Court surprisingly acquits Andrey Bandarenka

 A judge of the Leninski District Court in Mahilyow on March 30 acquitted imprisoned human rights defender Andrey Bandarenka who was facing a charge of persistently disobeying orders of the administration of a correctional institution under Article 411 of the Criminal Code.

Judge Syarhey Mazuraw’s decision means that the 43-year-old Bandarenka, who is serving his sentence in Prison No. 4 in Mahilyow, is to be released on March 31, as his prison term expires on this date.

Syarhey Minaw, the public prosecutor in Mr. Bandarenka's trial, suggested Wednesday that the accused’s prison term be extended by one year.

The charge against Mr. Bandarenka stemmed from alleged violations of prison rules, which included lying on a bed in the daytime, talking to other inmates while being escorted by prison guards, and failing to report to a prison officer on the number of inmates in his cell and the “state of order” in the cell.

Mr. Bandarenka was arrested in April 2014. Four months later, a district judge in Minsk sentenced him to four years in a medium-security correctional institution for malicious hooliganism. Mr. Bandarenka was accused of punching a young man during an argument and attacking two women in a separate incident.

The sentence was later shortened by one year under an amnesty law.
Mr. Bandarenka founded a prisoner rights group called Platforma shortly after spending nearly two years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. He was arrested in May 2009 and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison later that year. In March 2011, the Minsk City Court found Mr. Bandarenka innocent, overturning his conviction and ordering his immediate release.

Platforma was closed down by a court in late 2012 under a suit filed by tax authorities. It was succeeded by Platform Innovation, which was shut down by authorities in 2015.

Mr. Bandarenka was the winner of the 2013 Human Rights Defender of the Year award.

The Vyasna Human Rights Center warned that it would declare Mr. Bandarenka a political prisoner if he was convicted again.

Mr. Bandarenka will have his 44th birthday on April 14.