The Vitsebsk opposition activist spent three days before the trial in the detention center, having declared a hunger strike. He was taken into custody on December 24 – the day when a white-red-white flag appeared in Vitsebsk. Siarhei Kavalenka was brought to the courtroom in handcuffs, which particularly angered his relatives and human rights defenders.
According to the first police report, Siarhei Kavalenka was detained for disorderly conduct – he was allegedly urinating close to his house. In their other report, the police department employees wrote that he did not obey their orders – he reportedly refused to follow them to the police station.
The activist requested to be given time to sign a contract with a lawyer from Minsk. But Judge Andrei Preis of the Pershamaiski District Court dismissed the motion saying that Kavalenka had time to hire a lawyer while he was in the detention center. The activist said that he had no opportunity to do this, since on the first day he was forbidden to call his wife to find out the number of a lawyer and on the second day he was told the telephone was out of order.
Siarhei Kavalenka requested that an interpreter be invited to the trial. This request was granted, but the interpreter demonstrated insufficient knowledge of the Belarusian language. The activist asked to find another interpreter, but this request was not granted. His request for a disqualification of the judge was also dismissed: Judge Andrei Preis said that the demand was groundless.
After several comments, the judge ordered to remove the activist’s mother, and then his wife, Alena Kavalenka. The court took into account the testimony of witnesses, police officers, who said that the activist committed disorderly conduct, and then refused to comply with the lawful demands of police officers. However, they said that Kavalenka behaved appropriately when brought to the police station. Nor did he violate the discipline after being taken to the detention center. Therefore, it seemed rather absurd that the activist was brought to the trial in handcuffs.
According to the judgment, Siarhei Kavalenka was sentenced to 10 days in jail: three days for alleged disorderly conduct, and seven more – for disobedience to the police. The judgment was handed to Siarhei Kavalenka, while the judge refused to give a copy of the ruling to his wife, even though she asked for it in order to hand the documents to the lawyer for preparing an appeal.
The period of arrest for Siarhei Kavalenka will end on January 3. According to the activist, who denies the fact of hooliganism and disobedience, the only explanation for the incident is that on December 24 unknown persons hung a white-red-white flag in Vitsebsk. Earlier, Siarhei Kavalenka was repeatedly arrested and even served a prison term for hanging out national white-red-white flags. Especially memorable was the case when activists placed a flag on a Christmas tree in January 2010.
This year, head of the public security department Ihar Skarynovich said that special measures were taken to protect the Christmas tree: it was reportedly guarded by a 24-hour patrol. Also, from December 24 to January 8, local police was put on combat alert and ordered to pay special attention to public events, where it is forbidden “to carry weapons or their imitation, pyrotechnics, alcohol or other beverages, forbidden to use forbidden symbols”.