Wednesday, August 31, 2005, #163 (0937)

Families speak with jailed Kmara activists

Activists given 15-day jail term for 'hoologanism.' Belarus opposition leaders says sentence is to let wounds heal.

By Keti Sikharulidze

Late Monday a court in Minsk sentenced two Georgian activists from the youth movement Kmara, Giorgi Kandelaki and Luka Tsuladze, to 15 days in prison for violating the Belarus administrative code article 156 "on minor hooliganism."

The two were arrested on August 24, along with the leader of the Belarussian resistance movement Zubr, Vladimir Kobets, though the latter was released shortly after.

The Georgian side cannot say for sure whether the two will be released after 15 days or not.

"We have no guarantees, the fact is that there is no real reason for their detention, though anything can be expected from [the Belarussian authorities]," said Tea Tutberidze, a member of Liberty Institute and Kmara activist.

The Belarus-based press center Charter 97 reported that the court did not explain why the two were charged with "minor hooliganism."

Charter 97 also sought information on the health condition of the prisoners, but the Minsk Internal Affairs press center refused to comment.

Speaking with Charter 97, Dmitry Bondarenko, an activist from the opposition movement "Free Belarus," claimed that the Georgians were in a bad condition, were beaten during the arrest and that the sentences were imposed to keep them in custody until their wounds heal.

"One of the reasons for keeping them in prison could be torture, as we have already encountered such things - the Belarus militia used to bludgeon people and hide them by sentencing them to 15 days in prison," said Bondarenko.

Tutberidze considers that it this is so far just speculation. "I do not think that the prisoners were physically violated and beaten," she said.

Moreover, neither Tsuladze nor Kandelaki have mentioned anything about bad conditions or torture in private talks with their parents through the consuls' phones.

"Maybe he said so in order not to make me nervous, but he said that everything was okay, that he had warm clothing and meals," Luka's father Edisher Tsuladze told The Messenger Tuesday. He said he hopes to see his son soon and that the Belarussian government does not devise any other accusations against them.

"My wife Patsiko Mikadze and Kandelaki's mother Lali Kandelaki appealed to the government of Belarus a few days ago to return our children to their families," he added.

President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has been in power for a decade and plans to run for a new term next year, has warned opponents and the West against trying to bring the kind of change that swept through Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in the past two years to his country.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that members of the Belarussian youth organization Zubr organized a protest in Minsk on 26 August waving a banner "Freedom to Georgian brothers."

The five of them were arrested 30 minutes after the protest began. But soon police released two of them, while three remain under arrest, sentenced to 10 days in jail.

"The Belarusian regime appears to be really concerned with a recent wave of 'colored' revolutions in the post-Soviet area and takes every measure to avoid a similar scenario in Belarus next year, when autocratic President Lukashenka is going to run for president for the third time in a row," RFE/RL reported Tuesday.

In June Lukashenka issued a decree introducing visas for Georgians visiting Belarus. The Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau later had to back off from that decision.

Martynau claimed on Belarus television that Lukashenko only instructed the Foreign Ministry and law-enforcement agencies to look into the possibility of introducing visas for Georgians, but did not introduce them in fact.

"At the same time, Martynau admitted that Belarus would not hesitate to introduce visas for Georgians should Tbilisi attempt to export 'some revolutions or pseudo-revolutions' to Belarus," reports RFE/RL.