Valentin Stefanovich, a lawyer and council member of the "Viasna" Human Rights Centre (HRC): "Our opinion has not changed: the criminal case was politically motivated from the very beginning. The human rights community insisted and insists on stopping the criminal prosecution of leaders and activists of the independent trade union, who are pressed for their active defence of social and political rights of citizens of Belarus."
Ales Bialiatski, the chairman of the HRC: "The trial of the REP leaders is a huge authorities' mistake… I was hoping that a political decision would be made to stop the case, which is obviously political. But, unfortunately, the mechanism launched last August, has reached the finish line; and trial will start, most probably, in June. Since the case is political, the court's verdict won't be objective, based on facts, but political too. We face here a purely political persecution of leaders of the REP Trade Union, one of the most active and uncompromising independent trade unions in Belarus. Despite the relative political calmness established in Belarus, authorities continue persecuting civil society activists, in this case – trade union leaders."
"What is in common of the "trade union case" and the "Bialiatski's case"?
"The trade union's case is very similar to mine: in 2011, I was sentenced to 4.5 years in a high security colony with property confiscation for tax evasion. The union leaders are charged under the same article; therefore, the punishment may be similar – freedom deprivation. We'll do our best to make the international community aware of the shameful trial and prosecution of independent trade unions in Belarus; and we'll urge the community to react accordingly. The persecution of the REP Trade Union is a direct violation of international obligations in the sphere of human rights to which Belarus has committed itself."
"Is it possible to talk about any judicial prospects of the case?"
"The above article provides for a rather broad range of punishments, not necessarily entailing imprisonment. In any case, it's a shame for the authorities who wouldn't want to talk with their opponents, including the rights defenders, but turn the 'dialogue' into criminal prosecution. Unfortunately, it means that there are no major changes in Belarus' internal policy: authorities prefer violence when talking to their opponents."