By Andrey Volkov
Victims of Europe’s last remaining communist leader, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, are preparing to sue him for crimes against humanity, including persecution, illegal detention, and torture.
Proceedings were initiated after last December’s presidential elections. Lukashenko won a forth term in office, but even before the results were announced, opposition demonstrators took to the streets accusing him of fraud, triggering a massive crackdown. Hundreds of protesters were arrested and abused, including presidential candidates, human rights activists, and journalists.
Family members of some of the jailed candidates started formal proceedings against Lukashenko, accusing him of persecuting political prisoners.
Irina Bogdanova, sister of jailed presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, is one of the key plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“This lawsuit contains charges of torture, abduction, kidnapping, and murder, as well as other crimes that Lukashenko has committed,” she said.
“Because Lukashenko is destroying our families and committed crimes against us by jailing our relatives, we want to hold him accountable,” she added.
Bogdanova said that she has had no contact with her brother and knows very little about his situation. Sannikov’s wife, Irina, was put under house arrest with two security agents standing guard around the clock.
“[Irina] was banned from talking to the press, giving interviews, or speaking out. She was threatened with jail time if she did not comply,” she said.
Natalia Kolyada, a member of Free Belarus Now, which is directly involved in the case, said that some jailed candidates are facing up to 15-year jail sentences.
Another key presidential candidate, Vladimir Neklyayev, is also under house arrest, she said. Some of the detainees have been jailed for four years now, and about 50 people will soon be tried, according to Kolyada.
Human Rights Watch reported that lawyers for some of the detainees have been warned not speak out about their client’s condition. Other lawyers had their licenses revoked.
Key supporters in the campaign against Lukashenko include former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, and actors George Clooney and Michael Douglas.
Because Lukashenko is destroying our families and committed crimes against us by jailing our relatives, we want to hold him accountable.
—Irina Bogdanova, lawsuit plaintiff
Initiators of the lawsuit and their lawyers said that they would pressure foreign governments to suspend diplomatic immunity for the current Belarusian heads of states, if the defendants are found guilty of crimes against humanity.
British attorneys from London’s famous H2O Law firm are helping family members start private, civil, and criminal proceedings against Lukashenko and other members of his regime. They are keeping quiet about their exact strategy in the suit but their attorneys have already gathered a lot of evidence from interviews inside Belarus.
The head of Lukashenko’s press service dismissed the case against the Belarusian leader as British propaganda and nothing more than an ad hoc campaign.
However, family members and their attorneys said that they are very serious about suing Lukashenko.
“If we did not think that we could win the case, we would not have started it. We believe that it is possible, and we will put all of our efforts into getting the job done,” said Bogdanova.
Matthew Jury, H2O Law attorney, said he is confident they will win the case, as his firm has a long history of taking on difficult civil cases, including those against terrorist organizations.
H2O Law has in the past successfully sued the Real Irish Republican Army (Real IRA), considered a terrorist group by the U.K. and the United States, on behalf of the families of the victims of the 1998 Omagh bombing that killed 29 people.
They have also brought cases against heads of state such Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi, as well as such commercial entities such as Arab Bank for supporting Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, and EU.
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