Today the trial of former Belarusian presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov resumes. He has been charged with organising mass disturbances (Article 293 Chapter 2 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus) and faces up to 15 years in prison. The trial was interrupted by the May holidays. Right before the break, Sannikov’s defence brought forth a surprise that mixes up the cards for the accusation prosecution – proof refuting the very disturbances. As a result, the trial of their “organiszer” has turned into a complete farce. Before you are the notes of our special correspondent from the final court session.
At a certain moment, I was overcome by a desire to stand up and yell at the judge, Chetvertkova, across the room, “This is all bullshit. Especially the prosecutor. Let’s get out of here!” But I wasn’t the director of this play, nor was Judge Chetvertkova, who also seemed inclined at first to stand up and say, “This is some sort of nonsense. Everyone is dismissed,” and throw a volume of the criminal code at the prosecutor.
But nothing like that happened, of course.
The people taking part fulfilled their roles more or less as they were supposed to. Even too much so – according to all the canons of the criminal trial code, although they were defending/accusing people who had ended up here only because they were perfectly normal. On the second day of the trial, I stopped taking things seriously at all. Everything that took place seemed like it was in a dull black and white comic book. There were no colours at all, no halftones or shades. That’s how it was: everything was black or white.
“Defendant Sannikov, you have been accused of organising mass disturbances: do you admit to your crime?” asks the prosecutor.
“No, it’s a lie,” Sannikov declares from behind bars. He looks very tired. His leg, injured during arrest, aches, and so he has to get up from time to time.
“But an entire arsenal of weapons was found in the square!” the prosecutor continues. “Molotov cocktails, smoke bombs, crow bars and ice picks, tear gas, a shovel, a fishing rod…”
“A fishing rod,” an assistant interprets for an observer from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. And the observer raises his surprised gaze to the prosecutor.
“Rods are easy to hide,” he continues, “and the injuries incurred are as serious as those from a truncheon…”
On the final day before the holidays, the court room is filled to capacity. The friends and acquaintances of the accused gather together outside because there is no room. The final three rows have been occupied by Belarus’s answer to the Russian youth groupian “OursNashi” (the Youth Union of the Republic of Belarus). A bus brought them to the court an hour before the hearing began. “That’s Luke,” Vladimir Khalip, father of Ira Khalip, our special correspondent and the wife of Andrei Sannikov, says. “He plays dirty tricks even in insignificant cases.”
In black and white comics, the ultimate evildoer works alone to terrorise the people, fighting against the ultimate hero and his brave helpers. And the hopes of all the people lie with the hero. But in our comic, everything is the other way around. The heroes are the ones who are alone and the people all flee from them. And the ultimate evildoer is hidden, playing his dirty tricks through his helpers. For example, one of them, Judge Chetvertkova, is a merciless government crony, towing the line, an Amazon in a judge’s tie, who knows what’s needed and what isn’t. The reliable and unfailing weapon of the evildoer. The other helper is the prosecutor, Zagorovsky. A young, ambitious, simpleminded trainee prosecutor. He doesn’t say anything and chews his nails. Judge Chetvertkova smiles at him in a motherly way when he mumbles his conclusions or awkwardly interrogates questions a witness.
And although the ending in a comic book is well-knownpeople already realise how this comic-book of a case will end, nobody knows what exactly will happen before then. Neither the evildoer, nor Judge Chetvertkova knows. For the first time, everything here depends on the barristers, Marina Kovalevskaya and Andrei Varvashevich. The young and, so they say, talented lawyers. They unexpectedly introduce into the plot witnesses for the defence. This requires unheard of courage.
“In the very least, it is our goal not to lose our jobs, and at the most: to free the innocent,” Kovalevskaya and Varvashevich say in the break.
The lawyers’ main weapon today is the mushroom gatherer Pyotr Kochukov. The scene with him will either influence the end of the story, or completely ruin the comic.
On the evening of 19 December, an employee of a private business, a single older man by the name of Pyotr Kochukov, joined a street demonstration for the first time in twenty years. Before this day, Kochukov had never been interested in politics, preferring rather forest mushrooms, which he dries and collects. And he lived, as it were, “a peaceful, harmonious life”. But the results of the election, made knownannounced on 19 December, destroyed that peaceful harmony for him. Kochukov put on a dark padded jacket, a black hat, black trousers and went out into the street. He was in the very centre of events and witnessed the beginning of the provocations: how unknown people rushed out from the House of Government and started breaking glass. Kochukov then witnessed how OMON riot police turned their back to the provocateurs and began dispersing peaceful demonstrators. But OMON and the special forces didn’t notice Kochukov for some reason. His lonely figure wandered for some time more across the square, taking pictures with a mobile phone. Kochukov took pictures of those parts of the square where there were no steel rods, nor ice -axespicks, nor even fishing rods…
“I don’t understand,” the judge interrupted Kochukov’s testimony with agitation. “You were there, you saw everything, and you weren’t even arrestedapprehended?”
“That’s how it turned out,” Kochukov replied, childishly embarrassed.
“I don’t understand,” Judge Chetvertkova said with regret.
The audience in the courtroom strained forward. It seemed as though the judge would immediately order Kochukov to be restrained and beaten. But instead of doing so, Chetvertkova continued.
“Do you still have your that same telephone?”
“Yes, of course,” replied Kochukov.
“We ask that the telephone be entered as important evidence,” requested the defence.
“I object!” cried Zagorovsky. “A witness doesn’t have the right to bring forth evidence!”
But before the prosecutor the criminal trial code suddenly appears: he does have the right. The defence doesn’t hide its happiness. For a moment the feeling that the happy ending is coming suddenly appears.
“I thank the witness for his courage. His photographs will prove that the charges are false!” Sannikov declares from behind bars.
The courtroom bursts into applause. Judge Chetvertkova is confused for the first time. She beats her gavel against the table.
“Stop it!” she yells. “This isn’t some concert! You can’t applaud and laugh! The court declares a ten-minute recess!”
Sannikov’s mother, Alla, looks at her son in silence. Talking is not allowed. With a smile she shows him that it is all over. Kochukov is surrounded on all sides by the relatives of other defendants, as they shake his hand… Somebody tries to copy the photos to his phone, but the Bluetooth suddenly stops working for everyone in the room. Judge Chetvertkova, returning from the council room, declares her refusal to allow the evidence, “The court has not yet begun to examine the evidence”.
Following the hearing, relatives and journalists agree to accompany Kochukov home. On the way they decide to hide the telephone in a safety deposit box…