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Belarus: Two independent union leaders convicted despite absence of proof

24 August, 2018Today, on 24 August, after a two-week trial, the Sovetsky district court of the city of Minsk unjustly punished Gennady Fedynich and Ihar Komlik, leaders of the IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliate Belarusian radio and electronics industry workers’ union (REP), by undermining fundamentals of rule of law and fair trial. Increasing anger and outrage emerge among IndustriALL affiliates worldwide as Fedynich is a substitute member of the executive committee.

During the court trial of the case dubbed as “trade union case” no convincing evidence was presented. Most of the evidence presented in court looked either rigged or collected in violation of legal norms of Belarus or were not relevant to the trialled period of 2011-2012. In their final defense opinion both lawyers demanded full acquittal for both union leaders.

Natalia Matskevich, Gennady Fedynich’s lawyer, stated, (statement in full)

“Whichever of the proofs presented by the state prosecution you take, upon a closer examination, it crumbles like sand. They were either obtained through an obvious violation of the law (that is, they are unacceptable), or cause justified doubts about their reliability, or have nothing to do with the presented charge.”

The judge found Gennady Fedynich and Ihar Komlik guilty of tax evasion and sentenced them to a fine of BYN 47,560 (over US$23,000), a four-year suspended imprisonment and a ban on holding senior positions for 5 years. Both leaders will have to pay also all the court expenses along with administrative fines. The judge did not follow the prosecutor's request for confiscation of union leaders’ property, and also canceled the arrest issued on their private apartments, lands and cars.

If the sentence is sustained despite appeals prepared by the union lawyers, Gennady Fedynich will not be able to continue as president of the union, similar situation regards also Ihar Komlik. The announced suspended imprisonment is not much better than imprisonment, since private freedom of move for both leaders will be restricted by numerous regulations.

The announcement of the verdict was met with shouts "Shame!".

In the morning of the day of announcement of the verdict, tens of union members and civil society representatives submitted an appeal to the head of the state in Administration of President demanding to stop the case against union leaders.

During the verdict announcement a picket line was organized near the House of Justice. Riot policemen detained the most active picketers, including activists of the REP union Pavel Mrochko from Brest and Alexander Chmyhov from Bobruisk.

IndustriALL covered the court hearings in a special blog. In addition, at most hearings there were observers from national affiliates of IndustriALL, all of them agreed that the case was politically motivated and no trustful evidence was presented by prosecutors.

Kemal Ozkan, IndustriALL assistant secretary general and Vadim Borisov IndustriALL regional secretary attended the verdict announcement.

Kemal Ozkan called both leaders “political prisoners” and said:

"IndustriALL Global Union believes that even though the trade union case was against two individuals, for us it is something against trade union itself and in a broader sense against the rights of independent trade unions. IndustriALL and our affiliates will continue to support REP, Gennady Fedynich and Ihar Komlik in their struggle for defending and advancing workers’ rights in this country.”

Gennady Fedynich, chairman of trade union REP and member of IndustriALL Executive Committee , comments on the verdict,

”By todays verdict the Belarusian authorities showed that they do not bother to fulfill the international norms which they signed earlier. We expect now that Europe will react to this, because this nonchalance to the norms according to which the entire Europe lives is inacceptable.”

Ihar Komlik, chair of Minsk city organization of REP, and chief accountant of REP union, says the verdict is a “reward” to the trade union REP, and its leadership for the work done by the union, 

“The verdict confirms one more time that Belarus cares the least about international and national legislation. The pronounced verdict is not based on proofs, its only reason was the political motivation that the trade union REP represents a threat to lawlessness including in labour relations taking place in Belarus.”

IndustriALL will continue monitoring situation in Belarus and escalate the campaign in support of Belarusian independent trade unions through various actions including approaching intergovernmental agencies.