Targeted repressions demonstrate threat of punishment for illegal cooperation with foreign organizations

April 22, 2016 18:36

On August 21st - 22nd, Sovetskaya Belorussiya, the Presidential Administration newspaper, published two pieces about the convicted youth activist Andrei Gaidukov.

Law enforcement agencies specifically demonstrate the imminent threat of punishment for illegal cooperation with foreign organizations to different social groups. Such actions by law enforcers hamper the Foreign Ministry’s political maneuvers in the West.

The publication of evidence in Gaidukov’s case by Sovetskaya Belorussiya continues the tradition started after December 19th, 2010, when the same newspaper published confidential financial and programmatic documents seized from defendants in the mass riots case. This time, the newspaper published extracts from correspondence, allegedly between Gaidukov and the CIA European Office, regarding potential collaboration.

According to the prosecution, the Belarusian KGB was communicating with Gaidukov on behalf of the CIA, thus dragging the 20-year-old young man into an investigative experiment which resulted in Gaidukov’s criminal prosecution. On July 1st, Andrei Gaidukov, leader of the unregistered organization “Young Intellectuals Union”, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison on charges of attempting to establish cooperation with foreign special services.

Another case, which entailed punishment for attempting to cooperate with foreign states, occurred in June with Tatyana Zelko, chairman of “Our Generation”, an unregistered pensioners organization. The woman was fined for receiving foreign aid to conduct political and mass agitation activities. During the trial the detention details were disclosed: Mrs Zelko was arrested by the KGB Department for Financial Investigations officers as she walked out of the Slovak Embassy in Minsk with 1,453 Euro in cash. Zelko was awarded a 50 basic units fine (BYR 5,000,000 or circa USD 560) and 1,453 Euro were confiscated.

These developments point to a coordinated targeted repressions strategy against members of specific social groups. In particular, seniors are one of the target groups in the EU programme “Dialogue on Modernization with Belarusian Society”. Previously, a massive information attack was organized against independent experts participating in the programme. Finally, youth movements have traditionally been a major focus of the Belarusian special services, and the KGB in particular. In this regard, it is noteworthy that Sovetskaya Belorussiya has launched its series of publications just before the school year starts, in early September.

In addition, the State Control Committee’s Financial Investigation Department (FID) is actively counteracting illegal foreign funding of non-governmental organizations in Belarus. The most notorious case led by the FID was the examination of “Viasna” human rights Centre’s financial activities, which eventually resulted in a 4.5 years prison term for its leader Ales Bialiatski.

Objectively, such actions by the Belarusian security forces hamper the Foreign Ministry’s attempts to normalize Belarus’ Western foreign policy. Foreign governments and international organizations reacted predictably negatively to the Gaidukov case. And the Foreign Ministry’s position in negotiations with the EU and the U.S. has weakened, since Belarus not only failed to fulfill the demand to release political prisoners, but also - in the eyes of the West - enhanced repressions.

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Following crackdown and arrests of participants in the spring protests, the authorities resumed arrests as punishment for participating in street protests in addition to fines, which for some time were the only punishment for political activity. On September 22nd, 2017, the riot police detained the Belarusian National Congress leader Nikolai Statkevich, the opposition politician was placed in detention centre on Akrestin street. On the same day, after serving seven days of arrest, another BNC leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, was released. He was sentenced for organising a street protest on September 8th against the West-2017 exercises. Other participants in the protest have been fined too. The authorities are likely to continue to use fines and arrests against political activists to punish for their protest activity.