In Belarus the human rights defender and the nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize-2024 Olga Karach is accused of “conspiracy to seize power by unconstitutional means“, part 1 of Article 357 of the Belarusian Criminal Code.

Together with Olga Karach, Veranika Tsapkala, Yauhen Vіlskі, Anatol Kotau and Vadzim Dzmitronak will be tried as a group of “conspirators”.

Veranika Tsapkala is the second female face of the Belarusan Revolution 2020, the wife of presidential candidate Valery Tsapkala, whose headquarters merged with those of Viktаr Babaryka and Siarhei Tsіkhanouskі, presidential candidates in 2020.

Her husband Valery Tsapkala, was sentenced in absentia in Belarus to 17 years in prison for public calls for actions against the national security of Belarus, creation of an extremist formation, as well as slander and public insult of Lukashenka, as well as discrediting the Republic of Belarus.

Maryia Kalesnіkava, the third female face of the Belarusian revolution, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for public calls for actions against the national security of Belarus, creation of an extremist formation, as well as conspiracy to seize state power by unconstitutional means. She was recognised as a political prisoner. At the moment Maryia Kalesnіkava has been in prison for more than a year in the status of incommunicado, her lawyers and relatives are not allowed to visit her, parcels and letters are not delivered to her.

Yauhen Vіlskі is the acting chairman of the social-democratic party Narodnaya Hramada. In 2020, he headed Sviatlana Tsіkhanouskaya’s initiative group in Vitebsk region.

Chairman of the Narodnaya Hramada party Mikalai Statkevich was sentenced to 14 years in a special regime colony and recognised as a political prisoner. At the moment he has been in the incommunicado regime for more than 500 days, his lawyers and relatives are not allowed to visit him, parcels and letters are not delivered. Mikalai Statkevich is the only political prisoner sentenced to “special regime” in Belarusan prison, which means additional torture and pressure.

Anatol Kotau is a former high-ranking Belarusian official. He worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lukashenka’s Administration, Lukashenka’s Office, the National Olympic Committee, and was deputy director of the Foundation “Directorate of the II European Games”. He supported the movement for free elections and resigned in protest against electoral fraud, currently he is actively helping Belarusian Olympic champions and athletes in exile.

Vadzim Dzmitronak is a cultural activist and a well-known Minsk architect. He was brutally detained and severely beaten on November 15, 2020, during the action in memory of the artist Raman Bandarenka, who was brutally murdered by police officers in the yard of his own house. Vadzim spent a week in the emergency hospital under police escort, from where he was kidnapped by the same escort and taken to Okrestino (the most famous centre for isolation of offenders for torture), then two days later Vadzim was again taken to the Zhodzina prison hospital for a week, after which he was transferred to the Zhodzina pre-trial detention centre. Then he was transferred by stage to a pre-trial detention center. As a result, on March 17, 2021, he was awarded three years of restriction of freedom with direction, and he illegally fled across the border from Belarus.

In addition to the attempt to seize state power by unconstitutional means, Olga Karach, Veranika Tsapkala, Yauhen Vіlskі and others are charged with “promotion of extremist activity” (part 1 and part 2 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code), “creation of an extremist formation” (part 1 and part 3 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code), “discrediting the Republic of Belarus” (Article 369-1 of the Criminal Code). The maximum possible punishment under these articles is 12 years, 7 years, 6 years and 4 years.

On July 21, 2022, Lukashenka signed the Law “On Amending the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Belarus”. The law introduces the institute of special (in absentia) proceedings in criminal cases against defendants who are outside Belarus and evade appearing before the body conducting criminal proceedings. Prior to this, trials in absentia were impossible.

The Investigative Committee of Brest region took advantage of these changes and on March 15, 2024 started “special proceedings” against Olga Karach, inviting her to come voluntarily with her passport to Brest. Olga Karach considers these actions politically motivated, not based on the law and does not intend to come to Brest for the trial, but requested the possibility to hold an open trial on the Zoom app.

This is not the last court in Belarus that will try Olga Karach.

The website of the KGB of Belarus says that the human rights defender is charged under Articles 289 and 359 of the Criminal Code of Belarus – “for terrorism”. On May 18, 2022, Lukashenka, by his signature, introduced the death penalty for the acts specified in these articles, as well as for the preparation of these acts.

In both articles, the human rights defender faces a maximum penalty of the death penalty.

credits: Даниил Черетович