Opposition activists Dashkevich, Palchewski released from custody

Zmitser Dashkevich and Syarhey Palchewski, two members of an opposition youth group called Malady Front (Young Front), were released on their own recognizance on April 15 after more than three weeks of detention.

Zmitser Dashkevich

Both young men are among more than a dozen people who have been charged with preparing “mass riots” and described by government propagandists as “foreign-trained militants.”

Speaking to reporters at his home, Mr. Dashkevich, who chairs Malady Front, said that an officer of the Committee for State Security (KGB) had linked his arrest to the activity of Vayar (Warrior), a paramilitary organization seeking to “counteract pro-Kremlin forces and their possible preparations for an aggression against Belarus.”

Referring to details of the controversial case, Mr. Dashkevich said that the KGB insisted that a group of people had been preparing since 2011 for organizing mass riots involving violence, destruction of property and armed resistance to authorities.

The activist described the accusations as “absurd” and condemned the case as a “provocation” by the KGB. He suggested that the case had been concocted as an attempt by the authorities to stem a rising tide of anti-government sentiment.

Mr. Dashkevich stressed that he had never met many of other people detained on the charge.

According to the activist, the arrest of several Malady Front members on the charge may be nothing but the government’s revenge for the group’s role in February’s protests against construction work near Kurapary, a site of Stalin-era mass executions, and other campaigns.

He expressed hope that all others detained in the case would be released and thanked the public for “colossal support.”

Mr. Palchewski told the Belarusian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that he had been given no explanations about his release. “I was released on my own recognizance,” he said. “I need to talk to the investigator as I don’t know what I may say and what I may not.”

Mr. Palchewski said that he had not been mistreated in detention.

Messrs. Dashkevich and Palchewski were arrested in Minsk on March 22, one day after Alyaksandr Lukashenka revealed 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.

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.

Many of those arrested were once members of Bely Lehiyon (White Legion), a now-defunct organization described by state media outlets as an extremist nationalist group. The Bely Lehiyon members were 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.

The state STV television channel 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.

An article in the April 11 edition of the government's newspaper Sovetskaya Belorussiya said that 17 people had been charged with preparing a mass riot and were in custody. Eighteen more have the status of suspect and four of them are in custody, according to the paper. Moreover, it said, 20 of the people have been charged with forming an illegal armed unit under Article 287 of the Criminal Code.