Winning a court against state is something nearly unthinkable in the authoritarian Belarus. Siarhey Siamionau, 26, is the person who proved that it still can be possible.
Siarhey Siamionau is a Belarusian citizen studying in Ukraine, that is why regularly crosses the Belarus-Ukrainian border. During one of such trips Belarusian customs officers asked him to fill out the customs form in Russian language. Siarhey Siamionau demanded a form in the Belarusian language, which the customs officers didn’t have. The fact is, Belarusian-language customs forms are simply non-existent in Belarus. The customs officers acted in a usual nature of uniform-wearing officials: they accused Siamionau of obstructing their work. As a result, on Aug. 30 the Central district court in Gomel fined Siamionau with more than $400.
On sept. 9 Siarhey Siamionau crossed the border again, and the situation repeated. However, this time it caught the attention of Ryhor Vasilevich, Chairman of the Belarusian Constitutional Court. Vasilevich named the case of Siamionau as one of the most characteristic examples of disrespect towards the Belarusian language. His pro-Belarusian language speech during the seminar on international standards in human rights issues hasn’t pass unnoticed. On Oct. 4 Siarhey Siamionau was acquitted by the same court (but by a different judge).
For Siarhey Siamionau, it was a matter of honor to defend his language rights. “When the criminal penalty for participating in the non-registered organizations was introduced, many people had to abandon their activities in order not to be in conflict with the law. If the state wants that we obey the laws, then we also have the right to demand the same from the state”.
Siarhey Siamionau believes that the next step can be demanding the right to for the Belarusian-language higher education and the use of the Belarusian language in the army.
Siarhey Siamionau was chosen the “Man of the Month” by the readers of nn.by, who voted for him in a recent internet poll of Nasha Niva.