On 26 Dcember Minsk City Court sentenced Aliaksandr Yarashuk, chairman of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions. Judge Valiantsina Ziankevich sentenced him to 4 years of imprisonment, his deputy Siarhei Antusevich to 2 years and the accountant Iryna But-Husaim to 1.5 years of imprisonment.
Maksim Pazniakou, chairman of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union and acting chairman of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, commented on the sentences.
- This is a political issue. There was a threat of up to 12 years, but 4 years, given the age of Aliaksandr Yarashuk, is certainly a pretty harsh sentence. What the authorities have done does not improve the situation. We know that Belarus is threatened by Paragraph 33 of the Statute of the International Labor Organization, which has only been applied to Burma, now Myanmar. It's still unknown what actions will be taken there, in that paragraph 33, what kind of sanctions or consequences it will threaten the Belarusian government, but it's all serious. And the fact that Alexander and Serhei have been convicted, while the trade union leaders are still on trial, does not help to improve the situation at the ILO for the Belarusian authorities.
Do you know what specific actions trade union leaders Aliaksandr and Siarhei and Iryna are being prosecuted for? More precisely, if it is more or less clear under Article 342 on the so-called gross violations of public order, then do you know what were the calls to action to the detriment of Belarus?
- The lawyers are very reluctant to talk, because they have signatures of non-disclosure and so on, so we don't know much. But we do know that the reason for the detention and this trial was the photos that were taken during some marches in Minsk, that they were somewhere in the street with symbols, maybe even somewhere on the road. And this was the basis for a criminal case, that they allegedly grossly violated public order. I also know that somewhere on Facebook they found a post of Aliaksandr on his page, where he allegedly called to create strike committees and to strike until the authorities change in the country. And that was the reason for incriminating him under this article 361.
No one did anything illegal there, but your Facebook post with your thoughts and your opinion could be grounds for a criminal case. Also some photos, as if you went somewhere there. So one went there, so what - should they put them in jail for 4 years?!
Could you elaborate on the reaction and support of international trade union associations, such as the International Labor Organization, foreign trade unions? Can they somehow influence the actions of the Belarusian authorities?
- In fact, Aliaksandr Yarashuk was a member of the Administrative Council of the International Labor Organization. And, of course, this issue is under the control of the ILO. If members of the board of your organization are jailed, then there will be a reaction in any case. There have been no official statements by the Secretary General since the verdict, but I think they will be made in the next few days. But, of course, everyone is outraged by this sentence.
They thought that the Belarusian authorities would come to their senses, as they say, and the sentence would be different. Probably, they would release everyone in the courtroom on the sentence already served. It could have been like that, but... They decided to take the path of further escalation. The answer will be in the summer. In June or July, when there will be an international labor conference and the question will arise about the application of Article 33 of the Statute against the Belarusian authorities, who violate workers' rights, trade union rights and, first of all, the right to freedom of association. This is Convention No. 87.
We are strongly supported by the entire international trade union community, the International Trade Union Confederation, our brother unions, unions in Germany, unions in the Netherlands, Poland, unions in Ukraine, and unions in Sweden and Turkey. Everyone supports us as best they can - some have organized a demonstration, some have sent appeals to the embassy, some have picketed. Now we are conducting an information campaign to free people. That is why you can feel the support. Aliaksandr Yarashuk is one of the vice-chairmen of the ITUC, and at the last convention in Melbourne in the autumn, he was also re-elected to this position. So union solidarity is working.