Lyabedzka charged with unsanctioned demonstration

Prominent opposition politician Anatol Lyabedzka was arrested by police in Minsk on Sunday morning and released some six hours later after being charged with violating...


Prominent opposition politician Anatol Lyabedzka was arrested by police in Minsk on Sunday morning and released some six hours later after being charged with violating regulations governing “mass events.”

The leader of the United Civic Party was grabbed by police officers at about 11 a.m., as soon as he walked out of his apartment building, BelaPAN said.

According to Mr. Lyabedzka’s wife, shortly after he left home to go to the garage to get his car and then drive to the city center to collect signatures against a newly imposed tax on motor vehicle owners, the security entrance phone rang out and a man’s voice said that her husband had just been arrested.

As Mr. Lyabedzka told BelaPAN, he was grabbed in a “police operation” involving at least seven officers. “I saw a man on the street and shouted my name for him to report my arrest to my family,” he said. “When I started to shout, the policemen began to punch me in the kidneys. They bundled me into a vehicle, uttering threats, and took me to the Savetski district police department and then to a police station where I was fingerprinted and charged with an unsanctioned demonstration in connection with our January 5 signature-collection attempt.”

“I expected I would be released at about 2 p.m., but they detained me for three more hours and then they put me into a car and took me for a drive around the city,” Mr. Lyabedzka said. “They drove me past Kurapaty [Stalin-era massacre site] and a crematorium but eventually brought me to my home in the Vyasnyanka neighborhood.”

According to Mr. Lyabedzka, he is scheduled to appear for trial in the Savetski District Court in Minsk at 10 a.m. on January 14.

On January 5, Mr. Lyabedzka and Viktar Karnyayenka, co-chairman of the Campaign for Fair Elections, spent about an hour in Yakub Kolas Square and adjacent streets in Minsk, collecting signatures for a petition demanding the resignation of the government and the abolition of the new tax on motor vehicle owners. At least 10 plainclothesmen followed Messrs. Lyabedzka and Karnyayenka throughout the event, with some of them filming every move by the politicians. Several traffic police cars and police buses were seen parked near the square.

Both politicians had been followed by police vehicles on their entire way from their homes to the square.

“Authorities conducted a whole operation to observe the collection of signatures,” said Mr. Lyabedzka. “More people would have probably signed the petition in the absence of police and cameras, but even under such conditions, people queued up to sign the petition.”

Mr. Lyabedzka said that activists had already collected several thousand signatures.

The new annual tax is to be collected from all owners of motor vehicles, including both legal entities and private individuals, with only disabled people, the emergency management ministry, first-aid institutions and public transport operators to be eligible for concessions or exemptions.

The tax ranges from three to 25 times the Base Rate (currently 130,000 rubels or $14) depending on the weight and type of the vehicle and on whether the owner is a private individual or a legal entity.