Freelance journo Ales Silich gets 10 days in jail as historical emblem on passport cover caught police’s eye

On Tuesday, journalist Ales Silich was tried in Pershamayski district court of Minsk.

He was charged with ‘participation in an unauthorised mass event’ under Art. 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offences.

On May 21, the Minsk police detained freelance journalists Ales Silich and Natallya Valakida; they were taken to Pershamayski district police department. The policemen seized equipment and mobile phones from the detainees. When checking the IDs, they noticed a cover with the image of the emblem Pahonya (Pursuit) on Silich’s passport. As a result, the reporter was accused of ‘single-man picketing through demonstrating unregistered symbols’ and left in custody. He had to spend the weekend behind bars awaiting the trial.

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Ales Silich pleaded not guilty. According to him, it was the police officer who ‘demonstrated’ the passport with Pahonya.

“We were doing a man-on-the street intervew near the shopping centre, but then the police grabbed us. After a protocol was drawn up under Art.22.9, they were about to release us. However, when inspecting our belongings, they found my passport with Pahonya, and a bracelet, not ribbons. Therefore, a new protocol under Art. 24.23 was made. That is why I stress that Pahonya was shown not by me, but by the officer who took my passport out,” Ales Silich said in court on Monday.

On May 24, the court sent back the administrative protocol for revision, but the journalist was not released. It should be noted that by that moment he had been kept in custody for more than 72 hours since the detention. Policemen collected him from the remand prison on Akrestsin Street and placed him in a cell at Pershamayski district police department, where he spent the night.

During today’s trial, he has been found guilty and sentenced to ten days of arrest.

In 1991, the white-red-white flag and the emblem Pahonya were adopted as national symbols of the country. However, they were official until the 1995 referendum, when on the tip from Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who is an ardent adherer of the USSR, they were replaced by the Soviet ones. For years, pro-Lukashenka officials have been linking the white-red-white colours to the opposition. Last December, the authorities said that those Belarusian citizens who would hang out ‘unregistered symbols’ even on their windows or balconies might be penalised under administrative law.

Flag of rejection of Lukashism