Some 150 people from unions and civil society organizations as well as foreign embassies’ representatives came to express their support and solidarity for Gennady Fedynich and Ihar Komlik, who are leaders of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, REP. Due to the size of the room only 100 of them could attend the court hearing.
The appeal hearing was based on a demand by the both unionists to quash the verdict of the Sovetsky district court of the city of Minsk on 24 August earlier this year.
In an unfair trial and the absence of convincing evidence, both leaders were convicted for large-scale tax evasion and have been ordered to pay a large fine of BYN 47,560 (over US$23,000). They must also cover all court expenses along with administrative fines. In addition, they are subject to a four-year suspended imprisonment and a ban on holding senior positions for five years.
The thirteen-day trial attracted considerable public attention and was closely followed inside and outside Belarus. IndustriALL representatives attended the hearings and regular reports from the trial were published on the IndustriALL website.
The entire case is based on accusations of illegal use of international aid supposedly received by the union in 2011-2012. The authorities accused the leaders of non-registration of the aid with governmental authorities and nonpayment of taxes on the income received from the aid.
According to numerous eye-witnesses of that trial, most of the evidence presented in court looked either rigged or collected in violation of legal norms of Belarus, or were not relevant to the period in question. Some witnesses declared they had been forced to make testimonies under psychological pressure.
Even if the accusations against the union leaders could be proven in court, receiving international aid cannot be considered as a violation per se, as the right to donate, receive and use foreign aid falls under articles 5 and 6 of ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, ratified by Belarus.
In 2002, the ILO recommended to the Government of Belarus to amend the national legislation so that national workers’ and employers’ organizations could receive financial assistance from international workers’ and employers’ organizations in pursuit of their legitimate aims. Unfortunately, fourteen years after the adoption of the recommendations, trade unions still cannot freely use foreign aid in Belarus and suffer interference in their internal affairs.
Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL’s assistant general secretary, said:
“The decision of the Minsk city court, which rejected the appeal and kept the unjust verdict in force, is a missed opportunity for Belarusian authorities to prove justice exists in the country and re-establish contacts with the international community. The large fines and the ban against both union leaders from holding leadership positions is clearly meant to undermine the work of REP, our affiliated union in Belarus.
“Given the harsh conditions in which Gennadi Fedynich and Ihar Komlik are under, we consider them as political prisoners. We will do everything we can to liberate them and put pressure on the Government of Belarus to stop violating workers’ and human rights,’ until justice prevails.”