Belarus: the first criminal trial for December 19th case

Yesterday, on February 17th, in Minsk the first criminal trial on the case of participation in the riots at the Independence Square on December 19th took place. According to paragraph 2 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code, the penalty for this deed can range from three to eight years of imprisonment. The trial of the accused Vasily Parfenkov passed in a record quick time – within one day the court considered the evidence, listened to the arguments of the prosecution and defense and awarded a sentence (four years in penal colony).

Parfenkov’s trial was preceded by all sorts of speculation, because the officially proved information was extremely scarce. In particular, the human rights community predicted that the trial will be closed, or that it will be conducted in the spirit of a show trial, where the main evidence of Parfenkov’s guilt would be his own confession. However, there was no formal reason for closing the trial. It is possible to say that the worst predictions did not materialize – the Belarusian court system took the path of the visible process of law, while committing, according to observers, a number of violations.

Despite the fact that the trial was open, the number of seats in the courtroom was very limited, and about seventeen persons – representatives of the public and journalists – were unable to attend the trial. So, to get into the courtroom, they need to come to the court in advance, with a serious float – for example, observers from the International Observation Mission appeared in the building of the Frunze district court for half an hour before the trial, and only one of the two observers as a result was able to attend the process.

Contrary to expectations, in the courthouse there was quite a few law enforcement officers, and they behaved quite reasonably. At the entrance to the building there were two policemen and at the entrance to the courtroom – a few plain-clothes officers. In addition, at the entrance to the courtroom the chairman of the Frunze district court was personally present, explaining to representatives of the public that the number of seats is limited – there were about forty of them.

The accused Vasily Parfenkov admitted his guilt only partially, telling the court that he was present at the Independence Square on December 19th, but he did not take illegal actions, in particular – he didn’t break the glass in the building of the Government. The prosecution used video from the Independence Square as the evidence of Parfenkov’s guilt. Also the President’s administration demanded in civil proceedings that Parfenkov is to pay 14,144,000 Belarusian rubles for reparation of damages to the Government building, and this demand was satisfied by the judge.

In passing the sentence, the judge Olga Komar rejected some claims from the prosecution side (the prosecutor demanded six years of penal colony for the defendant), recognizing them unproven. In particular, Parfenkov did not put up “armed resistance” to the officers of the law enforcement bodies, he was not involved in the arson, but as part of a “disorderly crowd” was “pushing wooden barriers”, causing at least 61 punches and kicks on the door of the Government building.

Chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Oleg Gulak called the evidence base from the side of the prosecution as “very feeble”. Various Belarusian human rights activists insist that Vasily Parfenkov, like the other figures of the criminal cases on December 19th, should be released.

At the end of the hearing, the lawyer stated that he intends to appeal against the verdict.

News of Belarus

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