A soldier from Belarus says he was present at the murders of opposition members. He is standing before a Swiss court – the authoritarian government of ruler Lukashenko is sitting in the dock with him.
For the first time, a court is dealing with possible crimes on behalf of the authoritarian government of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. Yuri Garawski is accused.
In court in the Swiss city of St. Gallen, the 45-year-old said he was a member of a death squad and was present in the murder of three opposition figures in 1999. The name of the Belarusian ruler Lukashenko is mentioned again and again in the court. Garawski (also spelled Yury Harauski) accuses him of ordering the murders.
The trial is a milestone for Viasna, the human rights organization of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski. “All investigations into the terrible crimes that are happening in Belarus mean a lot to people,” said Pavel Sapelka, a leading member of Viasna in exile, to the German Press Agency in front of the courthouse in St. Gallen. Free media is being suppressed in Belarus, but the democratic press is doing everything it can to report on the trial.
Contradictions in statements
The judge, prosecutors and the co-prosecutor from Garawski are not really smart. Contradictions keep cropping up in his statements. The tall, beefy man has been injured since a car accident in 2008 and walks with a cane. He repeatedly stands up during the trial because, as he says, sitting for long periods hurts him. He wears jeans, a hoodie and white sneakers and speaks so quietly that judge Olav Humbel repeatedly asks him to raise his voice. The defendant does this especially when he is confronted with contradictions. “I didn’t kill, I just arrested,” he says angrily at one point, according to the translator’s words. “Why should I be responsible?”
Garavski says he was there when former Interior Minister Yuri Zacharenko, ex-head of the electoral commission Viktor Gonchar and businessman Anatoly Krassovsky were kidnapped and murdered. He also reported on it to Deutsche Welle and other media. The men are still missing today. Sakharenko and Krasovsky’s daughters are present in the courtroom. “It’s difficult for my soul,” says Alena (Jelena) Sakharenko, who lives in Germany, during the break. She took sedatives. The defendant leaves her cold. “He’s like an animal,” she says.
Garawski: “Deeply regrets role”
Garawski apologizes at the end of the evidence. “I deeply regret my role,” the translator reads out his prepared answer. But he was only a small cog, he later realized how reprehensible the actions were and saw it as his moral duty to no longer remain silent.
The court must decide whether Garawski may have exaggerated his role in order to receive asylum in Switzerland. The judge said Garawski complained about his treatment and his accommodation in Switzerland. He criticized its “entitlement”. The asylum application was rejected. However, Garawski is tolerated because he faces arrest and death if he is deported back home.
The agricultural economist Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, using increasingly brutal methods, according to opposition figures. After the 2020 presidential election, he was declared the winner for the sixth time in a row. There were mass protests, which Lukashenko had the backing of his close ally Russia put down. The EU no longer recognizes the now 69-year-old as president.
Convention against enforced disappearances About the Convention against enforced disappearances Trial International on the trial UN working group with an estimate of the number of disappeared Deutsche Welle on meeting Garawski 2019 Report from Pourgourides court on the prosecution Human rights group Viasna on the trial
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.