A brief review of the second day of the hearing of the case of Ales Bialiatski
On November 3, 2011 in Minsk the trial of Ales Bialiatski, the head of the human rights center Viasna and vice-president of the International Federation of Human Rights continued. The International observation mission of the Committee on international control over the situation with Human Rights in Belarus followed the progress of the trial. A survey of the first day can be found here. Today's hearing was largely devoted to the examination of witnesses.
Those wishing to get into court wearing T-shirts with portraits of Bialiatski were again prevented from doing so by people without official identification or markings. Thus, the chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Oleg Gulak managed to get into the hall only after his third attempt (after he took a T-shirt). After a break at the courthouse police detained an activist of Malodoi Front, Nikolai Demidenko, possibly due to the fact that his clothes displaed the Pagonya coat of arms (the official emblem of independent Belarus in 1991-1995.). In addition, at the entrance to the hall a detailed inspection of all bag contents was carried out.
An introduction of new materials related to the affair
At the request of the counsel the judge agreed to attach to the material review of the human rights center Viasna, information on foreign organizations that are mentioned in the banking printouts and in the books "Build Bridges, Not Walls" (2010, Vilnius) and "Guidelines for the Organization of Schools on Human Rights"(Oslo, 2008, Minsk 2009), produced by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Center Viasna , as well as a book in Swedish, one sponsored by Ales. As reported yesterday the money Bialiatski received helped published these books.
The questioning of witnesses
The examination of witnesses began with the prosecution. The first to give testamony was Leonid Chavko, deputy of the Department of the Humanitarian Affairs Office of the President. According to the political analyst Yuri Chausov, in answering the prosecutors question about the possibility of receiving foreign donations to carry out human rights activities, Chavko made clear that such projects cannot in principle be registered with the department and therefore, legally funding advocacy in this way is impossible. His rational for this position stemmed from from the official rules of presidential decree number 24, "Production and Use of Foreign Gratuitous Aid," prohibiting the use of foreign funding for "the preparation and conduct of elections, referenda, organizing and conducting meetings, rallies, marches, demonstrations, picketing, strikes, manufacture and distribution of campaign materials, as well as for seminars and other forms of political and mass agitation work among the population." The witness also noted that the Belarusian foreign aid used abroad is not subject to the regulation of national regulations and is not subject to review by the department.
The next witness to be questioned was a representative of the tax inspectors of the Pervomai region of Minsk, Angelica Soboleva, and head of the inspection of the SWIFT system for international payments to the National Bank of Belarus Natalia Pashkovskaya, and deputy chief of tax inspection, head of control over private businesses and individuals, Tamara Shamko.
The testimony of the representatives of the tax authority noted that all amounts received abroad are considered income unless the citizen provides relevant information to the contrary. In general, an audit may be revised on the basis of receiving evidence that the amount in an individuals account is not his own personal income. At the same time Mrs. Soboleva, who participated in the preparation of tax documents on the Bialiatski bank printouts from Polish and Lithuanian banks, admitted that she cannot tell the difference between funds for the center Viasna, or for him. However, she stressed that all funds received on his account are considered profit.
The representative of the National Bank expressed doubts about the authenticity of bank documents submitted in connection with the lack of the bank's stamp and was unable to determine whether money from Bialiatski's account was transferred to other accounts.
After this human rights defenders factoring in the material case were called to the stand. These include Natalia Pinchuk (the wife of Ales Bialiatski), Tatiana Reviaka (President of Belarusian Human Rights House), Boris Zvoskov from Minsk, Andrew Paluda of the city Bialynichi, Viktor Sazonov from Grodno, Alex Kolchin from Mogilev, and Elena Laptenok. Key questions posed to them concerned the degree of familiarity with the accused and money obtained from him and trips abroad. Most of them admitted that they had received money from Bialiatski for advocacy, however, referring to article 27 of the Сonstitution (The Right Against Self-incrimination), they refused to give more detailed explanations. Human rights activist Boris Zvoskov testified that he has long been aquainted with Bialiatski and never received money from him. The prosecutor said there was a case file of documents to the contrary. However, during the consideration of the same file there were serious differences and discrepancies unveiled by the same prosecutor.
After the examination of the witnesses was complete, the court went on to study the written evidence. The prosecutor read out the documents of the tax authorities' investigation, Bialiatski's declaration and bank printouts. It is possible that this process will be delayed until the middle of next week in connection with the request of the court to receive additional tax and customs documents.
At 18.00 a break was declared until 10.00 November 4, 2011.
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, concludes:
1. Detaining people or preventing them from passing into the courtroom only on the basis of appearance or dress may be regarded as an unjustified restriction of access to court. If the court considers the behavior of someone in the audience disruptive or in contempt of court, it has sufficient procedural possibilities to influence the situation under law. Additional restrictions are excessive and violate the principle of accessibility and openness of court proceedings.
2. There is serious doubt that a number of documents submitted by the prosecution as evidence may be admissible evidence of guilt to be used in the trial. This is especially true given the recent announcement by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania regarding the annulment of information on Bialiatski transferred to them by the Belarusian authorities and not for use as legal evidence in court.
3. Testifying officials, in particular, the representative of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, supports the Belarusian authorities in criminalizing human rights activities in the country and pushing them beyonnd the legal field, which is a clear violation of international commitments of Belarus in the OSCE and the UN.