Union activists and workers in Belarus are receiving harsh court sentences for peaceful protests, fighting for democracy and freedom.
On 20 January, Belarus Supreme Court rejected the appeal of the Belaruskali strike committee and judged last year’s strike illegal.
After protesting against the result of presidential elections in August 2020, many workers and members of independent unions have received disproportionate reprisals.
On 19 January, Daria Polyakova, youth network coordinator of the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers’ Union REP, affiliated to IndustriALL, was sentenced to two years of restricted freedom (house arrest) for “violence or threat of violence against an employee of the internal affairs agency”. Daria damaged the sleeve of a police officer’s jacket when she tried to prevent a colleague from being detained. Daria is a widow and mother of two children.
Members of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union BITU, Vladimir Berdnikovich and Andrey Prilutsky, were also accused of violence against the police. Vladimir was sentenced to four years after running away after a protest in October. Andrey Prilutsky intervened when an elderly man was being beaten up in August, and in response he was beaten, detained and sentenced to 15 days. Prilutsky is currently detained in Russia, waiting to be extradited to Belarus.
BITU member Igor Povarov is subject to criminal prosecution over his participation in the protest on 17 August, when he, along with other workers at the Belarusian Metallurgical Plant, blocked the road. He is accused of organizing, preparing or actively participating in actions that grossly violate public order.
And there are many more similar cases in Belarus.
“Cases can be initiated against anyone who has expressed disagreement and put up resistance. If there are information to initiate not an administrative, but a criminal case, authorities will use it,” says Elizaveta Merlyak, BITU international secretary, also victim of the regime.
On 18 January, REP lawyer and human rights activist Leonid Sudalenko has been detained in Gomel for “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order”. The union assumes that Sudalenko is being accused of financing the riots, since he helped the victims of repression to pay fines.
REP considers the arrest of Leonid Sudalenko and other trade union activists as a continuation of repressions by the regime towards activists of independent trade unions and people who are not afraid to express their civil position, who are ready to help those whose rights have been violated.
Kemal Õzkan, IndustriALL Global Union assistant general secretary, says:
“The Supreme Court’s verdict on the Belaruskali strike is a dangerous precedent and a clear sign that Belarusian authorities are not ready for a real dialogue with workers and people of the country.
“IndustriALL once again strongly denounces the repression in Belarus and demands an end to the prosecution of all union members and activists, as well as the release of all political prisoners. We are committed to supporting our Belarusian affiliates and workers in their fight for fundamental human and workers’ rights.”