An over three-week-long trial of the so-called "REP Trade Union case" ended on August 24: Marina Fyodorova, Judge of the Sovietsky District Court of Minsk, announced the verdict. In his interview to the "Svobodnye Novosti" (Free News), Mikhail Pastukhov, Professor, Honoured Lawyer of Belarus, a former Constitutional Court Judge, shares his impressions about the trial.
"Today, this is a political case..."
Gennady Fedynich, said, while presenting on August 17 his last plea to the court, "Today, this case is political. Politicians had initiated it; and they will have to terminate it. And it's strange that through this case they want to show the nullity of our trade union and its leadership. But the case is obviously trumped up! Their show has failed whatever the verdict."
In his last plea, Igor Komlik has treated the case as "botched" and "politically motivated, aimed at destroying an independent organization that is engaged in defence of workers' social and economic interests."
According to journalists, bout 200 people – REP members and activists, oppositional politicians, public activists, human rights defenders, officials of the diplomatic corps, and observers of the IndustriALL Global Union – came to listen to the sentencing. The courtroom was packed like a barrel of herrings.
Judge Marina Fyodorova read out only the operative part of the verdict: Messrs Fedynich and Komlik were sentenced to four years of freedom restriction each without sending to an open-type penitentiary institution, and with a subsequent ban on holding senior positions for 5 years each. The verdict does not provide for the confiscation of property, despite the preliminary arrest of Fedynich's apartment and car, a plot of land and a house in the village of Sukhodoly of the Dzerzhinsk District. At the same time, the court ruled to collect BYN 47,560 from the defendants as the amount of non-paid taxes (according to investigators, in 2011, this amount was BYN 22,800 in equivalent but grew up due to penalties and inflation) and the state duty and court expenses in the amount of BYN 1400.
Comparison with the "Bialiatski's case"
The criminal case against the leaders of the REP Trade Union has much in common with the "Bialiatski's case". Let me remind you that in August 2011, on the initiative of the Department of Financial Investigations (DFI) of the Committee for State Control (CSC), a criminal case was opened against the leaders of the "Viasna" (Spring) unregistered human rights organization Ales Bialiatski and Valentin Stefanovich. The reason was their opening of accounts in foreign banks, to which large amounts of foreign currencies arrived. Mr Bialiatski was detained and placed in SIZO No. 1 (pre-trial prison), and Mr Stefanovich was imputed an administrative article.
In the course of the investigation, the Lithuanian authorities tried to disavow the fact of transferring information to Belarusian tax authorities, referring to the fact that the latter had abused the international agreements by using them for repressions against citizens.
On November 2, 2011, the Bialiatski's trial began; and on November 23, he was found guilty under Part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 4.5 years of imprisonment with confiscation of property.
Ales Bialiatski spend more than 2.5 years at the Bobruisk colony known as IK-2. On July 21, 2014, he was released ahead of schedule, largely because of the massive campaign unfolded by public organizations and initiatives for Bialiatski's liberation, as well as of the broad international support. He was announced to be a prisoner of conscience and a political prisoner, nominated for the Andrei Sakharov European Parliament Award, and several times – for the Nobel Peace Prize.
As we see, Bialiatski's verdict was tougher than to the REP leaders. Perhaps, the Belarusian authorities made a correction because of the international resonance, which scaled up as the trial progressed.
Consequences are still ahead
It should be noted that Fedynich and Komlik refused to plead guilty; and their advocates, Natalia Matskevich and Lyudmila Kazak, insisted on an acquittal. In his comments to reporters, Gennady Fedynich called the verdict unfair and stated that the "case of the REP Trade Union" would have consequences at the international level.
We can suppose that the IndustriALL Global Union, with its members in 154 countries around the world, and the International Labour Organization (ILO), which has always been interested in the opinion of the REP on the labour situation, will keep the verdict to the trade union leaders under special control. It is likely that they will demand its cancellation under the threat of renewal of sanctions against Belarus.
It follows from the verdict that after its entry into force, Gennady Fedynich will no longer be the chairman of the trade union not only during the term of his main punishment (restriction of freedom), but also for five years more. The same consequences should follow for Igor Komlik, the former REP chief accountant. It turns out that Belarusian authorities managed to "decapitate" the trade union, and take its leaders under preventive supervision for the next nine years.
I agree with the opinion of Leonid Sudalenko, a REP member and a rights defender from Gomel, that the punishment in the form of freedom restriction is a rather tough sentence, since a person is greatly limited in his rights. He will be under militia's constant control; in the evening and on weekends he must be at home. It is not allowed to leave somewhere without militia's permit, especially abroad. For several violations the convict may be placed into colony.
Thus, there is not much good in the verdict. For many years it will become an unhealed wound in the life of Messrs Fedynich and Komlik, and their relatives, as well as a shameful stain on Belarus' reputation.