The reports from the trial in Minsk are made on the daily basis by special correspondents of the praca-by.info and the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Viasna", then edited and translated for initial publication at http://www.industriall-union.org/news-from-court-hearing-in-belarus. See the footage of Day 2 and 3 of the trial.
"Trade union case" – Day 2: prosecution witnesses start defending the accused ones
On July 31, in the courtroom of the Sovietsky District Court of Minsk, where the "trade union case" is being considered, four witnesses were questioned before the lunch break, and three more – after it. All the witnesses rejected their earlier testimonies, complaining about investigators' pressure, and in fact became advocates to the defendants – the leader of the REP Trade Union Gennady Fedynich and the head of the REP's Minsk city organization Igor Komlik.
Today, at the trial, people congratulated Gennady Fedynich on his 61st birthday.
Alla Fedynich, the wife of the union leader, summoned to the court as a witness, took advantage of her constitutional right and refused to testify against herself and her family members. "I'm proud of my husband," she said to the court and triggered a storm of applause among the audience.
The witness Nikolai Gerasimenko, who worked in the REP Trade Union from 2012 to 2016 as a specialist in information work, submitted an official refusal from his earlier testimonies, which he stated at the trial.
"I wrote an official refusal of my testimony given by me at the Investigating Committee, because during the interrogation there I was given only one document, where I was indicated as a suspect; it just shocked me. During the interrogation, they threatened me, telling that the convoy was nearby, and that I would go to prison. For me it was like an axe on my head. Questions were asked in an ultimatum form, to which only yes or no could be answered," Nikolai Gerasimenko has emphasized.
"I was interrogated as a member of an organized criminal grouping. There was an impression that for them the REP Trade Union and a united criminal grouping are one and the same," Galina Smirnova, the head of the Bobruisk city organization of the REP Trade Union, said at the trial.
After questioning the witnesses, Marina Fyodorova, Judge of the Sovietsky District Court of Minsk, announced a break until 10 a.m. on tomorrow, August 1.
"People were telling the truth, which should be fixed in protocols"
The outcomes of the second day of the trial are commented on by the leader of the REP Trade Union Gennady Fedynich:
"Almost all the witnesses say that during the interrogations in the Department of Financial Investigations they were under a lot of pressure; naturally, all the papers signed by them went to the Investigating Committee. It's obvious that people are not aware of their rights – indeed, are they being summoned for interrogation every day? Of course, they made a lot of mistakes, but most importantly, today people were telling the truth, which should be recorded in protocols. If people were summoned for interrogation now, perhaps, they would behave differently; but then, the data was squeezed out of them as needed by the Department and the Investigating Committee," said the leader of the REP Trade Union.
Gennady Fedynich drew attention to the fact that today there was no second prosecutor present in the courtroom, who "asked questions yesterday, the answers to which she had prepared in advance."
He has also added that, despite the colossal pressure, during this difficult period – in the course of the investigation, and now, during the trial – the union continues working and fulfilling its main mission – to help people in defending their labour rights.
Discredit aimed at liquidating the trade union
The IndustriALL Global Union has sent its observers to Minsk: Valery Matov, the Chairman of the "Atomprofspilka" Trade Union of Atomic Energy and Industry Workers of Ukraine and a member of the IndustriALL's Executive Committee, and his colleague Lesya Semenyaka.
"In my understanding, a pretext is being sought to strengthen the punishment and make it demonstratively. I think the accused persons will be given a choice – by which article their 'crime' should be incriminated. The goal is to force the defendants to agree to compromise decisions, but I think this option is excluded: there is already a certain atmosphere around the trial," Valery Matov has noted.
"How do you think events can develop further?"
"Frankly speaking, the accusatory part based on witnesses' testimonies was a failure. We see how numerous witnesses refute their testimonies given at previous interrogations. This scenario is failing; and it must be supported by the prosecution for non-payment of taxes. The aim is to completely discredit the trade union and liquidate it. This was the idea of the scenario – and they act according thereto," Valery Matov has noted.
"The criminal case was instituted on the events of 2011-2012; however, at the trial, witnesses are questioned about a different period. Practically all of them reject their earlier testimonies, which indicate that they had been given under pressure. Today, it is obvious that the trade union has authority; its activities are aimed at protecting people's rights; and its members are supporting these activities, while the trial is aimed at somehow punishing the REP Trade Union and restrict its activities. This goal is also obvious," Lesya Semenyaka has supported her colleague.
There must be an acquittal
Oleg Volchek, the head of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Legal Aid to Population" (registered in Ukraine), believes that the "trade union case" must end with an acquittal:
"Investigators have no proofs; it looks like we are listening to a lecture on the everyday activities of the REP Trade Union. I haven't heard any facts confirming that the REP Trade Union had transported money, or took part in unregistered projects, everything is unjustified and superficial. And most importantly, as I am convinced, all the confessions were forced ones, made under pressure with elements of torture. By torture, I understand not handcuffing to heating radiators, but the non-provision of a break in interrogations, the non-clarification of rights (of a witness or a suspect), and abuse of powers ... I come to the conclusion that in any case there must be an acquittal," said Oleg Volchek.
For reference. On August 2, 2017, the Department of Financial Investigations of the Committee of State Control (also known as the KGK) conducted searches in the Minsk office of the REP Trade Union, the homes of Igor Komlik, Gennady Fedynich and Natalia Pichuzhkina, as well as in the office of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (known as the BNP) in Soligorsk. On the same day, the KGK announced that a criminal case on charges of tax evasion had been opened against Gennady Fedynich, the Chairman of the REP Trade Union, and Igor Komlik, the union accountant and the head of the REP's Minsk city organization.
Igor Komlik spent two months in jail and in the evening on October 2, 2017, he was released under recognizance not to leave. Both Komlik and Fedynich are still under this recognizance not to leave the country.
Over 800 members of the REP Trade Union had been interrogated during the inquiry into the case.
On May 8, 2018, Gennady Fedynich, the Chairman of the REP Trade Union, and Igor Komlik, the head of the REP's Minsk city organization, were finally charged with a large-scale tax evasion (Part 2, Article 243, of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus). The union leaders are accused of the fact that the REP Trade Union, had failed, through their fault, to pay taxes to the state budget in the amount of BYN 22,867.10, or about 11,000 US dollars.
The trial began on July 30 under the chairmanship of Marina Fyodorova, Judge of the Sovietsky District Court of Minsk.
"Trade union case": Day 3 – strange witnesses and wiretapping
On August 1, the Sovietsky District Court of Minsk continued considering the "trade union case". On the third day of the trial, the prosecution summoned some very strange witnesses, and also interrogated the 83-year-old Yanina Nikolaevna Borisevich, the mother-in-law of Gennady Fedynich, the leader of the REP Trade Union.
Yanina Borisevich was the first to be interrogated. An armchair was specially brought for the elderly woman, since it was difficult for her to give her testimony while standing.
"I have no idea about the work of my son-in-law; I know him only as the husband of my elder daughter. He gave me no money, including for the construction of my dacha (summer cottage)," said the woman.
After the death of her husband, Yanina Borisevich sold the house in the Uzda District; and in 1993, she was granted a land plot in the village of Sukhodoly of the Dzerzhinsk District, where the dacha has been being built since 1996. By the way, it is still unfinished. In September 2017, in connection with the criminal "trade union case", investigators arrested the land plot and the capital structures owned by Yanina Borisevich.
"My grandson Denis helped me with money; last year, they started dragging him to tax bodies too ... Let me live to my end peacefully! You are handling papers with your hands; and I've worked in the soil with my hands all my life! Who gave you the right to create lawlessness?" she asked the judge and refused to answer further prosecutor's questions.
However, Liliana Litvinyuk, the state prosecutor, continued the interrogation. And only after Gennady Fedynich said that they would have to call an ambulance for the old lady, she was released.
The next two witnesses, apparently, got to the trial completely accidentally. Seven years ago, the REP Trade Union helped the builder Yuri Sekerin, to return the salary unpaid by the employer. He once visited the dacha of Yanina Borisevich and gave some recommendations concerning the construction.
As to the witness "Dima-banya", in general, he was not involved in any way in the "trade union case": Gennady Fedynich had just once bathed with him in the Russian bathhouse (banya).
A question was hanging in the air: on what grounds and for what purpose the state prosecution has generally summoned these people as witnesses in the case?
Gennady Fedynich has commented on the situation with the summoning of random witnesses.
"The today's session with summoning of witnesses reminds the absurd theatre. I'll explain why. There were Sekerin Yuri and Dima (I don't remember his surname). Yuri Sekerin was engaged, on behalf of his enterprise, in painted the facade at 4 Kulman Street (where the REP office is located in Minsk, – note of the Editor). And he said that he and other workers were deceived by the employer – we helped them, and they got their money. There are many men named Yuri in my phone directory; he was mentioned there as 'Yuri-builder'. In all likelihood, the investigators, who had confiscated my phone, found this entry there; their logic is simple: 'Yuri-builder' means that he was building something. Sherlock Holmes is far from these investigators. Yuri was summoned to the court as a witness, but he has no idea about the case. I really invited him to the dacha, when the team of builders began heat-insulating the house (I'm not a builder) – just for consulting, so that they don't deceive me. And he came once, gave some instructions and never came again," said Gennady Fedynich.
"The case with Dima is more serious, because I once went to banya with him, and I marked him as 'Dima-banya'. Investigators, as it's clear, decided that Dima was also building a banya (bathhouse) for me. Dima came to the court, saying that he had no idea about the case. 'Who is Borisevich?' – 'How do I know?' (Borisevich is my mother-in-law). 'Do you know Sukhodoly?' – 'Which Sukhodoly? I don't understand what you're talking about at all.' Guys, look what you're doing. The people were summoned (they can't not to come)," the leader of the REP Trade Union has no words to explain the actions of the investigators and the state prosecution.
Gennady Fedynich retold the decoding of one of his telephone conversations with Nikolai Zimin, the Chairman of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (known as the BNP), which appeared in the case files thanks to operative-search activities, or wiretapping:
"It was especially interesting to hear about the operative-search activities. When they begin reading the decoding of the wiretapping of mine and Komlik's phone conversations, the audience in the courtroom starts laughing. I ask Zimin on the phone:
'Have you had a snowstorm there?'
'Yes, we did.'
'Has it made consequences?'
'Not yet; but it's still raining. And what about you?'
'It'll soon start raining here. Hope to meet you next week...'
And they write: further conversation has no sense for operative-search activities. Guys, have your conscience…" Gennady Fedynich is indignant.
The trade union leader explained why his mother-in-law, Yanina Borisevich, occurred on the list of prosecution witnesses:
"Investigators have concluded that the dacha is allegedly being built for the money of the project, which is allegedly supervised by Fedynich. The dacha has been under construction since 1996, and all the neighbours know about it; and it is being built to this day. She was summoned to the Investigating Committee and gave her explanations; the tax inspectorate checked her expenses and incomes for 10 years – they found no violations. I say, mother-in-law, don't go to the court! – No, I'll go, I'll tell them!" Gennady Fedynich has explained.
IndustriALL Global Union oversees the "trade union case"
The IndustriALL Global Union is sending its representatives to every session on the "trade union case". On July 30-31, the sessions were attended by Valery Matov, a member of the IndustriALL's Executive Committee; on August 1-2, the trade union leader from Kyrgyzstan is monitoring the trial.
Nazar Djanaliev, a member of the Central Committee of the Mining and Metallurgical Trade Union of the Kyrgyz Republic, was present at the court session on August 1:
"Today, we participated in the court session. There was a prejudiced attitude on the part of the prosecution and the presiding judge. I did not like the fact that the prosecution was very disrespectful towards an elderly woman (the mother-in-law of Gennady Fedynich, – note of the Editor). They almost had to call an ambulance to her. This outraged all those present in the courtroom," Mr Djanaliev has emphasized. "We think that the trial will end in favour of our colleagues, whom we will support in every way abroad."