New sentences for post-election protestors
On 26 May two former Presidential candidates N. Statkevich and D. Uss were handed the toughest sentences under Article 293 (“organization of mass disorder”): 6 and 5 1/2 years of medium security prison accordingly.
The other four participants of the 19 December demonstration in Minsk were sentenced to 2 - 5 years in prison of variable security level.
With the escalating crisis on the currency and consumer markets, these strict sentences imply that the authorities are taking a stand to oppose attempts to challenge the legitimacy of the regime. The sentences defy the international community as a demonstration of “power”.
The harsh sentence for N. Statkevich is obviously associated with his sharp remarks against President Lukashenko personally during the election campaign. The sentence to a counterpart of Statkevich, a businessman and former Deputy of Minsk City Council, Uss can be decoded as a signal to Belarusian businessmen to keep out of politics. Moreover, Uss’ election campaign focused on the electoral reform and increased transparency of the electoral process, i.e. issues of vital control by the Belarusian authorities.
A harsh sentence of 5 years of medium security prison was handed down to Alexander Klaskouski, a former police officer and son of a freelance journalist. This harsh punishment of an ordinary protester (former Presidential candidate A. Sannikov was also sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment for allegedly organizing “mass disorder”) is definitely related to the fact that Alexander Klaskouski had previously served in the MIA and participated in the demonstration on 19 December in police uniform. First of all, the authorities had to demonstrate that the Belarusian law enforcement agencies were not involved in oppositional politics in any way and, secondly, that disloyalty among MIA staff will be prosecuted severely.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.