The Hrodna Region Court, an instance of appeals, rejected yesterday the appeal of Pavel Sheremet and Dmitry Zavadsky, employees of Russian ORT Public Television in Belarus. The court disregarded multiple flaws in the prosecution’s case, which were detailed by the defense. The original sentence against the journalists went into effect automatically on the appeals court’s decision. The Supreme Court of Belarus or President Alyaksandr Lukashenka may now each review the case at their own initiative and discretion. The defense lawyers consider such an initiative unlikely and plan to turn to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. (ORT, March 24)
A first-instance court had on January 28 sentenced Sheremet to two years and Zavadsky to eighteen months of imprisonment on charges of crossing the Belarus-Lithuania border unlawfully. The first-instance court at the same time suspended the sentences for a one-year probationary period, during which the two journalists are obligated to remain at the authorities’ disposal, to serve the full prison term were they to commit any type of offense or misdemeanor. Sheremet and Zavadsky were already jailed for several months during the investigation conducted by the Belarus KGB. (See Monitor, January 29)
The case, in progress since last July, has generated massive criticism of the Lukashenka regime in Russia and internationally, embarrassing the Kremlin as Lukashenka’s partner-in-union. After some hesitation, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and top government officials decided to ignore the scandal and to pursue their special relationship with Lukashenka without regard for this and other human rights issues. Both governments probably considered the January sentence sufficiently lenient to serve as a face-saver for Lukashenka and to reduce the Kremlin’s political discomfort.
Turmoil in Odessa.