Andrei Sannikov: “I applaud you”

Prior to his transfer to Novopolotsk prison camp from the detention facility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the presidential candidate made a statement.

Andrei Sannikov, sentenced to five years imprisonment in a “strict regime” prison for a protest demonstration against the falsified results of the presidential elections, evaluates the progress of court hearings of the appeals of political prisoners and also thanks the Belarusians who are going out to street protests today.

“Judicial reprisals are continuing against participants in the peaceful demonstration on 19 December 2010. Consideration of our appeals are proceeding as was expected – that is to say, they are being dismissed. The Belarusian judicial system continues to demonstrate the politically motivated nature of all legal proceedings against peaceful demonstrators. It is spitting in the face of Belarusians – one couldn’t call it anything else.

They have not only deprived us of the right to elections; they are also boldly continuing to persecute dissidents, who constitute the vast majority of Belarusians. I was deprived of the right and opportunity to evaluate my verdict; I was not allowed to attend the hearing of my appeal; nevertheless, I want this evaluation to be heard.

The verdict on me not only confirms the conclusions of the UN report in the early 2000s, which stated there are no independent courts in Belarus. This verdict demonstrates that our courts have become an integral part of the punitive system used for reprisals against the political opposition and civil society. From the very beginning of the court investigation, judge Chetvertkova was biased in her support of the prosecution: she rejected the motions of the defence, necessary for a comprehensive consideration of the case, in particular motions to carry out an expert examination of the footage and to attach to the case independent video and photos taken by a witness on the Square; she disclosed evidence of the “injured party” without objective obstacles for their direct questioning, refused to call witnesses for the defence and dismissed its motions to attach other materials to the case. At the same time, the judge supported all the motions of the prosecution and the “injured party”.

Fulfilling the given task, the court showed impatience in pushing along the court proceedings. The 40 page verdict was ready on the next day after the end of the trial, which lasted several days. This means that it was prepared beforehand.

Neither during the investigation nor during court proceedings was any evidence brought forward that I had had any prior plans, arrangements or even discussion of the actions falling under the article for which I was tried. When court proceedings began, there was enough evidence showing that the results of the Belarusian presidential elections were falsified; none of the candidate gathered the number of votes necessary for victory in the first round. According to the law, a second round with my participation should have been held. I do not doubt that my team and I would have won the vast majority of the votes of Belarusian citizens in the second round.

It was exactly this that drove Lukashenka into a fit of panic. Still in this state, he is continuing to give unlawful orders to crack down on all those who express discontent. I think the judicial bodies were given exactly such an order to crack down on me, as a real opponent. It can be surprising that judges have carried out this order and have forgotten about their professional duties, honour and simple morality.

After the passing of the verdict, despite the fact that my fate was involved, I felt burning shame – that Judge Chetvertkova had disgraced Belarus by her judgement on innocent people. All the trials which were held against the peaceful participants of the demonstration on 19 December demonstrated to the whole world the depth of professional and moral degradation of Belarusian judges. The Belarusian judicial system cannot be called anything other than feudal. The Judges Khripach, Komarovskaya and Zaitseva, who considered my appeal, have supported this disgraceful practice.

Only those lawyers who in spite of intimidation, pressure and disbarment do not fear to participate in political processes, save the honour of the profession and the honour of Belarus. It is exactly they who demonstrate that we still have (real) lawyers, and not only lackeys of the regime.

All the citizens of Belarus, and even the investigators, prosecutors and judges involved in criminal activity, must be thankful to these lawyers not only for their courage, but also for the fact that they stand on the side of the law and keep up people’s hope for justice in these incredibly difficult conditions.

I want to thank my lawyers, Andrei Mikhailovich Varvashevich and Marina Olegovna Kovalevskaya, for their brilliant professional work and arguments in my defence. If the law were observed in our country, their arguments would have left no doubts of my innocence.

The verdict to me cannot stand up to criticism from the point of view of Belarus’s legislation. It is a gross violation of the international norms which Belarus is obliged to observe. The principle of the primacy of international law has been flouted in the most brazen way. I want to stress again: I am ashamed of the investigators, prosecutors and judges who disgrace our country. I am ashamed of the fact that the highest international respect which Belarus had in the early 1990s is being ruined systematically by the criminal authorities and their servile judicial system.

What is happening today in Belarus cannot be called anything other than atrocity against its peaceful citizens. Having deprived people of the right of elctions, Lukashenko is putting Belarus deeper in the abyss of crisis; he is mocking children, young people and the elderly. The international community is right to express sharp criticism of the authorities’ repressive actions in the past months. I think, however, that today the evaluations of what is happening in Belarus need to be more robust. It is necessary to say directly that the country in the centre of the European continent has a regime which threatens people’s lives. The international community should base its relations with the current government on that fact.

The overwhelming majority of people in Belarus today understands that it is impossible to continue living like this. I am sincerely thankful to and proud of those who struggle for their honour and dignity, for their rights and freedoms. Their numbers are ever increasing, despite the brutality of the authorities.

I applaud you.”