In order to stop the advance of Russian troops in Ukraine, numerous Belarusians commit acts of sabotage against the railway infrastructure in their own country. The ruler Lukashenko has announced tough measures - up to and including the death penalty. For three of the around 80 partisans arrested, the danger is imminent.
In Belarus, investigations have been completed into three men who are said to have damaged a railway system in Ukraine a few days after the start of the war in order to stop the transport of Russian military technology to the war zone. According to the investigative committee, the suspects face the death penalty. According to a statement by the investigative committee of the authoritarian state, the case was handed over to the public prosecutor's office to be forwarded to the competent court. According to the human rights center "Vyazna", the accused are Denis Dikun, Dmitry Ravich and Oleg Molchanov. The men, dubbed the "Svetlahorsk partisans" in the media, are 29, 33 and 51 years old.
In the night from February 28 to March 1, a railway control cabinet was set on fire at the Sherd-Ostankowitschi station, not far from the city of Svetlahorsk in the south-east of the country. Human rights activists emphasize that the action may have disrupted the progress of Russian trains carrying equipment and weapons to Ukraine. Nobody was injured as a result. According to investigators, the damage amounted to around 55,000 rubles, the equivalent of around 16,000 euros.
After Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, a so-called rail war broke out in Belarus. Numerous people committed acts of sabotage against the railway infrastructure in order to stop the Kremlin troops. With their actions, the partisans helped thwart Russia's capture of Kiev. According to the authorities, around 80 "railway partisans" have been taken into custody since the end of February.
A few days after the arson near Swetlahorsk, Dikun, Ravitch and Molchanov were arrested on March 4 on suspicion of terrorism. As a result, the Interior Ministry released a "remorseful" video of Dikun. The man's face shows clear signs of torture and his hands are apparently tied behind his back. The 29-year-old "confesses" that he committed the crime along with two other people on instructions from the ByPol organization. ByPol is an initiative that unites former employees of the Belarusian security organs who have turned their backs on the ruler Alexander Lukashenko. The organization claimed responsibility for some of the acts of sabotage on the railway.
The "traitors to the fatherland," as the three Belarusians are described in the investigative committee's statement, are charged with four counts: participation in an extremist group, act of terrorism, high treason and intentional disruption of transport links. "The men face the maximum penalty, up to and including the death penalty, for committing these acts," the statement said.
Lukashenko only signed a new law in May, according to which even the preparation and "attempted act of terrorism" can be punished with the death penalty. The maximum penalty can now also be imposed for acts of terrorism that did not result in any victims. Until now, the death penalty in Belarus could only be imposed if the crime resulted in the death of people. According to experts, the tightening of criminal law serves to prosecute political opponents of Lukashenko.
However, several lawyers are quoted in the independent Belarusian media as pointing out that the law only applies to acts committed after the amendment came into force, i.e. on May 29. But in view of the direct threat made by the investigative committee and the arbitrariness and loyalty of the Belarusian judiciary to the regime, one can expect any verdict from the judges in the trial against the "Svetlahorsk partisans" - up to and including the death penalty.