Belarus: Two Georgians imprisoned as human rights clampdown continues

Luka Tsuladze and Giorgi Kandelaki, who were visiting Belarus from Georgia, were detained on 24 August in Minsk.

The two were held without charge for six days in incommunicado detention before being allowed a lawyer and charged with "petty hooliganism".

An administrative sentence of 15 days' imprisonment was subsequently imposed and they are now imprisoned.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Stephen Bowen said:

"The totally unacceptable imprisonment of these two peaceful opponents of Belarus' current government is the latest in a long line of human rights abuses in the country.

"These two prisoners of conscience should be released immediately and President Lukashenka's government should stop persecuting perfectly legitimate political opponents."

Luka Tsuladze and Giorgi Kandelaki sentence was imposed for the offence of allegedly swearing at a third inmate in their cell.

Amnesty International has previously documented cases where detainees in Belarus were falsely charged with attacking their cellmates as a way of prolonging their detention.

For example, in March 2005, Anatoli Shumchenko who had been sentenced to 10 days' administrative imprisonment for organising an unsanctioned meeting, was charged on the day he was due to be released with "hooliganism" for allegedly attacking his cell mate and was immediately moved to a pre-trial detention centre.

He denied the allegations and the charges were eventually dropped.

Luka Tsuladze and Giorgi Kandelaki's lawyer is currently appealing against the sentences on the grounds that the charge was fabricated and that there were no witness statements to support the allegations.

The two men, members of Georgia's youth movement Kmara, were initially detained along with Uladzimir Kobets, a member of the Belarusian youth opposition movement Zubr.

Uladzimir Kobets was released after two hours and reportedly one of the police officers offered his apologies saying that his detention had been a mistake and that the operation had been aimed against "persons from the Caucasus".

The two Georgians were initially told that they were being held because of doubts about the authenticity of their passports.

Amnesty International is also urging the release of three Belarusian prisoners of conscience detained on 26 August when a group of Zubr activists protested in the centre of Minsk against the detention of the two Georgians.

Natalya Ushko, Alyaksandr Kurbitski, and Alyaksey Lyaukovich were sentenced on 30 August to 10 days' administrative detention for participating in an unsanctioned mass meeting.

Amnesty International likewise considers that they were arrested solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights.

Background

The youth movement Kmara played a key role in the protests that led to the fall of the previous government In Georgia in the so-called "Rose Revolution" in November 2003.

Kmara has close links with opposition youth movements in other countries such as Zubr in Belarus.

Since the elections and referendum in October 2004 that lifted restrictions on his term of office, President Lukashenka has asserted control over civil society and has clamped down on peaceful opposition.

In April this year 30 people, including 14 Russians (again including youth members of political parties "Yabloko" and Union of Right Forces), five Ukrainians and 13 Belarusians were imprisoned for up to 15 days or given heavy fines for participating in or organising an unsanctioned meeting to mark the 19th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. According to reports the detainees were sentenced without legal representation or access to their respective consulates.

It appears that President Lukashenka particularly fears the "bad influence" of youth activists from Georgia. In June he issued a decree introducing visa requirements for Georgians travelling to Belarus.

However following a draft resolution by the Georgian parliament banning Lukashenka from entering Georgia, no legislation was introduced to implement the decree.

In the draft resolution the Georgian parliament described President Lukashenka as a "dictator excommunicated from Europe".

Over the past months Georgia's President Saakashvili has made highly critical statements about the regime in Belarus. He has criticised the "unwritten rule within the CIS that its leaders were not supposed to discuss each other", adding that "for us the main rule is the protection of democracy and freedom".

On 10 May, as reported by the Black Sea Press, he specifically singled out Belarus from the CIS (the Commonwealth of Independent States, former Soviet countries), comparing it to repressive regimes in Zimbabwe, Burma and Cuba.

Find out more...

View latest press releases