Another man charged in riot case released

Mikalay Mikhalkow, director of a Babruysk-based military club called Patriot who is one of those charged in a so-called riot case, has been released from custody, the Vyasna Human Rights Center reported on Thursday.

Mr. Mikhalkow was held in the KGB's detention center in Minsk after his arrest in his home city on March 24. He was later transferred to the interior ministry’s pretrial detention center on Valadarskaha Street in Minsk.

He is known to have been formally charged with "training and preparing people for a riot" under Part Three of the Criminal Code’s Article 293.

His son Yan Mikhalkow, a member of Patriot, was arrested on March 21 and released from the detention facility on Valadarskaha Street on April 29.

“I don’t understand what’s going on,” Mr. Mikhalkow told reporters following the arrest of his son and two other members of Patriot. “It seems to me that this is some dirty politics and nothing more than that. My guys have never been involved in politics, and I have not motivated them to do politics. Their arrest came out of the blue. I am very sorry that this happened to my son and the other guys. They are true officers. They are good men.”

Mr. Mikhalkow stressed that the club, housed at the Babruysk Children’s and Youth Art Center, was under the aegis of the administration of the Leninski district of Babruysk and its activities were monitored by both local authorities and law enforcement agencies.

Mr. Mikhalkow, a retired army officer who served with an elite airborne brigade, expressed bewilderment that authorities were finding fault with an officially registered club whose activities were entirely legal.

A total of 30 suspects were reportedly arrested in the riot case. According to the Vyasna Human Rights Center, 17 of them remained in custody as of May 18.

Suspects in the riot case started to be arrested after Alyaksandr Lukashenka revealed on March 21 that in the past few hours “we have apprehended a couple of dozens of militants who were preparing an armed provocation.”

Three days later the Belarusian leader said that those arrested on suspicion of training and preparing for a riot had dug holes in forests “like partisans” to hide “weapons, iron bars, axes, knives, grenades and other things,” and pretended to teach children patriotism.

“But there is a certain line that no one must cross in violation of the law and the constitution,” Mr. Lukashenka said. “If the government disregards this, then there will be a chain reaction and it will be very difficult to stop it because millions of people will be involved.”

Mr. Lukashenka noted that authorities had acted in response to a report from a Belarusian-born woman residing in a Western country, who he said warned that an armed provocation was being prepared. “I ordered appropriate agencies to immediately start an operation to investigate these people and we discovered a whole arsenal of weapons as a result,” he said.

State media outlets reported in late March with reference to a KGB source that the KGB had conducted 29 searches of the homes of suspects, seizing a Kalashnikov assault rifle, three carbines, two pistols, rounds of ammunition, hand grenades, clubs and telescopic truncheons, knives, axes, components and substances for making explosive devices, military uniform, bulletproof vests, helmets, NATO military first-aid kits, urban combat manuals and flags and various items bearing the emblems of volunteer military units fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The arrested Bely Lehiyon members are in fact “professionally trained militants aged 25 to 43” who planned to use the seized weapons during a protest scheduled to be held in Minsk on March 25, the KGB source was quoted as saying.

Miraslaw Lazowski and other Bely Lehiyon leaders allegedly planned to involve Malady Front activists led by Zmitser Dashkevich and “militants” who were expected to arrive from Ukraine, including members of UNA-UNSO, with which Bely Lehiyon had allegedly closely cooperated since the 1990s.

In addition, “extremist-minded” young foreigners were expected to take part in “actions in support of the organizers of the upcoming protest.”

The state television channel STV showed an unnamed young man described as an arrested Bely Lehiyon activist who said on camera that they “practiced moving in groups under combat conditions.” “There were plans to study urban combat tactics because there was a report that pro-Russian forces might attack the procession of demonstrators and injure people,” the man said. “We were told to be ready to repulse the attack.”

The man allegedly led KGB officers to a Bely Lehiyon cache near the village of Tserabeynaye in the Stowbtsy district, Minsk region, in which “iron bars wrapped in sackcloth, two 100-liters containers with iron bars in them, and six F-1 and RGD-5 grenades with fuses” were discovered.