MINSK — The criminal case of Belarusian opposition member Paval Sevyarynets, who has been in custody in Minsk since June on a charge of taking part in mass protests in the country’s capital, has been moved to a court in the eastern city of Mahilyou.
The politician’s wife, Volha Sevyarynets, told RFE/RL on April 7 that her husband is expected to be transferred from a detention center in Minsk to Mahilyou for the trial. The date of the trial remains unknown.
No reason for the move was given but many believe that the authorities took this decision to try to lower the profile of the proceedings by making it harder for journalists and the international community to follow. Mahilyou is almost 200 kilometers (120 miles) east of Minsk.
Sevyarynets, a co-chairman of the non-registered opposition Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, is one of dozens of activists and politicians who were detained in Minsk and several other cities across Belarus during rallies in June last year. At these events, hundreds of demonstrators were collecting signatures necessary to register candidates other than the authoritarian incumbent, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, for an August 9 presidential election.
Sevyarynets’ detention has been prolonged several times since his initial arrest.
If convicted, he faces up to eight years in prison.
Relatives and colleagues of several other jailed opposition activists — including Yauhen Afnahel, Andrey Voynich, Paval Yukhnevich, Maksim Vinyarski, Iryna Shchasnaya, and Dzmitry Kazlou — said earlier that they will be tried along with Sevyarynets in Mahilyou.
Lukashenka, who has ruled the country since 1994, was declared the winner in the election, which was widely viewed as rigged in his favor.
Thousands of citizens took to the streets to protest the results, saying Lukashenka’s challenger, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, actually won the vote.
Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus for Lithuania after the election for security reasons, while Lukashenka has directed a brutal postelection crackdown in which almost 30,000 people have been detained, hundreds beaten, several killed, and journalists targeted.
Lukashenka, who has run Belarus since 1994, and other top officials have been slapped with sanctions by the West, which refuses to recognize him as the legitimate leader of the country.