Patriots’ case closed, bad taste lingers. Will Belarus regime apologise for smear campaign?

The Belarusian Investigative Committee dismissed criminal proceedings also known as ‘the Case of patriots’ and ‘the Adventure of the White Legion” due to the lack of evidence.

It took them more than six months to admit that there had been no militant groups, nobody had been preparing bloody provocations, and all confiscated ‘weapons’ were mock-up or airsoft replicas. But the arrestees spent month behind bars, ‘revelatory’ news stories and documentaries demonizing ‘militants’ were served to Belarusians by Lukashenka-controlled television. Will anyone offer an apology?

35 defendants, three dozen raids, propaganda films on state television, reports about the arsenal of weapons – and big nothing in the end. The authorities did not even try to save the face – they just brushed the White Legion case under the carpet. According to the Investigative Committee, the probe was stopped on Monday.

“We believe that by doing so, we have put the matter to rest. The materials were sent to the prosecutors so that they could study them and review the legality of the decision taken. The defendants started familiarizing themselves with the decision to dismiss the criminal case and its materials,” Ivan Naskevich, Head of the Investigative Committee said during his visit to Mahiliou on Thursday.

In fact, the defendants, who experienced brutal arrests, night interrogations and long days in a detention facility, learned the news from media outlets and social networks. Not a single official informed them of the decision. That is why they are close-tongued when commenting the situation – the non-disclosure agreement they signed have not been officially cancelled yet.

“I considered it possible that the case might not come to trial, or that we would get minimum prison terms or suspended sentences,” Ales Yaudakha, one of the former defendents, says.

The situation was like an absurdist theatre. Investigators’ and prosecutors’ statements about establishing an illegal armed formation, their search for the defunct organization White Legion was nothing but a surreal show. And although the charges have been dropped, the regime is still holding Ales as a ‘militant’.

“In late March, a few dozen militants suspected of preparing mass unrest and creating an illegal armed group were detained in the country,” state-run TV said on November, 30.

On March 21, president Alyaksandr Lukashenka stated that several dozen persons ‘trained how to deal with weapons in [special] camps’ had been arrested in Belarus. According to him, such camps were located not far from the Belarusian towns of Babruysk and Asipovichy.

”They have not only been on the lookout for the proper moment. We have already detained several dozen [persons] who were trained how to deal with weapons in [special] camps. By the way, one of the camps was located not far from [the Belarusian towns of] Babruysk and Asipovichy. The other camps were in Ukraine and, if I am not mistaken, somewhere in Lithuania and Poland. The funds [for them] were sent through Poland and Lithuania to us [Belarus]. We have just detained a few dozen militants who were up to an armed provocation,” he stressed.

And the chekists, who are Lukashenka’s loyal yes-men, were not slow to stage a show. As a result, in March-April over 30 persons – former members of the defunct sports and patriotic organization White Legion, state-authorized sports and military club Patriot, Young Front activists, historians, as well as people who were not associated with any organizations, landed up in jail.

Their true goal was to intimidate Belarusians amid growing domestic unrest in the spring of 2017.

“They intended to show Belarusian people that liberalization had still not gone so far and the Belarusian authorities could arrest innocent people at any time and accuse them of ipso facto staging a military coup,” Vital Tsyhankou, a RFE/RL political analyst, says.

They did draw a horrifying picture, but no one seems to be going to make a rebuttal.

None of the journalist or public servants involved will take responsibility for a propaganda campaign and libel in state media, Tsyhankou believes. “They have a long tradition of publishing such articles,” he said.

Yaraslau Stseshyk/MS,

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