The trial of Nobel Laureate Ales Bialiatski and “Viasna” Human Rights Activists: Day One

On January 5, 2023, the trial of the “Viasna” case began in the Leninsky district court in Minsk. Four human rights defenders are being tried. They are charged with Part 4 of Article 228 ("smuggling by an organized group") and Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code ("financing of group actions that grossly violate public order"). The trial is being held against the Chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and Nobel laureate Ales Bialiatski, his deputy Valentin Stefanovich, coordinator of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" Vladimir Labkovich, as well as in absentia against Dmitry Solovyov, who has left Belarus.
The case is being considered by Judge Marina Zapasnik. Three political prisoners have been in custody since July 14, 2021, that is, 18 months. The articles imputed to them provide for 7 to 12 years of imprisonment.
Below are the first photos of human rights defenders in a year and a half. As you can see, all the defendants are in a "cage" and handcuffed.

Everyone wanting to get to the trial was listed at the court entrance; where will this list be submitted is unknown. Representatives of the state media arrived, they were allowed into the courtroom first, taking the places of those who wanted to get to the trial. In total, about 30 people came — some of them were not allowed to pass. Firstly the state media were allowed into, then the relatives, then the rest. The court staff referred to the need to keep a distance between those present, however, everyone in the courtroom was without masks. About 10-12 people, including representatives of the diplomatic corps, were not allowed in.

Ales, Vladimir and Valentin are speaking to judge Marina Zapasnik in Belarusian. The interests of the absent Dmitry Solovyov are represented in court by a lawyer appointed by the investigation.
All the defense motions were rejected, in particular, the request to conduct the trial in the Belarusian language, to remove the handcuffs, and to challenge the court. Human rights defenders referring to the judge in Belarusian have drawn up a motion to conduct the trial in Belarusian language. At the beginning of the process, Ales Bialiatski stated that Prosecutor Alexander Korol should also use the Belarusian language in court.

"The accused was charged in Russian. You can use any of the two official languages, the court will understand you," — this is how Judge Zapasnik justified her refusal to conduct court proceedings in Belarusian. Bialiatski made another request — to provide an interpreter from Russian to Belarusian. The court did not grant it.
The defendants insisted that being handcuffed in court humiliates their dignity, but this motion was not granted as well.

Ales Bialiatski expressed distrust towards the judge Marina Zapasnik, however, as expected, the motion was rejected.
Ales’ defender filed a motion to change the measure of restraint to non-custodial one. Marina Zapasnik did not satisfy it, and Prosecutor Alexander Karol, in turn, said that "the case materials indicate that Bialiatski can escape from justice," and he "sees no reason to change the preventive measure." Valentin Stefanovich’s defender made the same request. The judge also refused to grant it as well.

The case comprises 283 volumes of 300 pages, which is a record for a political case. Ales Bialiatski stated that he had not had time to familiarize himself with more than 70 volumes, so he asked to give him time to see the remaining case materials. The court indicated that he had had enough time (one month) to familiarize himself with the case materials, so there were no grounds to grant him additional time.
About 100 witnesses are involved in the case, 120 searches have been conducted across the country.
In addition to other procedural violations, one of the witnesses claimed by the prosecution, an employee of Belarus Today media, Alyona Krasovskaya, was present in court during the meeting. Valentin Stefanovich filed a motion to remove Alyona from the trial, since she testified as a witness under a different name — "Karpovich" (we remind that, according to the new rules, witnesses can intentionally change surnames and names in order to conceal their identity, which is actively used by law enforcement officers who participate in the trials as prosecution witnesses under false names, often with their faces covered). The judge did not grant the petition, because it is allegedly a guess of the human rights defender.

Prosecutor Karol has been reading the accusation to human rights defenders for two hours. After the reading of the charges, Ales Bialiatski, Valentin Stefanovich and Vladimir Labkovich pleaded not guilty to all the articles of the Criminal Code. After the charges were read out by the human rights defender, Ales Bialiatski said that he did not fully understand the text, since it was voiced in Russian. Judge Marina Zapasnik said that this could be regarded as delaying the process. Bialiatski replied that a violation of his rights is taking place.
The following procedure of judicial investigation was determined at the trial: witnesses will be questioned immediately, then written case materials and, if necessary, material evidence will be considered, and, finally, human rights defenders themselves will be interrogated. The court has already begun questioning the first witness in the case — Iosif Seredich, the founder and editor-in-chief of Narodnaya Volya. He testifies in Belarusian and says that, since he was not a Viasna employee, he does not know about the activities of the organization.

The next court session is scheduled for January 6, at 10:30.

PHOTO: handcuffs traces on the hands of the Nobel Peace Prize winner 2022

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