In Belarus, participating in the non-registered organization is a crime. What does it mean? Well, let’s suppose you have a hamster as a pet. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you get to know some other hamster owners and begin to regularly meet together and discuss hamster breeding, feeding, grooming, etc., then you have a chance of landing in jail. Unless, of course, you officially register your hamster club with the authorities.
All this is more than just an amusing example. “We would bring to the trial even the member of a non-registered hamster club”, said the public prosecutor at the process in Salihorsk yesterday. The prosecutor implied that the people supporting the defendant, Young Front activist Ivan Shyla, shouldn’t politicize the trial. The activists are tried as the members of the non-registered organization, nothing more than that. However, we don’t hear much about courts dealing with non-registered hamster clubs. Young Front trials, however, have become a routine.
There were two trials on Tuesday, 4 September. One in Nyasvizh, against Nasta Azarka and another one in Salihorsk, against Ivan Shyla, both members of Young Front. Nasta Azarka was fined with about $ 550, which was more than ten times less then the fine demanded by the public prosecutor (about $6600). Ivan Shyla was convicted but not sentenced to any punishment, since he is still an underage secondary school pupil.
Several people who came to support Ms. Azarka and Mr. Shyla were detained by the police. Some of them will be tried today, most likely on charges of resisting the police.
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The rather mild sentences may be explained by the fact that Valer Varanetski, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus, was at that time in Brussels, pleading for more economic cooperation with the EU at the international conference on strengthening European neighbourhood policy. The regime of Lukashenka is desperately looking for foreign money, also in the West, in order to cover the budget gaps left by the rising prices for the Russian gas and oil. By accusing opposition activists without sending them to jail the regime tries to make a nice face for the West.