A district judge in Minsk on Thursday imposed a fine on Viktar Ivashkevich, co-chairman of the national organizing committee for the "Narodny Skhod" (People’s Assembly) rallies that were held throughout Belarus on October 8.
Judge Kiryl Polulekh of the Savetski District Court fined Mr. Ivashkevich 1.4 million rubels ($243 at the current "official" exchange rate), finding him guilty of acting in violation of regulations governing mass events.
Mr. Ivashkevich, a member of an opposition group called Belaruski Rukh (Belarusian Movement), had been arrested by police in Minsk earlier in the day.
During the trial, which lasted seven and a half hours, Mr. Ivashkevich cited Article Three of the Mass Events Law, which says that the law does not apply to national and local assemblies, but Judge Polulekh ignored this argument and also Mr. Ivashkevich's statement that he was ready to produce people’s signatures in support of the rallies.
The Prosecutor General's Office had warned Mr. Ivashkevich and the other co-chairman of the national organizing committee, Henadz Fyadynich, that the Narodny Skhod rallies would be illegal.
According to Mr. Ivashkevich, a total of between 2,000 and 3,000 people took part in the rallies. A number of opposition activists were arrested before the rallies and so were a dozen during the events. Several local organizers were subsequently fined.
Under the National and Local Assemblies Law, a local assembly at the level of a city, neighborhood, street or house may be initiated by at least two individuals if at least 10 percent of residents have added their signatures in support of holding such an event.
The law does not require authorities to be notified of the assembly or signatures to be submitted to them for verification or registration.
Given that the Mass Events Law does not apply to national and local assemblies, no official permission for holding them is required, and that the organizers are free to decide where people will gather.