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.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.