Belarus nuclear protest trials

June 21, 1996

Two Belarusian scientists have appealed for help from the international academic community to ensure they receive a fair trial.

Yury Khadyka and Viachaslau Siuchyk were released from custody last month after a prolonged hunger strike that almost cost them their lives. They face charges of public order offences which carry prison sentences of up to three years.

Dr Khadyka said when he was still in hospital that the two feared their trial would be held in camera so that they would be denied the chance of making their defence public and also the state authorities could use the case to discredit the democratic opposition.

Alternatively, the trial may be held in the peak holiday season, when the outside world will take little notice, he said, The scientists are asking for observers from human rights organisations and the international academic community to be in Minsk for the trial.

The two were arrested late in April, following a Chernobyl memorial rally for which they insist they had permission from the Minsk city authorities.

There was, they say, no "disorder" until police in riot gear and wielding batons moved in. Nevertheless, the official Belarusian media continues to refer to the rally as "unauthorised" and "unlawful".

Virtually every leading scholar in Belarus signed a petition guaranteeing that, if released, the two would duly appear in court. There were appeals from Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and from an international conference of physicists in Moscow honouring the 75th anniversary of the birth of Andrey Sakharov, the Russian physicist and human rights activist.

Many of the participants in this conference had, in Soviet times, been members of pressure groups campaigning for persecuted Soviet scientists.

In late May, over 70 people, again mostly students, were arrested at a rally calling for the release of the remaining nine prisoners (including seven Ukrainians) from the Chernobyl rally. One student, Alaksandr Piatrouski, was severely beaten.

Even the Belarusian parliament is becoming critical of the human rights situation. Not only did individual MPs sign appeals on behalf of the two but in an address to parliament the speaker, Syamen Sharetski, spoke of the concern of the presidium of parliament about the fact that "a considerable proportion" of young people are "becoming involved in conflicts with the authorities". (More than half the 204 people arrested at and after the Chernobyl rally were students).

He called for a round-table meeting of all political and public organisations, the cabinet of ministers, presidential administration, and the law-enforcement sector.

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