A district judge in Homyel on June 25 sentenced an opposition activist to three days in jail and fined four others over an unsanctioned demonstration staged in Homyel in early May.
Maryna Damnenka, a judge of the Tsentralny District Court, found Uladzimir Katsora, Vasil Palyakow, Anatol Paplawny, Yury Zakharanka and Pyotr Kuznyatsow guilty of acting in violation of regulations governing mass events.
The judge gave Mr. Katsora a three-day jail sentence, explaining that he had organized the demonstration and had to be punished more severely. The others were fined 350,000 rubels ($124) each. Mr. Katsora announced in the courtroom that he was going on a hunger strike to protest his sentence and would refuse food and water during those three days.
Mr. Kuznyatsow pointed out that Ms. Damnenka had repeatedly imposed heavy fines and jail sentences on opposition activists and demanded that the case be heard by another judge. The demand was rejected and so was Mr. Kuznyatsow's requests to allow human rights defender Leanid Sudalenka to be present at the trial as a legal representative and to postpone the hearing until police reply to his complaint over the case. The judge turned down Mr. Paplawny's demand that the hearing be conducted in the Belarusian language. In response, the five opposition activists refused to give evidence.
More than 40 people came to the court to support them. The demonstration, which marked a decade since the disappearance of Yury Zakharanka, a former interior minister turned opposition politician, was staged on May 7 in front of the police department where the future minister once served.
Participants stood in line near the building, displaying images of the former minister. According to the police charge sheets, the demonstrators did not disturb the public peace and did not enter the roadway.
The five men denied any wrongdoing and insisted that standing in a line and displaying images could not be viewed as a mass event.