Political prisoner Maksim Znak’s case to be sent to prosecutors, court

All investigative activities in the case of prominent Belarusian lawyer Maksim Znak have been completed; the case is to be submitted to the prosecutor’s office and then to court, his defence lawyer Dzmitry Layeuski says.

In February, Znak was officially accused of ‘conspiracy to seize state power in an unconstitutional way’ (Art. 357-1), and ‘establishing an extremist group and leading it’ (Art. 361-1). He has been behind bars since the autumn of 2020.

According to Layeuski, the charging document does not contain any particulars: it is not known what actions Znak took and what actions he intended to take; it is also unclear why the Belarusian authorities believe the opposition Coordination Council to be of ‘extremist nature’. There are also no examples or proofs of the defendant’s appeals for ‘actions aimed at harming national security’ in the investigation documents.

Layeuski has been reading the case files since May 7; he is also going to apply for additional investigative measures or the withdrawal of the accusation. The defence lawyer added that he was not allowed to reveal not only the details of the investigation, but even the names of the investigators.

“It is strange, because if people are sure of what they are doing, they have no need to cover things up,” he stressed.

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Znak was a lawyer at Viktar Babaryka’s campaign office, a legal counsellor of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Maryia Kalesnikava; in the wake of the 2020 presidential election and the brutal crackdown on protesters, he filed a complaint with the Supreme Court against the official election results and became a member of the board of the opposition Coordination Council set up by Tsikhanouskaya and her associates. Belarus’ Prosecutor General initiated criminal proceedings over establishing the Council, naming it a ‘threat to national security’. The authorities believe the body aims at seizing power in Belarus.

Maksim Znak was arrested on September, 9. Then he was charged by investigators with ‘calls for actions aimed at causing damage to national security’ (Article 361-3 of the Criminal Code).

In December, the Prosecutor General’s Office launched criminal proceedings over establishing ‘an extremist group’, being in control of it, financing its activities as well as conspiring against members of the Coordination Council, including Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Maryia Kalesnikava, Maksim Znak, Pavel Latushka, Volha Kavalkova, Syarhei Dyleuski, and other Belarusian activists.

Belarusian human rights watchdogs recognised Znak as a prisoner of conscience. In February, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Babaryka’s team nominated him for the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize.

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