Stories that people in Belarus are fined for having white-red-white flags in windows and on balconies, no longer seem so surprising. Two persons were sentenced to seven days of arrest for picketing on their balconies without permission.
“My husband has a cast after a fracture, they took him anyway”
Dmitry Kabanov, who lives in Minsk on Kakhovskaya Street, was arrested for seven days for a flag on his balcony. This was seen as a mass event – a picket held without the Minsk City Executive Committee’s permission.
Lydia, Dmitry’s wife, said that the police called on Sunday, 29 November.
“On Sunday morning I received a call from the Central District Department of Internal Affairs, since I am registered in the apartment. They told me to come and write an explanatory note about a flag on a balcony. I said that we don’t have it on our baclony anymore. We actually took it off after house-to-house visit by employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations a week ago. They responded, ‘Well, it was hanging. We have a photo.'”
Lydia replied that she did not hang anything. The husband answered the phone, he explained that he would not talk to strangers on the phone.
“After a while they knocked on the door, and then three policemen just entered – the door was open. They didn’t show their IDs or asked for permission to enter. One policeman showed a photo of the flag and went to the balcony. There was a folded flag on the floor, which was seized. The policeman told my husband that he could go voluntarily or he would be taken away in home clothes, in shorts and a T-shirt.”
Lydia adds that Dmitry has a cast on his arm after a fracture. The man was taken to a police station under the pretext of having to write an explanatory letter, and two hours later, his wife was called and told that he was detained and taken to Okrestsin Street.
The trial was on Monday, 30 November, Dmitry had a lawyer. Judge Dmitry Karsyuk presided over the case. The man was convicted under part 1 of article 23.34 of Administrative Code [Violation of the procedures for organizing or conducting public events].
The court ruling reads: “In an unspecified period of time for the purpose of publicly expressing his socio-political interests, [Dmitry] held a mass event – picketing, without the appropriate permission of the Minsk City Executive Committee, by placing a flag of white-red-white colors on a balcony on 29 Kakhovskaya Street for demonstration it to citizens.”
There is an explanation to the ruling that the display of the flag is considered picketing, since it was committed “in public, to demonstrate their socio-political sentiments in front of other citizens,” there are witnesses that the flag was visible from the street.
“I applied for a picket to the executive committee”
Spouses Natalya and Vladimir live in Logoisk. Vladimir was recently arrested for seven days for displaying a flag inside his loggia. On 25 November, several apartments in Logoisk were searched as part of a criminal case on hooliganism. Investigators came from Minsk.
“There was a flag on the balcony, during the search they said to remove it. Then my husband was asked to go to the police to give explanations. He was not released after three hours.”
A report was drawn up against Vladimir. He was also charged under part 1 of article 23.34 of Administrative Code [Violation of the procedures for organizing or conducting public events]. The trial was on Friday, 27 November, via Skype, the case was considered by Judge Emilia Strezh.
The court ruling says that Vladimir placed a white-red-white flag “on the glazing of the apartment […] from October to 25 November with the aim of publicly expressing his social and political interests.” The court regarded this as a mass event [a picket] without the permission of the Logoisk regional executive committee.
The lawyer’s arguments that the flag on the balcony was not a picket was not taken into account, since “these conclusions are not based on the law.”
“Our house is in housing cooperative, we asked the chairman whether state bodies had any problems with the flag. They didn’t. The flag was inside the glazed loggia. According to the registration certificate, it is part of our apartment, we paid for the area of this room,” says Natalia.
Natalya still does not consider hanging the flag on her own balcony a picket. But since the court refers to the lack of permission from the local authorities, she decided to submit an application to the Logoisk regional executive committee.
“I have already submitted an application for a picket. Will the regional executive committee allow the picket or ban it? Or will it say that the balcony is not a public place? I can’t wait for a reply.”