‘Insulting state symbols’: Criminal case opened against former political prisoner Syarhei Kavalenka

A criminal case under Article 370 of the Criminal Code was initiated against activist Syarhei Kavalenka in August 2021, Vitsebsk-based human rights activists reports with reference to his ex-wife Alena Kavalenka.

Syarhei Kavalenka near court building in Vitsebsk (2010). Photo: vitebsk.cc

Alena Kavalenka was informed about the criminal case against her ex-husband by investigator Valyantsin Sukhaveyeu. He summoned the Vitsebsk resident for questioning as a witness in the case.

If found guilty under this article, Syarhei Kavalenka may face up to three years of imprisonment on this charge. However, he has been living and working in another country for more than two years.

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The man is accused of ‘insulting state symbols’; presumably, some video posted one the web became the reason for criminal proceedings. But it is still unknown what the film was about and which social network or website it was published on.

In May 2010, Syarhei Kavalenka received three-year suspended sentence for hanging out a white-red-white flag on the 40-metre New Year Tree in the centre of Vitsebsk. His action was defined as ‘major violation of public order’.

White-red-white flag on New Year Tree in Vitsebsk (2010). Photo: vitebsk.cc

In December 2011, Kavalenka was arrested in connection with criminal proceedings under Art. 415 of the Criminal Code (‘violating probation rules’). In February 2012, Pershamayski district court chaired by judge Alena Zhuk sentenced the oppositionist to two years and one month in a minimum security penal colony.

Behind bars, Syarhei Kavalenka repeatedly started hungerstriking, protesting against the sentence and demands the release of all political prisoners; one of the hunger strikes was interrupted by force-feeding. In addition, Vitsebsk regional court ordered to subject Syarhei Kavalenka to comprehensive mental examination; as a result, the oppositionist was moved to Navinki psychiatric hospital in Minsk district. In May, he was taken to Mahiliou penal colony. The Belarusian human rights community recognised him as a political prisoner.

In September 2012, Kavalenka was pardoned and released.

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