Lawyer Dzmitry Layewski plans to further appeal the prison sentence imposed on human rights defender Ales Bialiatski. A panel of the Minsk City Court on Tuesday turned down an appeal against the four-and-a-half-year sentence handed down on a tax evasion charge.
Speaking minutes after the appeal hearing, human rights activist Uladzimir Labkovich said that the lawyer would continue the legal battle against the sentence “exclusively in order to have a possibility and prospect of an international legal reaction, without continuing to seek the truth through a ritual that for some unknown reasons is called court in Belarus.”
Video (in Belarusian) by Vassilij Semashko, BelaPan
He dismissed the appeal hearing as “a legal outrage” and accused the three-judge panel of ignoring law.
Mr. Layewski rightly requested the court to ask the organizations that transferred the money to Mr. Bialiatski’s accounts abroad to explain for what purpose they did so, according to Mr. Labkovich. “The court rejected the request, thereby showing that it does not want to investigate the case impartially and comprehensively,” he said.
The court’s argument that Mr. Bialiatski should have presented the information himself to prove his innocence is yet another piece of evidence that the “presumption of innocence does not exist altogether in Belarus,” Mr. Labkovich said.
Speaking at the appeal hearing, Prosecutor Kiryl Chubkavets limited his arguments to a statement that Mr. Bialiatski’s guilt had been proven by a district court and therefore his appeal should be rejected.
“He did not and could not provide any facts as there is no proof. By the way, this highlights the general degradation of the prosecutor’s office, court and investigation: they don’t need to prove anything. An order from the government is enough for a team of three judges to execute it,” Mr. Labkovich said
According to Mr. Labkovich, human rights activists have no regrets over the money that they raised to pay what Mr. Bialiatski was ordered to pay in his criminal case, including his alleged debt, penalties and litigation costs.
They had earlier expressed hope that the payment of the amount, 757.5 million rubels ($90,400), could influence the appeal hearing’s result.
“We have no regrets whatsoever that we gave so much money to the state,” Mr. Labkovich said. He noted that the payment of the money would allow imprisoned Mr. Bialiatski to receive parcels and money to buy food from the prison store, as well as entitle him to release on parole.