- Alina Isachenko
- BBC Russian Service, London
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Alyaksandr Lukashenka introduced the death penalty for an attempted terrorist attack, a trial began in Grodno in the resonant “Autukhovich case”, which faces the death penalty, a cellmate of Andrei Zeltser’s widow spoke about her being in a pre-trial detention center. The Russian service of the BBC talks about the main things in Belarus in a week.
A priest, a pensioner and a political prisoner with a disability: the trial on the “Autukhovich case” began in Grodno
On May 18, the trial of the “Autukhovich case” began in Grodno. The group of defendants includes 12 people, including a priest, a pensioner and a political prisoner with a disability, who has already been sentenced to three years in prison in another case.
According to the state agency BELTA, the main defendant in the criminal case is a businessman from Vaukavysk and activist Nikolai Autukhovich. He is charged under 12 articles of the Criminal Code, six of them for especially serious crimes. According to one of the articles, Autukhovich faces execution or life imprisonment.
The meeting was held in the building of the Grodno prison, some of the defendants were kept in cages. Only two relatives of the accused were allowed into the courtroom, the Viasna human rights center reports, citing human rights activists. The same information was confirmed to the BBC by the daughter of Vladimir Gundar – according to her, “the father’s wife was not allowed to attend the hearing, they said there were no places.”
According to the investigation, the defendants, whom investigators call “members of a terrorist group” led by Mikalai Autukhovich, set fire to cars and houses of police officers in the Grodno region (the Viasna human rights center cites at least two cases described by the investigation).
According to one of them, on the night of October 2, 2020, the defendants prepared an incendiary mixture, after which they doused and set fire to a car and a one-story residential building in Vaukavysk, owned by a police officer.
On the second day of the meeting, Lyudmila Gladkaya, an employee of the pro-government newspaper SB.Belarus Segodnya, who covered the trial, wrote that “Autukhovich’s group, on the instructions of the Ukrainian special services, was preparing to capture Russian servicemen on the territory of Belarus. For torture, to transfer information received from them.”
“Physical removal of the head of state was not ruled out,” Gladkaya added.
Commenting on the materials of the case, one of the accused’s relatives called them complete nonsense, from which “even a child would find it funny.”
Belarus introduced the death penalty for attempted terrorist attack
Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed amendments to the criminal code providing for the death penalty for an attempted terrorist attack.
We are talking about amending part 1 of article 59 (“The death penalty”) and part 2 of article 67 (“Sentencing for an unfinished crime”) of the Criminal Code of Belarus.
Now the judge can impose capital punishment for “attempt to commit a crime” under the articles on terrorism.
The death penalty in Belarus cannot be imposed on women, people under the age of majority and men over 65 years of age.
The authorities began to apply the article on terrorism against opponents of the Lukashenka regime after the 2020 presidential elections.
In March last year, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Belarus opened a criminal case under the article on preparing a terrorist attack against the leader of the democratic forces Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and the community of former Bypol security officials who left the country.
The list of those involved in the terrorist activities of the KGB includes blogger Anton Motolko, leader of the opposition organization “People’s Anti-Crisis Management” Pavel Latushko and other representatives of democratic forces.
Mikhail Kirilyuk, a lawyer for the People’s Anti-Crisis Administration, believes that this bill was created to simplify the prosecution of political opponents “by staging terrorist attacks.”
“It’s scary and risky to organize a real terrorist attack for the special services – it’s still connected with the death of people, and staging an“ attempted terrorist attack ”is technically easier,” explains Kirilyuk. there is the message that Lukashenka’s special services send to the Belarusian society.”
Anniversary of the TUT.by case – what has changed
On May 18 last year, the Belarusian authorities detained 15 employees of the country’s largest media outlet TUT.by, and the company’s website and accounts were blocked.
The detainees were charged with tax evasion on an especially large scale. Among the detainees are the editor-in-chief of the publication Marina Zolotova and the widow of its founder Yulia Chernyavskaya. All defendants in the case were recognized as political prisoners.
Over the past year, only the founder of RocketData and the manager of the Tam.by project (which is part of Tut.by) Daria Danilova was tried – she was sentenced to a year and four months in prison under an article on mass riots and released in the courtroom.
The measure of restraint was changed for 11 defendants in the case and released from the pre-trial detention center. In January of this year, the widow of the founder of the portal, Yulia Chernyavskaya, was released from house arrest, but she is still on trial.
Three defendants in the case still remain in jail – these are Marina Zolotova, general director Lyudmila Chekina and journalist Elena Tolkacheva.
1.5 years of “home chemistry” for a comment on the “Seltzer case”
On May 17, a court in Nesvizh sentenced 40-year-old Andrei Zubovich, a person involved in the Zeltser case, to one and a half years of “home chemistry” (that is, restriction of freedom not related to being sent to a correctional institution). He was found guilty under the article on insulting a government official.
On September 30, 2021, Zubovich posted from his mobile phone the comment “They screwed up, they screwed up, well, *** [fuck] with him” to KGB officer Dmitry Fedosyuk, who died during a shootout with IT specialist Andrey Zeltser.
During a shootout on September 28, 2021, Andrei Zeltser himself died, whom the Belarusian authorities posthumously accused of killing Fedosyuk.
Zubovich also has to pay a fine of 100 basic units (about $1,000) – his phone was confiscated in favor of the state.
Last year, dozens of people were detained in the Zeltser case – they left comments about the dead Andrei Zeltser and Dmitry Fedosyuk on social networks.
“Masha often mentioned her son”: a cellmate about Zeltser’s widow
A cellmate of Zeltser’s widow Maria Uspenskaya told Nasha Niva about her being in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Minsk. According to the woman (the publication does not disclose her name), she spent several weeks with Uspenskaya in the same cell. Zeltser’s widow is still in jail, she is accused of complicity in the murder of Fedosyuk.
According to the woman, Maria did not talk about the story of the shootout, referring to a non-disclosure agreement. “I hoped that later, after some time, the truth would come to light, and everyone would understand that everything was not at all like it was shown in the media,” the newspaper quotes the words of a cellmate.
According to her, Maria Uspenskaya was not allowed to meet, she received letters a couple of times a month.
According to the woman, Zeltser’s widow had psychological problems (she had previously undergone a mental examination at the Novinki center): “she needed constant attention, she constantly bit her lips.”
She remembered only good things about Andrei Zeltser, constantly repeating the words: “How could he leave me”? – recalls a cellmate.
Maria left an eight-year-old son, for whom she was very worried, a cellmate said. “It hurt her that she couldn’t see her son grow up. Zeltser’s parents took the baby away, Masha’s mother didn’t have the opportunity.”
“While we were in the same cell, Masha was very determined that she would be sent for treatment, and not to a colony. She was even happy about this. She said that there were adequate people in Novinki, that everything would be fine: they say, if she sent for treatment, then she will be able to see her son.”