Updated at 16:11,02-12-2016

Trial of Russian citizens suspended

The trial of Russian citizens Artyom Breus and Ivan Gaponov charged in connection with the December 19 anti-Lukashenka demonstration in Minsk has been suspended until March 1.

Syarhey Kunash, the prosecutor in the trial that began at the Maskowski District Court in Minsk on Tuesday, asked the judge to postpone the proceedings. The charges against the pair need to be amended following statements made by witnesses during the session, he said.

Judge Lyubow Simakhina granted the request.

Earlier in the day, the judge heard two witnesses for the prosecution, officers of the Minsk city police department`s special-task regiment, who gave confused testimony against the young Russian men accused of participating in a "mass riot." Their statements conflicted with what they claimed earlier. Ms. Simakhina even had to warn one officer, Alyaksandr Yakawlew, about criminal punishment for giving false testimony.

Following a break in the session, the video footage was shown to the judge. Most of the audience was not able to watch it, as the prosecutor stood right in front of the screen. After the footage was played, a defense counsel requested the judge to summon the other witness for the prosecution, Yury Dudarchyk, once again to inquire whether the time of the Russian men`s arrest stated in the charge sheet was true. Mr. Dudarchyk failed to answer the question.

Messrs. Breus and Gaponov pleaded not guilty to the charge of participation in a mass riot. They said 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.

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 has insisted that investigators have no evidence proving the men`s guilt. It has expressed hope that the pair will receive a fair trial.