Belarusian authorities are trying to cover up their killing of a peaceful protester by groundlessly charging a witness with the attempted murder of a cop, rights group Amnesty International said Wednesday.
The charge against Alyaksandr Kardyukou stems from an incident in the western city of Brest on the 11th of August, in the aftermath of a rally protesting the allegedly fraudulent re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko two days earlier.
Amnesty said a video published by independent media outlet MediaZona showed Kardyukou and his friend, father-of-five Henadz Shutau, sitting on a bench away from the site of the rally when they were approached by three plainclothes officers.
While the video doesn’t clearly show what happened next, less than a minute later, Shutau was shot in the back of the head. He died eight days later.
Kardyukou ran off seconds before the shots were fired, Amnesty said. He was arrested three days later and charged with resisting police, but on the 2nd of December, the charge was upgraded to attempted murder of a police officer, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s eastern Europe and central Asia director, said there was no evidence for the charges against Kardyukou, and that he was being prosecuted to cover up the illegal killing of his friend.
“There is no evidence that Alyaksandr Kardyukou participated in or advocated for violent activities,” she said.
“He is a prisoner of conscience being prosecuted solely for the peaceful exercise of his human rights including freedom of peaceful assembly, and to justify the extrajudicial execution of Henadz Shutau.”
Officials from Belarus’s Department for Safety and Security and Ministry for Information did not respond to requests for comment from VICE World News on Amnesty’s allegations.
The Belarusian Interior Ministry has claimed that “a group of aggressive citizens armed with metal bars” assaulted the officers in Brest that day, and that the officers had used their firearms to defend themselves after warning shots in the air were ignored.
However, Amnesty said that version of events was contradicted by its analysis of video footage, eyewitness accounts, and medical records that showed that Shutau was shot from behind.
According to Shutau’s daughter, Anastasiya Baranchuk, local residents had told her that her father had been shot after he responded to an officer’s question about who he had voted for by telling him he voted for opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
Belsat, a Polish state-owned news channel aimed at Belarus, has also reported witness accounts that contradict the official version of Shutau’s death.
Belarusian officials have rebuffed Shutau’s family’s calls for an inquiry into the killing, telling them in September there were insufficient grounds to open a criminal investigation.
Shutau is one of a handful of Belarusians whose deaths have been linked to the weekly protests, which are continuing to attempt to oust Lukashenko, the authoritarian known as Europe’s last dictator.
Last month, thousands took to the streets to protest the death in police custody of Roman Bondarenko, a 31-year-old activist who was beaten by men believed to be plainclothes officers. He was taken into police custody before being located in hospital in a coma, where he died of brain damage.
Despite the deaths and substantial evidence of assaults and brutality, Belarusian authorities have opened no criminal investigations into the conduct of security services during the protests.
Meanwhile, the Belarusian human rights group Viasna 96 estimates that about 1,000 criminal cases have been opened against peaceful protesters, with dozens already convicted in politically motivated trials.
Amnesty’s claims were made as the European Parliament in Brussels awarded the 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to exiled presidential candidate Tikhanovskaya and fellow opposition figure Veranika Tsapkala on behalf of their country’s democratic opposition movement.
“The whole world is aware of what is happening in your country,” said European Parliament President David Sassoli as he presented the award.
“We see the courage of women. We see your suffering. We see the unspeakable abuses. We see the violence.”