March 30, 2012, FIDH press release
On 24 February 2012, the Pervomaisk District Court in Vitebsk sentenced opposition activist Siarhei Kavalenka to two years and one month imprisonment, having found him guilty of evading serving a punishment of supervised release.On 14 May 2010, the Oktyabrsky District Court in Vitebsk sentenced Mr. Kavalenka to three years of provisional supervised release. Criminal proceedings were launched against the activist after he hung a Belarusian white-red-white flag, an alternative to the official flag, on top of the main New Year’s tree in Vitebsk on 7 January 2010. During his arrest, Mr. Kavalenka was severely beaten by militia officers. Later he was accused under Criminal Code Article 339.1 (deliberate acts violating public order) and Article 363.2 (violence or threats of violence against law enforcement officials on duty). Mr. Kavalenka’s public demonstration and hanging of the flag cannot in any way be classified as disturbing public order. This socio-political action do not display “special cynicism or blatant contempt for society” and that did not have this as their goal.
Prosecuting Mr. Kavalenka again, this time for allegedly evading punishment, is a bald-faced attempt to continue the political persecution of this opposition activist and to further isolate him. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Kavalenka went on a hunger strike, which he has been continuing with breaks since 19 December 2011. FIDH and the Human Rights Center Viasna are especially troubled that Mr. Kavalenka has been receiving medical assistance in the poor conditions of the penitentiary. On 26 March 2012, Mr. Kavalenka was moved to the psychiatric ward on the grounds of the Vitba-3 penal colony. Under these conditions, FIDH and the Human Rights Center Viasna express fear for his life and have grave concerns that he could possibly undergo forced psychiatric treatment. FIDH and the Human Rights Center Viasna call upon the Belarusian government to release Mr. Kavalenka immediately and unconditionally, cease its political persecution of him, and provide him with the urgent medical care in an open-type medical institution. Responsibility for Mr. Kavalenka’s life and health lie squarely with senior officials at the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs, whose care he is currently under.