Awtukhovich Sentenced to Five Years in Prison
A panel of the Supreme Court of Belarus on May 6 sentenced Mikalay Awtukhovich, a 47-year-old businessman resident in Vawkavysk, Hrodna region, to five years and two months in a medium security correctional institution. The panel found him guilty of illegal possession of five hunting rifle cartridges.
His associate, Uladzimir Asipenka, was sentenced to three years in a minimum security correctional institution.
The two other men accused in the case, Alyaksandr Laryn and Mikhail Kazlow, were sentenced to three years in a medium-security correctional institution and two years in a minimum security correctional institution, respectively.
Messrs. Awtukhovich and Asipenka, who have already spent more than a year in jail, were cleared of charges of "preparations for an act of terrorism" against Uladzimir Sawchanka, head of the Hrodna Regional Executive Committee, and Deputy Tax Minister Vasil Kamyanko, and of involvement in an arson attack on the house of Syarhey Katsuba, a former chief of the Vawkavysk district police department.
On April 16, the public prosecutor in the trial, Eldar Safaraw, suggested that Mr. Awtukhovich be sentenced to 20 years in a medium security correctional institution, Messrs. Asipenka and Laryn to 11 years in a medium security correctional institution and Mr. Kazlow to three years in a minimum security institution.
Mikhail Kazlow, a police officer in the rank of lieutenant colonel who headed the organized crime prevention unit of the Hrodna regional police department, stood accused of failure to take measures in response to the terrorist preparations of which he is alleged to have been aware.
Opposition activists and human rights defenders believe that the charges against Messrs. Awtukhovich and Asipenka were trumped up in revenge for their criticism, corruption accusations and unsubmissive behavior.
Mr. Awtukhovich, his former business partner Yury Lyavonaw and Mr. Asipenka were arrested by personnel of the Almaz anti-terror police unit in armed raids in their hometown of Vawkavysk on February 8, 2009.
The interior ministry announced after six months that Mr. Awtukhovich was charged with making preparations a few years ago for murdering the head of the Hrodna Regional Executive Committee and Deputy Tax Minister Kamyanko.
Mr. Lyavonaw was released on his own recognizance in early August. On September 24, he was notified that all charges against him had been dropped.
Messrs. Awtukhovich and Lyavonaw earlier served 18 months in prison for alleged tax evasion and illegal business activities. They were both granted an early release in January 2008.
Mr. Awtukhovich insisted that he had been sent to prison because he had protested authorities’ arbitrary rule. Amnesty International then declared him and Mr. Lyavonaw prisoners of conscience.
Mr. Awtukhovich, a veteran of the USSR’s Afghanistan war and a holder of three combat medals, was among civil society activists who petitioned the government in January 2009 to restore state benefits for the veterans of the war. Mr. Awtukhovich refused to accept a jubilee medal that the Belarusian government distributed to Afghanistan veterans on the occasion of 20 years since the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from that country.
In 2004, Mr. Awtukhovich unsuccessfully ran for Parliament.