Belarusian Activist Paliyenka Gets Two-Year 'Freedom Limitation'

MINSK -- A Belarusian civil society activist and former prisoner of conscience, Dzmitry Paliyenka, has been sentenced to 2 years of "freedom limitation" on a hooliganism charge that he and his supporters have called politically motivated.

The Minsk City Court on October 25 found Paliyenka guilty of malicious hooliganism and sentenced him to 3 years of "freedom limitation" -- a sentence with parole-like restrictions -- but then cut the term by one year due to a recently announced mass amnesty.

Paliyenka, who was released from custody after the sentence was pronounced, told RFE/RL that he will appeal the ruling.

Paliyenka went on trial on October 17. He slashed his arm in the courtroom to protest his closed-door trial. An hour after his bloody protest, the judge announced an open trial, allowing Paliyenka's friends, relatives, and supporters to enter the courtroom.

Paliyenka was arrested in March following an incident in which he allegedly used pepper spray against a man. Paliyenka has insisted that it was in self-defense and pleaded not guilty to all four charges, which also included vandalism, inciting hatred towards police via the Internet, and publicly insulting the interior minister.

After listening to the testimony of several alleged victims in the case, prosecutors said they were dropping three charges and wanted Paliyenka to be prosecuted for malicious hooliganism in connection to the pepper-spray incident.

On October 16, Amnesty International issued a statement calling on the Belarusian authorities to "uphold the right of former prisoner of conscience Dzmitry Paliyenka to a fair trial and ensure his hearing is open to the public."

It is not Paliyenka's first trial.

Two years ago, he was handed a 2-year suspended sentence after being arrested in April 2016 during a protest in Minsk and charged with threatening to attack a police officer and the distribution of pornographic materials.

Paliyenka denied the charges, calling them trumped up and politically motivated.

In April 2017, a court in Minsk ruled that Paliyenka, who continued his civil rights activities, must serve the rest of his term in prison.

Amnesty International recognized Paliyenka as a prisoner of conscience in April 2017.

In October last year, Paliyenka was released from prison after serving 18 months behind bars.

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