On June 24, Belarusian opposition politicians Mikalai Statkevich and Syarhei Tsikhanouski, bloggers Ihar Losik, Uladzimir Tsyhanovich, Dzmitry Papou, Artsyom Sakau started to be tried in the city of Homiel. As reported earlier, the trial is to be held behind the closed doors. The Belarusian human rights community recognised the defendants as political prisoners.
On Thursday morning, pre-trial detention centre Nr 3, where the court session is taking place, was cordoned off. All but one of the entrance doors are locked. The only entrance is controlled by the traffic police and people in plainclothes.
Notably, representatives of state-run media outlets were allowed to be present at the closed session, but the defendants’ relatives have been barred from attending the trial as well as foreign diplomats who arrived in the city to monitor the situation. Moreover, the relatives are also forbidden to take pictures near the detention centre.
All the arrestees are charged with ‘organisation of mass riots’ (Article 293-1 of the Criminal Code). Ihar Losik and Uladzimir Tsyhanovich were also charged with ‘inciting social hatred against representatives of the authorities and law-enforcing bodies’ (Art. 130-3). Syarhei Tsikhanouski, Artsyom Sakau, and Dzmitry Papou are accused of ‘fomenting enmity’ and ‘organisation of group actions that grossly violate public order’ (Art. 342-1), as well as of ‘threatening’ to the chair of the Central Election Commission (Art. 191-2).
Politician Mikalai Statkevich chanted ‘Long live Belarus!’ when entering the courtroom, human rights centre Viasna reports. Ihar Losik was the last to be taken into the ‘cage’; after that, all the defendants were uncuffed.
According to Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, today’s trial has nothing to do with justice.
“Everyone realizes that these are not trials, but personal revenge and reprisals from those who seized and held power by violence. Syarhei said: ‘I will be staying in jail as long as the people of Belarus tolerate it.’ The people of Belarus are me and you, people of Belarus are Belarusians in the country and those from our diaspora. And it depends on each of us how soon our heroes will return home and hug their loved ones,” she said.
The political prisoners’ defence lawyers had to sign non-disclosure agreements; they may not reveal any details of the trial.