Two Russian citizens sentenced to heavy fines over post-election protest
A district judge in Minsk on March 10 sentenced Russian citizens Artyom Breus and Ivan Gaponov each to a fine of 10,500,000 rubels ($3,500).
The young men, who stood accused of participation in a "mass riot" in connection with the December 19, 2010 post-election demonstration in Minsk, were set free in the courtroom on their own recognizance.
Judge Lyubow Syamakhina of the Maskowski District Court found the pair guilty as charged, ruling that Messrs. Breus and Gaponov had participated in the "mass riot accompanied by acts of wanton destruction and armed resistance to officials."
The trial of the Russian men began on February 22. The accused pleaded not guilty, saying that they had attended the street protest "out of curiosity" and denied chanting any slogans, smashing the entrance of the House of Government or attacking police officers.
Fifteen riot police officers who the prosecutor alleged were beaten by the pair during the protest were questioned at the hearing on Thursday. None of them recognized Mr. Breus or Mr. Gaponov.
Public Prosecutor Syarhey Kunash demanded a fine of 17,500,000 rubels for each of the accused.
Vadim Gusev, spokesman for the Russian embassy in Minsk, told reporters following the trial that the embassy "welcomes the judgment on the whole."
"But still I would like to stress that neither Breus nor Gaponov pleaded guilty, while the Russian embassy demanded their release from the very beginning," he said.
Observers of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights attended the court session on Thursday.
Messrs. Breus, 27, and Gaponov, 22, were among more than 600 people arrested during the protest in Minsk. They were released on December 29 upon completion of their jail terms and rearrested later that day.
In an article titled "They Stormed House of Government," which was published by the largest government newspaper Sovetskaya Belorussiya on January 15, the two young men were accused of taking an active part in clashes with police.
On February 9, Grigory Karasin, Russia`s deputy foreign minister, met with Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynaw in Minsk to discuss the Russians` case.
Andrey Savinykh, spokesman for the Belarusian foreign ministry, said the following day that the fate of the pair would be decided only by court.
The Russian embassy insisted that investigators had no evidence proving the men`s guilt. It expressed hope that the pair would receive a fair trial.