Belarus sentences opposition activist, disbars lawyers

A Belarusian court sentenced an opposition activist Thursday to four years in jail, while the former lawyers of a jailed former presidential candidate's wife were stripped of their licenses to practice law, according to reports.

A district judge in Minsk sentenced young opposition activist Vasil Parfyankow to four years in a high-security correctional institution for taking part in a post-election protest in the Belarusian capital city on Dec. 19, Belarusian news outlet BelaPAN reported.

Protests took place in response to what was largely seen by opposition activists and outside observers alike as a rigged election. Many opposition leaders remain in jail and their families and homes have been subject to government raids in the months following the elections.

Parfyankow, who worked at the campaign headquarters of main opposition candidate Vladimir Neklyayev, was the first of more than 40 people charged in a so-called riot case to stand trial. Despite his sentence, Parfyankow's defense lawyer, Ihar Papkowski, told reporters after the trial that he did not believe his client's guilt had been proven.

The government-backed newspaper, Sovetskaya Belorussiya, published an article on Jan. 15 titled "They the Stormed House of Government," in which the newspaper alleged that Parfyankow had "directly participated in acts of wanton destruction, carried out an assault on a public building, the House of Government, broken glass and doors, beat police officers with items for household use, and called on the crowd to be active."

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Justice Ministry said four lawyers involved in defending opposition activists had been stripped of their licenses to practice law, including the lawyers who had formerly represented journalist Iryna Khalip, wife of jailed former opposition presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Belarus service reported. The two now-disbarred lawyers, Uladzimer Toustsik and Tamara Harayeva, left Khalip's legal team in early February without giving any explanation.

The Justice Ministry's website says Toustsik and Harayeva had their licenses revoked for their "refusal to represent Khalip," but Khalip's father, Uladzimer Khalip, told RFE/RL on Feb. 4 that her daughter's lawyers suddenly resigned as her attorney after Minsk authorities warned them they could lose their licenses if they continued to represent Khalip.

The ministry also annulled the licenses of lawyers Tatsyana Aheyeva and her son Aleh Aheyev for "providing false information when preparing agreements on judicial assistance."

Aheyev is the lawyer of former opposition presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich, who is currently in jail.


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