UDF urges international organizations to assess criminal prosecution of jailed Vawkavysk dissidents
The United Democratic Forces (UDF) has called on international organizations and foreign diplomats in Belarus to assess the criminal prosecution of three jailed opponents of the government, Mikalay Awtukhovich, Yury Lavonaw and Uladzimir Asipenka.
The UDF will press the international community to declare the three men to be political prisoners, the opposition coalition says in its appeal. Messrs. Awtukhovich, Lyavonaw and Asipenka were arrested in armed raids conducted in Vawkavysk, Hrodna region, on February 8 by members of Almaz, the interior ministry’s elite counter-terrorist unit. The men were brought to a detention center in Minsk. Police said that they were suspected of the illegal possession of explosives and firearms, and a series of arsons and explosions targeting the property of local officials, which took place as far back as 2005.
All the three have been charged under Article 218 of the Criminal Code, which penalizes deliberate destruction of or damage to property caused in a way dangerous to the public or the intentional infliction of large-scale damage. If convicted, the men may be sentenced to a prison term between three and 12 years.
Opposition politicians and human rights activists have condemned their prosecution as illegal and politically motivated. Mr. Awtukhovich has been on a hunger strike since April 16, protesting the detention and demanding that the case should be either referred to court or all people under investigation in the case should be released on their own recognizance. Messrs. Awtukhovich and Lyavonaw, former business partners, earlier served 18 months in prison for alleged tax evasion and illegal business activities. They were both granted early release in January 2008.
Mr. Awtukhovich insisted that he had been sent to prison because he had protested authorities’ arbitrary rule. Amnesty International declared him and Mr. Lyavonaw prisoners of conscience.
Mr. Awtukhovich, who is a leader of a nascent association of veterans of Soviet wars abroad, was among civil society activists who petitioned the government in January to restore state benefits to the Afghanistan War’s veterans.