MINSK, March 10 (Itar-Tass) - The Moskovsky District Court of the Belarusian capital on Thursday resumed after a long recess hearings in the criminal case of two Russian citizens - 28-year-old Artyom Breus and 22-year-old Ivan Gaponov. The Russians are charged with participation in mass disorders that took place in Minsk on December 19, 2010, on the country’s presidential election day. Under Belarusian legislation they are facing imprisonment for a term of 3 to 8 years.
This rather strange trial began on February 22. On the same day, the trial was adjourned at the request of public prosecutor, senior assistant prosecutor of the Moskovsky district of Minsk Sergei Kunas, for the preparation and bringing new charges against the defendants. The new charges were announced on March 1. After that a second recess in the trial was announced so that the defendants could get familiarised with the new text.
However, the “new” charges, in essence, did not differ from the previous ones. They alleged that the Russians, as before, were the most active participants in the mass disorders. The public prosecutor’s speech consisted, as before, of such phrases as “by previous concert,” “armed resistance,” “Molotov cocktails.” The only difference was that this time the Russian citizens are accused of beating up 15 Belarusian police special task force fighters.
Apparently, now all the “victims” of the attack – Belarusian police special task force fighters – will be invited to court to testify. Another feature of the new phase of the trial will be that international experts from the OSCE will monitor the trial procedure. However, nobody has had any claims to the formal aspect of the trial. The trial is open. Representatives of the media, the public, the Russian Embassy to Belarus, are present in the courtroom. However, many have serious questions concerning the opening of the trial itself, the criminal case, the participation of the Russian citizens in it, the charges brought against them.
Thus, many independent lawyers with surprise learn that the criminal case on the mass disorders, in which 42 people are defendants, has not been fully investigated yet, but the trials are already underway and even harsh sentences have been handed down to 4 defendants. Experts are equally surprised by the selection from all of the accused of the two Russian citizens, who even had not known each other before the trial. The charges brought against the Russians are called far-fetched by Belarusian independent lawyers, political analysts, human rights activists and opposition media. The Russian diplomats present at the trial also agree with this point of view. For example, counsellor at the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Belarus Vadim Gusev said in an interview with Itar-Tass that all those present at the trial have an opportunity to “see for themselves that there is no evidence, that the charges brought against the Russian citizens are contrived.”
Belarus’ opposition press, some political analysts also note that the trial of the Russians on trumped up charges can become a negative background for the upcoming March 15 meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.
On March 1, new charges were brought against Gaponov and Breus, according to the BelTA news agency. Gaponov “joined several thousands of riot participants,” the prosecution says. The prosecution also noted that “Gaponov together with others tried to break through the police cordon around the House of Government. Gaponov repeatedly inflicted blows on police officers.” Breus faced similar charges connected with the participation in the mass unrest on 19 December in Minsk. According to the prosecution, both the defendants violated Article No 293 “Mass Unrest” of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus.
Breus and Gaponov were detained in Minsk on December 19 last year - the day of the presidential election. Then, thousands of supporters of opposition candidates for president of Belarus met in the city centre to protest against, they claimed, falsified election results and demand a new vote. During this unauthorised action a group of people tried to break into the Government House, during which windows and doors were broken in the building. The authorities used police SWAT units and interior troops against the protesters. Dozens of people were beaten. Nearly 700 people were detained, including more than 10 Russian citizens, including Breus and Gaponov.
Most of the detainees were sentenced to administrative arrest. Under pressure from Russian diplomats all Russian citizens were released on December 29. However, on the same day Breus and Gaponov were re-arrested and placed in a detention centre within a criminal case on mass disorders. According to the country’s legislation, the punishment for taking part in them is imprisonment for a term of 3 to 8 years.
The prosecution side failed to present tangible evidence of guilt of Gaponov and Breus both during the preliminary investigation and during the launched trial. The Russians have pleaded not guilty. They said that they accidentally found themselves at the protest action, they did not offer any kind of resistance, the more so armed, as the investigation claimed, to policemen. In turn, two police officers who appeared in court as witnesses were confused in their testimony, which contradicted their written reports previously written.
The arrest of Breus and Gaponov, their totally groundless detention in custody has caused quite a severe reaction from the Russian side. The situation with the arrested Russians was the main subject of discussion at a meeting of RF State Secretary, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin with Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called their holding under arrest in Belarus inadmissible and the charges brought against them - not serious. The RF Embassy in Minsk has repeatedly called for immediate release of the arrested Russians.
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