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Belarus: Independent union leaders face long prison sentences

16 May, 2018On 8 May, the criminal investigation against Belarussian trade unionists Gennady Fedynich and Ihar Komlik was concluded. Both union leaders are accused of large-scale tax evasion.

Gennady Fedynich is president of IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliate the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union (REP), Ihar Komlik is treasurer of the same union. Both have been given one month to prepare for the case before it goes to court. Both leaders face with imprisonment up to seven years, with confiscation of their private property.
The investigation lasted ten months, and at least 550 REP members were interrogated by the Investigative Committee of Belarus. According to reports, union members were mostly questioned about trade union activities, rather than about the union’s financial matters.
Gennady Fedynich says: 

“I plead not guilty and will never consider myself guilty. The case is politically motivated, and the main goal is to put pressure on me as a union leader, on the REP and the independent trade union movement in general.”

The case against the union leaders is a clear retaliation against the union’s active engagement on issues affecting workers, like a tax for unemployed. The protests forced the president of Belarus to abolish the decree.
In the meantime, a new version of the decree has been launched, still punishing the unemployed. The decree gives authorities a lot of power, including access to personal information about all workers in the country. The REP is openly critical of the decree, saying it also contains elements of forced labour and if fully implemented together with fixed-term contracts, will force workers to accept low pay and bad working conditions.
On 17-19 April, IndustriALL Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) organized a joint mission to Belarus. The mission expressed concerns to the Belarusian government about continued persecution of independent trade unions and violation of workers' rights.
Gennady Fedynich has already been named as an IndustriALL delegate to the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva on 28 May to 8 June. However, his participation remains under question as he cannot leave the country during an ongoing investigation.
Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, says:

“We call on Belarusian authorities to end the persecution of independent trade unions and dismiss all accusations against Gennady Fedynich and Ihar Komlik. It is time for the Belorussian government to show its political will to bring Belarus on to the path of democracy, take steps towards a meaningful dialogue with unions, and build social peace in the country.”