MINSK, February 22 (Itar-Tass) - The questioning of witnesses started on Tuesday at the Moskovsky District Court of the Belarusian capital where Russian citizens Artyom Breus and Ivan Gaponov stand trial.
The first to testify was a police officer who took part in the curbing by force of an unauthorised action of the Belarusian opposition at the Government House on December 19, 2010. He spoke about the behaviour of a large crowd, saying that its actions were allegedly aimed against policemen - the rally participants were punching and kicking at the shields and helmets of policemen, as well as hit the law enforcers with rubber truncheons that the protesters seized.
The witness also said that he remembers the defendants by their actions. According to the police officer, Breus and Gaponov allegedly attacked his colleagues, and he participated in their detention. However, he could not specify the time of the events and got confused in the testimony. Moreover, the official report previously written by this witness made no mention of the blows that the Russians had struck at the police officers.
The second prosecution witness was also a police officer who took part in the suppression by force of the opposition action.
Independent lawyers have noted that Belarus has a widespread practice of bringing to court as witnesses police officers in cases of mass rallies. As a rule, their statements of evidence look like carbon copies, they are often contradictory and can be easily overcome by the simplest questions of lawyers. However, it is these testimonies that are taken into account by Belarusian courts in the first place.
Up to 700 opposition activists, including 7 presidential candidates, were arrested in the post election crackdown. Furthermore, at least 25 journalists were arrested. Twenty of the leading opposition figures were facing charges of "organising or participating in a public order disturbance" which is punishable by up to 15 years in jail. The presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyayev, who had been seriously beaten during the evening of the election day, was taken from the hospital by men in civilian clothing who wrapped him in a blanket on his hospital bed and carried him away as his wife screamed. Grigory Kostusev and Dmitry Uss were re-summoned for further question by the KGB after being initially released. Kostusyev responded to the state reaction saying "the regime has shown its true essence. We've been thrown 10 years into the past."
Lukashenko criticised the protesters accusing them of "banditry" and saying that "the vandals and hooligans lost their human face. They simply turned into beasts. You saw how our law-enforcers behaved. They stood firm and acted exclusively within the bounds of the law. They defended the country and people from barbarism and ruin. There will be no revolution or criminality in Belarus." He also added that he could not imagine what more he could have done to make the election more democratic.
Political scientists and commentators said that Lukashenko's handling of opposition protests is seen as the result of the choice of his government to trade a foreign policy loss for a perceived domestic gain in regards to worse relations with the European Union in return for a stable internal political situation.
Earlier, counsellor of the Russian Embassy to Belarus Vadim Gusev said that the Russian side considers unacceptable Belarusian security services' attempts to put psychological pressure on RF citizens Breus and Gaponov who were arrested in Minsk during the opposition protest actions on December 19. "Belarusian special services' attempts to put psychological pressure on our compatriots are unacceptable," he said.
"The embassy came against such methods and urges the Belarusian Prosecutor General's Office to try the cases of our citizens objectively," Gusev said. The meeting with arrested Russians showed that the case could be slanted. Particularly, during the meeting, embassy staff could be informed about Belarus' refusal to close Russian citizens' cases in the absence of evidence. "It seems to me that Belarus is trying to ignore indubitable facts that prove non-culpability of our compatriots. First of all, the verdict data has no photo- or video proof of the active participation of Breus and Gaponov in the opposition protest action in Minsk," Gusev said.
According to the Russian counsellor, Breus got a blow on the head and could not take any aggressive actions against law enforcers. Breus also believes that during the lawsuit, all accusations will be based only on evidence of one witness - a Belarusian law enforcer. However, the witness said in December that he saw Breus on the square in a crowd. Then he said Breus would make five blows on a policeman's shield. "Investigators have no other evidence," Gusev stressed.
Press Secretary of Belarus' Foreign Ministry Andrei Savinykh said the future of Russia's citizens Artyom Breus and Ivan Gaponov, who were arrested in Minsk, might be considered in court only. "The Russian side has full information on this matter and knows that it is being considered strictly in compliance with the existing legislation, where all civil rights of the investigated persons are observed fully," he said. "Their future may be decided by the court only."