A brief review of the fourth day of the trial of Ales Bialiatski

On November 10, 2011 in Minsk, the 4th day began of the trial of Ales Bialiatski, head of human rights center Viasna, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The International Observation Mission of the Committee on International Control over the Situation with Human Rights in Belarus  followed the progress of the process. Today's hearing was devoted to the interrogation of the accused.

Access  to the courtroom and security measures

Visitors were inspected at the entrance to the courthouse and at the entrance to the courtroom. At the entrance to the courtroom visitors were recorded on video. A personal inspection was carried out even more exhaustively than in previous days.  Journalists were asked to turn on laptop computers in order to make sure that they were not dummies.

With the increase in the duration of personal searches, human rights activists and politicians including Vintsuk Viachorka, Pavel Levinau from Vitebsk, Dmitri Soloviov, Valeri Kovalevski and others, could not enter. These persons were admitted to the hearing only after their complaint was filed in the name of the presiding judge of the Moscow region on the actions of police officers deliberately delaying the process of visitor inspection.

An introduction of new materials to the trial

Bank documents translated from Polish and Lithuanian were added to the material evidence.  The counsel pointed to several errors in the translation of documents.

The prosecutor introduced tax audit materials. Checks were carried out regularly during the audit of the tax inspection wherein no significant violations were found. Announced and attached to the case were the acts of sale of real estate by Ales Bialiatski and his wife. At the conclusion of transactions, according to tax data, violations were not found.

Copies of the acts of customs inspections, composed upon Ales Bialiatski's border crossings at Grodno, Ashmyany and Brest customs posts were attached to the case. Documents show no violations by Ales Bialiatski.

At the request of the advocate, books published by Human Rights Center Viasna were attached to the case.

At the request of the prosecutor, printouts from the Viasna website were attached to the case. The defense protested against the addition of this material. Their objection was not sustained.
At the request of the defense counsel, accnouncements of the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice in regards to the unreliability and unusability of banking information provided by Belarus were admitted. Documents confirming the receipt of awards for  human rights activities and the title of honorary citizen of Genoa were attached to the trial. The counsel pleaded for the admission of articles from Belgazeta in which Sergei Vozniak spoke of assistance received from the Human Rights Center Viasna. In spite of the prosecutor's objection, the judge agreed to attach this material to the case.

Interrogation of the accused

The prosecutor asked the defendant a question about the amount of income he received in 1995 and 1999. Ales Bialiatski replied that he could not provide this information, noting that he would be prepared to provide relevant documents as well as additional materials relating to customs inspections in the case of his release upon his own recognizance.

When asked by the prosecutor about the size of the A.Sakharov Prize received by the accused in  2006, Ales Bialiatski replied that he had only received a certificate.

The public prosecutor was asked to make an examination of signatures on Ales Bialiatski's bank documents on file. The defendant called the assessment innapropriate, citing the absence of legitimate reasons to use these documents as evidence in this case.

The accused was asked whether there was a book that he translated from Polish a few years ago. The defendant replied that the work on this book is not finished, that this process takes longer than the fabrication of criminal cases against human rights defenders. In addition, when asked by the advocate, Bialiatski noted that in the case file mentioned, not all books named were published by Human Rights Center Viasna.  He pointed out that in recent years the organization has published about 20 books and at the request of the lawyer he named the approximate amounts spent for their publication.

Answering the question why he did not stop his human rights work after the registration of the Human Rights Center Viasna was cancelled, Ales Bialiatski said that the ban of the organization was in violation of international obligations of the Republic of Belarus in the sphere of human rights (as reflected by the opinion of the UN Committee on Human Right) and that on this basis, he sees no grounds for the termination of his activities.

Ales Bialiatski confirmed that the cost of preparation and the publication of books was covered from the funds received from international donors. The prosecutor asked the defendant to call the names of people involved in the preparation of books published by Human Rights Center Viasna. Ales Bialiatski refused to provide this information, citing the fact that these people can be subjected to harassment.

The prosecutor asked for clarification as to why the defendant tried to register the human rights center Viasna, rather than any new organization. Bialiatski said that they attempted to do just that: register a new organization, and not restore a withdrawn registration.

At 12: 37 the prosecutor asked the court to take a break in the hearing that is required to change the nature of the charges. According to the prosecutor, the charges will differ substantially from those previously leveled. The court adjourned the hearing until 10:00 November 16, 2011.

Some experts and observers fear that Ales Bialiatski can now be charged under section 193-1 of the criminal code (activity on behalf of unregistered organization). It is not excluded that similar charges could be brought against a number of other activists and the human rights center Viasna.

The position of the International Observation Mission

In assessing the facts, the International Observation Mission of the Committee on International Control over the Situation with Human Rights in Belarus, said that:

1) Unprecedented security measures taken at the meeting on 10 November, have no other explanation other than the desire of the authorities to create additional obstacles for the observers and other interested persons who wish to go to trial;
2) Following 4 days of hearings it can be stated that the charge against A. Bialiatski on tax evasion was not properly grounded and is untenable;
3) Possible indictment at this stage on the basis of of art. 193-1 of the criminal code will clearly indicate the political nature of the case.

With this in mind, the International Observation Mission calls for the complete removal of all charges against Ales Bialiatski and the termination of proceedings against him and other activist members of the human rights center Viasna. In this situation this is the only action that would give the Belarusian authorities the opportunity to save face and to demonstrate their commitment to the rule of law and human rights.

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