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Byalyatski's trial opens in Minsk
The tax evasion trial of human rights defender Ales Byalyatski began in Minsk on November 2, BelaPAN said.
The case is heard by Judge Syarhey Bandarenka of the Pershamayski District Court, but the hearing takes place in the building of the Maskowski District Court, where there are larger courtrooms.
As the trial started, the 80-seat courtroom was nearly full. In attendance were the heads of the diplomatic missions of the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Poland and the United States, as well as former presidential candidates Alyaksandr Milinkevich and Uladzimir Nyaklyayew in company with their wives, opposition politician Syarhey Kalyakin, human rights defenders Aleh Volchak, Valyantsin Stefanovich, Raisa Mikhaylowskaya and Tatsyana Ravyaka.
The crowd included some 20 youths who told reporters that they were law students.
The criminal case against the 49-year-old leader of a human rights group called Vyasna (Spring), who is also vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights, was referred to the court on October 4.
Mr. Byalyatski has been held in a detention center in Minsk since August 4.
On August 12, he was formally charged with large-scale tax evasion, an offense that carries a penalty of a “restricted freedom” term of up to five years or a prison term of three to seven years.
The charge stems from information about Mr. Byalyatski’s bank accounts abroad, which was provided by authorities in Lithuania and Poland.
Mr. Byalyatski’s associates insist that the money in his bank accounts abroad should not be viewed as his personal income, as it was contributed by various foundations and intended to finance Vyasna’s activities.
A number of foreign human rights activists had planned to attend the trial but the Belarusian authorities denied entry visas to them.