Belarusian Union Leaders Go On Trial In Case They Call Politically Motivated

MINSK -- The leader of a prominent independent trade union that played a role in street protests in 2017 is being tried on tax-evasion charges he contends are politically motivated.

Henadz Fyadynich and union accountant Ihar Komlik arrived for the start of their trial at the Lenin District Court in Minsk on July 30 wearing white shirts adorned with traditional Belarusian-Ukrainian embroidery patterns, a symbol of patriotism.

Belarusian authorities laid charges in August 2017 against Fyadynich, Komlik, and the union, which represents electronics-industry workers.

Komlik was taken into pretrial custody but was released in October. He and Komlik were ordered not to leave Minsk while the investigation was under way.

Fyadynich denies guilt and says the case against him, his assistants, and the union is politically motivated punishment for the union's role in organizing protests in February-March 2017 against legislation that would impose a tax on the unemployed.

Critics of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the authoritarian leader who has held power in Belarus since 1994, says his government routinely uses the justice system to suppress dissent.