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Belarus-style anarchy: final charges brought against columnists

Sergey Shiptenko, Dmitry Alimkin, Yuri Pavlovets.

Belarus has brought final charges against pro-Russian political writers Yuri Pavlovets, Sergey Shiptenko and Dmitry Alimkin, Official Representative of Belarus Investigation Committee Yulia Goncharova said on August 29.

“Specifically, Alimkin is charged with Article 130.3 of Belarusian Criminal Code (incitement of racial, national or religious hatred). Pavlovets is charged with Article 233.1 (unauthorized business activity) and Article 130.3 of Belarusian CC. Shiptenko is charged with the same two articles,” BelTa quoted Goncharova as saying.

“Another person, Yuri Baranchik is named in the case. The Court has ruled that Baranchik is still detained in absentia. He was put on Interpol wanted list. We have information that he is in the territory of Russia. The investigative documents were sent to Russia as well. He is charged with Article 130.3 of Belarusian CC in absentia,” the representative of Belarus Investigation Committee said.

To recall, pro-Russian political writers, citizens of Belarus Sergey Shiptenko, Yuri Pavlovets and Dmitry Alimkin have been kept in a pre-trial detention ward in Minsk since Dec 2016. The journalists were charged with “Incitement of inter-ethnic hatred” after consistent criticism of Alexander Lukashenko’s government for violating the allied commitments to Russia. In addition, they accuse Pavlovets and Shiptenko of “unauthorized business activity,” namely for receiving fees for their opinion-pieces for Russian mass media.

Belarusian law-enforcement also tried to organize extradition of Yuri Baranchik, a citizen of Belarus residing in Russia, editor-in-chief of Regnum news agency. This March, Baranchik was detained in Moscow, but the Russian Court rejected arguments of Belarusian law-enforcers and set the journalist free.

Noteworthy that Shiptenko, Pavlovets and Alimkin were arrested on the basis of expertise conducted at the request of the Information Ministry of Belarus. Neither the detainees nor their lawyers and relatives had access to that expertise for seven months until Yuri Pavlovets filed a claim against Soviet Belarus newspaper of the Belarusian President’s Administration. Pavlovets sued the newspaper over an article by Yevgeny Kononovic wherein Pavlovets was compared with Goebbels and other Nazi criminals. The Court ruled that Kononovich’s statements were “private opinion.” However, the text of the above expertise was published finally. It was a certain reference of several pages. The authors, philologists Alla Kirdun and Alesya Andreeva, in an effort to prove existence of “extremism” in Pavlovets’ articles, said he had used “a special type of influential discourse” trying to arouse public “discontent at the authorities of Belarus” in Russia and incite “animus towards persons responsible for information policy on Belarus in Russia” among Belarusian public

Afterwards, it turned out that a new expertise within the investigation process was conducted by the same experts, Kirdun and Andreeva, who earlier found “extremism” in articles of the political writes. Andreeva was not a member of the Republican Expert Commission at the moment when Shiptenko, Pavlovets and Alimkin were arrested. The investigation insisted that it has the right to entrust any experts, even inexperienced ones, to conduct expertise. The initial expertise that became a basis for the arrest was conducted by the Republic Expert Commission at the request of the Information Ministry of Belarus – deputy minister of information Vladimir Matusevic (currently head of Belarus Post) was acting chairman of the Commission. The spouses of the arrested journalists, Lubov Pavlovets and Irina Shiptenko addressed a letter to him. Matusevic had appointed experts, signed their expert opinions (which could not be considered as such) and then signed the applications to the Investigation Committee which reportedly became a basis for initiating the criminal case against the journalists.

“Our husbands have been kept in custody for already eight months. You are well aware, if you have read the articles of our husbands, that there is no extremism there. Independent experts in both Belarus and Russia have confirmed that. Criticism of the government activity is not considered as extremism by acknowledged international standards. As deputy chairman of the Expert Commission of the Information Ministry you could not but know about it,” the spouses of the repressed journalists wrote in the letter to Matusevic. They demanded explanations from Matusevic concerning his decision to entrust Alesya Andreeva to prepare expert opinions while she was not a member of the Republican Expert Commission at that time. The response came not from Matusevic, but from Belarus Post (he is the chairman of). It was a run-around reply saying that the issue is not within the competence of the given institution.

Afterwards, Lubov Pavlovets and Irina Shiptenko sent a letter to the government and further to the Ministry of Information. After a while, the Ministry replied: “The expert opinion by the Expert Commission cannot be acknowledged as a source of evidence provided for by the Code of Criminal Procedure, but it can be attached to the case as ‘another document’.” Besides, expert opinion by the Expert Commission shall be reviewed and assessed by the criminal investigation and the court as any other evidence in a criminal case.” In addition, the letter says that the Expert Commission “is not considered as expert institution” and “operates on a volunteer basis,” so its members are not required to undergo proficiency testing.

Actually, the political writers were arrested on the basis of an expert opinion that could not be considered as a basis for arrest and was probably ante-date. The arrestee and their lawyers could not dispute it, since they had no access to it. Nevertheless, the political writers have been kept in pre-trial detention for over eight months. All the petitions to change the measure of restraint against them were rejected.

All the three journalists are facing up to 12 years in prison. That absurd political case speaking of Belarus government’s repressive policy with regard to pro-Russian activists will last long, (meantime, no one disturbs representative of the opposite ideological camp - national-radicals in Belarus).

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