Opposition activist Dzmitry Paliyenka declared political prisoner

A number of Belarusian human rights groups have declared opposition activist Dzmitry Paliyenka a political prisoner and demanded his immediate release.

Mr. Paliyenka was arrested last spring during a "Critical Mass" cycling ride in Minsk and was given a two-year suspended prison sentence in October that year for allegedly tearing a policeman’s jacket during a police operation to disrupt the ride.

On April 7, Judge Alena Kaptsevich of the Zavodski District Court in Minsk revoked the suspension of the prison sentence.

Mr. Paliyenka, 22, will now have to spend more than a year and a half in prison.

The judge backed her decision by citing Mr. Paliyenka’s recent jail terms, among other things.

On March 20, Mr. Paliyenka was sentenced to 15 days in jail in connection with protests staged in late February and early March against a construction project in close vicinity to Kurapaty, a site of Stalin-era executions. When the young man was about to be released, he was unexpectedly given a new 10-day jail term.

Earlier in March, Mr. Paliyenka served a seven-day jail sentence on charges of disorderly conduct and disobeying police for demonstrating outside a courthouse in Minsk.

In a statement, the human rights groups describe Mr. Paliyenka’s case as politically motivated.

They say that Mr. Paliyenka was imprisoned for doing nothing but exercising his rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

In particular, they point out that the Critical Mass ride on April 29, 2016 was a peaceful event, but the police brutally disrupted it. They also claim that the prosecution did not provide enough evidence to prove the young man’s guilt in court.

The statement has been signed by the Vyasna Human Rights Center, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Center for Legal Transformation (Lawtrend), the Salidarnasts Committee to Protest Victims of Persecution, the Belarusian Human Rights House, the Belarusian Documentation Center, Pravavaya Initsyyatyva (Legal Initiative), the Belarusian Association of Journalists, and the Belarusian PEN Center.