A citizen of Russia Vladlena Funk, who together with a US lawyer Emanuel Zeltser was sentenced in Belarus, has given an exclusive interview to BelaPAN.
Emanuel Zeltser, a US lawyer, and his secretary, a Russian national Vladlena Funk (Bruskova), were detained in Minsk-2 airport, and charged with gathering commercial information and using fake documents.
On August 11, the Minsk city court sentenced Vladlena Funk(Bruskova) to one year of imprisonment for alleged commercial information and use of fake documents. Zeltser got three years of imprisonment allegedly for attempted industrial espionage and the use of fake documents. The Supreme Court of Belarus upheld this judgement. All trials in this case were held behind the closed doors.
On March 12, 2009 Funk was to be released. However early in the morning, right after she left the colony, police officers detained her and guarded to the temporary detention facility of the Chyhunachny district of Homel. It was decided that a deportation procedure should be used against her. Vladlena Funk spent 8 more days in isolation, and only then she was deported from Belarus.
It should be reminded that Emanuel Zeltser was a lawyer of a Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili who died in London. Another well-known businessman Boris Berezovsky was not concealing that the lawyer and his secretary arrived to Minsk in his personal plane. They arrived as they were related to issues connected with the testament of Patarkatsishvili, which had been announced fake by his Georgian relatives.
The BelaPAN news agency talked to Vladlena Funk and asked the first-hand eyewitness for the details of the case and everything related to it.
- Vladlena, how the year in Belarus passed for you?
- It goes without saying it was a difficult year. In reality, it was my first and only visit to Belarus. Having spent a year there, I understand it is not an easy country…
- Your case has a status of a state secret. What can you discuss with the press?
- In fact, nothing. I have signed a non-disclosure agreement. It is a top secret case, and I think the materials of the case won’t ever be disclosed.
After my release I want to help Emanuel Zeltser to be released as soon as possible, to help his lawyers and relatives to do everything needed for that. I was invited to Washington several times: to the Department of State, to the Congress and the Senate. I told about incarceration conditions in Belarusian prisons to the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and Human rights, Helsinki Commission. I am trying not to tell a lot about the materials of the case.
At the moment we are trying to plan a necessary strategy, we are thinking over whether there would be additional problems if I tell the previously unknown facts. You should understand: the person is in the conditions of restriction of freedom, he is under their full control, and who knows how seriously he could be considered an obstacle for someone…
- Did you feel yourself exactly like this, under control? Was it a control of concrete people?
- Absolutely. I would say they are concrete people of the Belarusian authorities. I cannot say anything about the criminal case, but facts are speaking instead of me. How could a person commit a criminal case in a country where one hadn’t ever been? Your first step – and you are in the KGB.
The trial was an absolute farce. But I cannot reveal the details yet, unfortunately…
I saw Emanuel two times over the year. He looks awful. I saw him for the first time in five years after the arrest, in August, during the trial. It seemed to me that it was simply a different person. He grew twice as thin. His face was transfigured by suffering he felt every second. He almost could not walk! It was dreadful and terrible… when a person cannot walk and he is carried to the court room…
I saw him for the second time when we were transferred from the KGB detention facility to the remand prison in Valadarski Street. We knew that we were to be transferred to another institution. People usually take bags with warm clothes, food. Nobody knows where they would be taken. Emanuel had a minimum of clothes. And he couldn’t carry his bag, he was moving it with legs. It was a distressing scene…
- And what were the incarceration conditions, first in the KGB detention facility, and then in a women colony in Homel?
- The things I saw in Valadarski Street were probably the most awful sight in my life. I cannot imagine that people spend years there. I was there for 11 days, and I could hardly wait for being sent to a different place. Those awful cells covered with mould, walls and floors were rotten; no ventilation, overcrowded cells, with 16 women for 12 beds…
Guards were a story of its own. Some beasts work there. And women too, could you imagine this? One of them simply reduced me to tears. Lawyer Zmitser Harachka can confirm my words, he saw me in tears for the first time when he came to a meeting in Valadarski Street… when this monster, a young woman of less than 30 I think, entered and started to shout at all of us, adult women, not knowing who we were, humiliating us and insulting us with foul words, shouting so loud that the walls were shaking… She called us swine, nobodies. I had hysterics. When Harachka came, I couldn’t stop; tears were running from my eyes.
And you should understand a colony is a very specific institution. I cannot imagine a person to come there to work out of one’s own will.
- You worked there; you sewed quilted jackets, didn’t you?
- Not only quilted jackets. There was a clothes factory there. It works for a military industry, and everybody has to work. Those who had bad health, they made washcloths, and we were sewing clothes from cotton batting. There was lots of dust there, and this dust was heavy and acidy. And you couldn’t even take a shower after the work. I was lucky to spend the greater part of the term in the KGB detention facility, otherwise I could develop asthma or bronchitis.
I do not know how Emanuel is treated. There are simply no pills in the colony. When I had influence, I was given an aspirin pill. Go and get well as you wish.
It is awful to remember! I was counting minutes till March 12, for my release… I was waiting for that day on tenterhooks.
- But you were not set free on time. How it all happened?
- At 7 a.m., early in the morning, when people in the colony are just gathering for a breakfast, an officer and two guards came to me. They didn’t allow me to return bed-clothes. Formalities usually take time, and people are released at about the noon. And I was said at 7 a.m. to take my things and go. I was glad certainly, I didn’t want to spent even one additional hour in the colony.
It was interesting that they asked me whether I wanted to have breakfast. What for? I was to be met by a lawyer in a car, and leave on a plane on the same day. I was fed up with that thin broth, you know. And as it turned out later, some sympathetic person secretly put a piece of boiled beef, bread, a pack of sugar into my things. The administration knew I was going nowhere, and a new prison was expecting me. They were giving me things for a long stay in another prison literally… but nobody told me anything, I was sure I was to be released…
Behind the first gates between the fences a car was waiting for me. An official of the colony gave all the documents to two persons in police uniform: the passport, green card, driver’s license. I was explained that as a foreign citizen I should pass a number of procedures, and I was taken to the IVS - temporary holding facility - in one of the districts police departments of Homel.
I was met by a woman. At 8 a.m. I was given papers. The first one was a notice that on March 12 at 11 a.m. deportation of the Russian citizen Vladlena Bruskova would be considered. It was stated there I could be present at the hearings and give all the necessary documents in my defense. And immediately she gave me a paper with a decision in that hearing, that a forcible deportation should be used against me, as I constitute a threat to the national security of Belarus. And I was deprived a right to enter Belarus for 10 years.
- Were you explained when you would be released?
- I asked when the deportation would take place, and she said: tomorrow, that was Friday 13. I was to spent one night in the temporary holding facility. On March 13 at 7 p.m. nothing happened. All this time I was in a cell which had a size of a lavatory, 1.5 metre to 1.5 metre. I slept on the floor, without a blanket. It was cold, no water, no sanitary articles, no elementary things. I left the colony to travel home on the same day, I left all the things to those who had to stay in the colony for a long time. I had nothing, except the meat given to me by somebody who knew where I was to arrive in reality. But I could endure that for one day after the year of sufferings.
And on March 13 in the evening, after the working day finished, the same worker of the IVS summoned me and showed the new decree. It was told there that the term of my deportation was changed. It was to be performed when it would be convenient. No date was indicated. She couldn’t answer all my questions, whether it would take a week, a month or a year. I explained to her: have you seen my cell? I am sitting in inhuman conditions, like a cardboard dweller! She said: I know nothing, all questions should be addressed to others, it is not my decision, and nobody knows when it would happen…
On Monday, March 16, the lawyer came and brought the text of the law on deportation. The term is really not defined there.
I return to the cell and understand that it was déjà vu: the same situation a year ago. The same conditions, and I didn’t know at all, for what reason, why and for how long. Nothing was known! And I understand that the second round started. Nobody was going to release me, everything was planned from the start. When a person is there, one is under their control, and they could keep you as long as they wish.
I was waiting for another accusation, as new reasons were invented to hold me there. They were to confirm my Russian registration. When my mother brought the document, she was told: they need an answer for their inquiry. While officials in Russia said they received no inquiry.
- And why you have been released then?
- The whole story with my release on March 20 was not what those people planned, the people who had done everything for us with Emanuel to stay behind the bars. As far as I understand, a failure in the Belarusian system took place. It was a great mistake. It is hard to imagine what exactly. I only know that on March 20 they came to me and said: take your things and go.
- Did you know to restore your rights in some way, if you thing the actions against you were illegal?
- We haven’t been given the judgement of the court yet! In fact I have nothing to challenge. In order to file a complaint to the European court on human rights in Strasbourg, one should have grounds and evidence: we had been accused, and what exactly had been done illegally.
Now the task number one for me is to help Emanuel. All his friends, colleagues, family had been doing this for all this year. And I am ready to help any way I can. You must understand, I was there, and I know how difficult it is, and I know that every day spent there is such a burden! A human does not deserve that. And moreover so, when a person is accused wrongfully for crimes not committed by him.
- You say that when you returned you read articles about your case. Was there truth about the reasons of your arrest and about the whole situation?
- There were very many versions. There were media that gave truthful picture, and those who wrote on order of those who had put Emanuel in prison. Some facts were false; they were out of place…
- Did Boris Berezovsky really give evidence during the trial in Minsk?
- I cannot speak about that at present.
- Could you confirm he is connected with the case?
- He cannot be but connected with it. But I cannot say more now, unfortunately.
- You cannot speak while Emanuel Zeltser is in prison?
- Yes. When he is released (pray God everything turns alright!), and a collective decision would be adopted how to act and restore our rights.
As far as I understand, his release depends on one person. It is hard to speak about the reasons on which he is kept behind the bars. Everybody understands that now that I’m free and in the United States, there is no use to keep Emanuel in jail. If they fear a leak of information, it is already possible. It seems that he is kept behind the bars out of personal ambitions: I have imprisoned you, and you are in my power, and I will keep you there for as long as I want.
On the other hand, it is not so simple. The world community has a very negative stand to the Belarusian state’s policy because of this entire situation.
- After the events you have passed through over this year, do you believe an early release of Emanuel Zeltser is possible?
- How can a person live without optimism? For the year I was living by one hope: I will be released. I received news what was happening, how the US government was struggling, how Emanuel family were working, speak to Senators, ask for help. Every time this hope that something should happen wasn’t justified. But it is hard to live without it there. I have set a task not to give up, to live through all of this and stay myself.
And it is much harder for Emanuel to endure the detention, his health is very poor. I wish him only onel thing, to become free as soon as possible.