Updated at 11:30,08-12-2016

Awtukhovich Pleads Not Guilty

Mikalay Awtukhovich pleaded not guilty to all charges in his final speech at the Supreme Court of Belarus on Tuesday.

"Awtukhovich spoke for two hours and mostly dwelt on instances of corruption in the Hrodna region," Vyachaslaw Siwchyk, a civil society activist who attended Tuesdays court session, told BelaPAN. "There is the impression that he told everything he knew, although the judge repeatedly attempted to interrupt him. As Awtukhovich said, the trial is a continuation of his persecution, which he said began as far back as 2003, and officials of a very high level are interested in his persecution."

Mr. Awtukhovich, a 47-year-old businessman resident in Vawkavysk, Hrodna region, and his associate Uladzimir Asipenka face charges of "preparations for an act of terrorism" against Uladzimir Sawchanka, head of the Hrodna Regional Executive Committee, and Deputy Tax Minister Vasil Kamyanko.

Messrs. Awtukhovich and Asipenka, who have already spent more than a year in jail, are also accused of arranging an arson attack on the house of Syarhey Katsuba, a former chief of the Vawkavysk district police department.

The case has been heard since March 10. On April 16, the public prosecutor demanded 20 years in prison for Mr. Awtukhovich and 11 years for Mr. Asipenka.

On Monday, Mr. Awtukhovichs lawyer, Pavel Sapelka, demanded that his client be acquitted on all charges.

Mikhail Kazlow also made his final speech on Tuesday morning. Mr. Kazlow, a former police officer in the rank of lieutenant colonel who headed the organized crime prevention unit of the Hrodna regional police department, stands accused of failure to take measures in response to the terrorist preparations of which he is alleged to have been aware.

The public prosecutor in the trial, Eldar Safaraw, last week demanded a three-year prison sentence for Mr. Kazlow.

According to Mr. Siwchyk, in his final speech, Mr. Kazlow named the articles of the Criminal Procedure Code that, in his opinion, had been violated by investigators when the case was investigated by the police. "As Kazlow said, investigator Klachko told him that if he closed the case against Awtukhovich and Asipenka, he would not be understood," Mr. Siwchyk said. According to him, Mr. Kazlow praised prosecutor Safaraw.

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 USSRs 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.