, threw her on the ground and started pressing her head with a boot to the floor. I personally saw bruises on her arms and neck and bruises on her buttocks,” he said.
Zalatar and her lawyer filed a petition to initiate criminal proceedings against GUBAZiK employee Tsveratinau for abuse of power and official authority (Articles 424 and 426 of the Criminal Code). But the authorities refused to open a criminal case, referring to the alleged lack of corpus delicti. The Belarusian Investigation Committee ruled that ‘Zalatar’s statements about inflicting bodily injuries on her are not true, because it had taken place before her being detained’. Notably, the Belarusian authorities stripped the lawyer of his licence on the back of the situation.
On April 2, the Belarusian human rights community recognised Volha Zalatar as a political prisoner.