11 December 2017, Monday, 16:13

Yauhen Afnahel: Belarusians Should Be Prepared To Defend Each Other

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YAUHEN AFNAHEL

Leaders and activists of the “European Belarus” civil campaign attracted special attention of the authorities after the spring protests.

Coordinator of the “European Belarus” Yauhen Afnahel told this to the Charter97.org while commenting on his today’s visit to the Investigatory Committee on Minsk.

- Yesterday, you received a subpoena obliging you to come to the Investigatory Committee on Minsk at 11 a.m. on May 29. What exactly did they want from you in the Investigatory Committee?

- Investigator Alesia Strechen interrogated me as a witness in the criminal case under article ‘hooliganism’ (Art.339 of the Criminal Code of Belarus). The case was opened after unknown persons had thrown paint at the building of the Belarusian Television last June.

In the investigator’s office, I had to sign a non-disclosure obligation, but still I can tell you about our conversation with her in outline. The questions, however weird it may seem, concerned not just this case. Apart from the conversation in the framework of the mentioned criminal case, there were a couple of questions on what I used to do earlier, where I worked while staying abroad. She also asked several questions regarding my participation in different opposition actions, the protests of spring-2017 interested the investigator the most.

The investigator also said I should come back to her office today at about 3-4 p.m. so that they would “return some things confiscated during searches in the framework of previous administrative cases”. She didn’t clarify what things in particular they were going to return.

- What do you think such “attention” to you from the Investigatory Committee to is linked with?

- Spring 2017 has become an unusual occurrence in our country and appeared a total surprise for the Belarusian regime. It should be realized that the authorities are trying to beat down the protest wave at the moment, by fabricating criminal cases, summoning activists for interrogation etc.

Throughout the spring, the Belarusian National Congress and the “European Belarus” have attracted special attention from the authorities.

Many of my friends served 15 to 30 days behind the bars. The state media accused leaders of the “European Belarus” Andrei Sannikov and Dzmitry Bandarenka of “mass riots preparation”.

On May 12, our comrades, activists of the “European Belarus” Andrei Sharenda and his wife Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk were summoned to the Investigatory Committee on Brest and Brest region as witnesses in the case of “insult aimed at Lukashenka”. Andrei Sharenda believes such actions of the Investigatory Committee are linked with the pressure on the activists and the leadership board of the “European Belarus” civil campaign.

I reckon today’s call to the Investigatory Committee as yet another link of the same chain. This is an obvious attempt to intimidate the activists of the “European Belarus” and the Belarusian National Congress and force them to give up their activities.

One of the goals of this campaign by the authorities is to see our reaction. They watch the reaction of the society, the HR defenders, the international community after each step they take. The authorities see whether the people who are political prisoners in the actual fact will be recognized as such. The authorities are checking whether sanctions will be imposed on them, whether the West will put pressure, or whether there will be any highlight declarations.

Such “localized impacts” serve as a test both for the Belarusian society and for the West, aiming to check if Belarusians will defend and support each other.

If there is adequate reaction, solidarity both inside and outside Belarus, and the reaction from the side of the HR defenders – then all the attempts of the authorities are destined to fail.

Therefore, we need to be ready to protect each other, to seek the release of political prisoners who are already jailed. Human rights defenders and the Western countries need to understand whom they are dealing with, take a principled position and react to what is happening in Belarus. The best answer to repression is solidarity.

Yauhen Afnahel took an active part in the events of the protest spring of 2017. The activist was arrested before the Freedom Day action on March 25, and served 15 days of detention. For participation in the May 1 action in the Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk, the politician was kidnapped in the backyard of his house in the evening of May 3 and secretly sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention.