European Socialist concern over arrest of Belarus opposition leaders

Wed 1 Jun 2005

Chairman of the Belarusian Social-Democratic Party (Narodnaya Hramada), coordinator of the European Coalition, Mikola Statkevich and one of the leaders of the Young Front, Paval Sevyarynets, have been sentenced on 1st of May to three years of imprisonmen. They were brought to court on 23rd of May. The politicians have been charged with organizing mass protest rallies against rigged results of the parliamentary election vote and referendum (Article 342 of the Criminal Code - organizing of group actions violating public order, or active participation in them). The main complaint against Sevyarynets and Statkevich is shortly stopping public traffic during the protest rally. Paval Sevyarynets made his last statement. Mikola Statkevich refused to speak in the court. On May 24 the politician was sentenced to 10 days of arrest and declared a hunger strike. He had been charged with contempt to court.

European Parliament Socialist Group vice-president Jan Marinus Wiersma on 1st of May voiced concern over politically motivated trials of opposition leaders and activists in Belarus. "The Belarusian regime has stepped up its repression of the political opposition since last autumn’s elections. President Lukashenka has not hesitated to use violence against protesters. The arrests may be part of a campaign to eliminate possible opposition candidates for the 2006 presidential election. Politically motivated trials only add to the image of the autocratic rule of Mr Lukashenka. I appeal to the international community to press Belarus to stop. The European Union should increase its support for the non-violent democratic opposition in Belarus."

It is not the first criminal case for Mikola Statkevich and Paval Sevyarynets. In 1998 Paval Sevyarynets was accused of hooliganism for interrupting a concert on April 2, dedicated to the day of Belarus and Russia’s unification. The action was terminated in 1999 with the wording "because of the change of political situation". In 2000 Mikola Statkevich was punished by two years of imprisonment with respite of punishment for an active participation in the first "Freedom March". After reconsideration of the case he was fined. Having a criminal record, the leader of Social Democrats has lost possibility to take part in the election campaign as a candidate.