According to human rights activists, on April 19 the local court heard the administrative case of 8 Vitsebsk residents, who gathered in a private apartment to chat and drink tea. They were detained by the police, taken to the local station and accused of violating the legislation on mass events.
According to the defendants’ testimony, five people in civilian clothes unexpectedly entered the apartment where the meeting was held (the doors were unlocked), they showed the police IDs and said that the meeting participants violated the law. Everyone was asked to go to the police station for protocol.
This “special operation” was supervized by Senior Inspector of the Department of Law Enforcement and Prevention of the Kastrychnitski District Department of Internal Affairs, who appeared in court as a witness. According to him, information about the fact that people who “profess some kind of philosophy” regularly gather in a certain place had been received from an anonymous source — supposedly resident of the very same house where the meetings were held.
“It was called “Synthesis of the Fa.” I looked it up on the Internet. And there, on the website of the organization, I found a list with 16 names, 8 of which belonged to people who participated in the meeting. This was the basis,” the policeman Veraksa explained.
In turn, the accused – all middle-aged and elderly people – said in court that the organization “Synthesis of the Fa” is unknown to them, and they are not its members. Meanwhile, they did not dispute the fact that during the meetings that happened once or twice a month they discussed the issues of the meaning of life and the cosmos. They could include some aspects of the so-called “philosophy of synthesis.” All this took place in the form of discussion, brainstorming.
On March 15, they wanted to talk about wit and intelligence, but, according to one of the participants, they only had time to discuss Domrachava’s victory at the World Cup stage and a documentary in which Putin promised to fly to Mars.
“We talked about everything. We did not apply for permission, because we could not even think that it could be qualified as an unauthorized meeting,” said Svyatlana, one of the participants in the trial, who was accused of organizing a mass event.
According to her explanations, in 2016 they tried to register the organization “Metagalactic Center of Vitsebsk” in Vitsebsk, but they were refused registration. The aim of the organization was to do philosophical and educational work. After that some of the applicants became members of the organization called “Time to Live”, but it did not last long.
“If you registered, and you were refused, why get together to drink tea? This is my logic,” said the police inspector Siarhei Veraksa.
As a result, Judge Mikhail Zubenya found the residents of Vitsebsk guilty of the offense under Part 1 of Article 23.34 Belarusian administarative code (Violation of the order of organization and holding of mass events). Given that they were all brought to administrative responsibility for the first time, seven warnings were issued to the seven participants. And Svyatlana, as the alleged organizer of the meeting, was punished by a fine of 20 basic units.
Vitsebsk human rights activist Pavel Lyavinau called the court’s decision absurd:
“It turns out that the time has come when Belarusian citizens cannot meet to discuss life and their affairs, even in private territory. As they risk being accused of violating the legislation on mass events. “