On 5 January, activists of the Belarusian independent trade unions were awarded tough sentences. Journalist, publicist, and political analyst Vatslau Areshka is one of the convicts. The human rights community recognized all defendants as political prisoners.
The trial was held in camera, so most details are unknown. At the last hearing on 5 January, Judge Alena Papkova pronounced the final verdict:
— Vasil Berasniou, chairman of the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers’ Union – 9 years of imprisonment.
— Henadz Fiadynich, former head of the trade union association – 9 years of imprisonment.
— Vatslau Areshka, REP trade union bulletin editor – 8 years of imprisonment.
The trade union activists were charged with encouraging sanctions, inciting social hatred, and establishing or participating in an extremist formation.
Last July the Supreme Court liquidated the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers’ Union, previously recognized as an “extremist organization” by the State Security Committee. The Belarusian Independent Trade Union, the Free Trade Union of Belarus, the Free Trade Union of Metal Workers, and the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Union faced the same situation.
Vatslau Areshka was mainly engaged in cultural projects and initiatives of trade unions. As a journalist and history researcher, he published in the Spadchyna, Arche, and PARTisan journals, and edited the Vytoki digital archive. Moreover, he was an activist of the “Experts in defense of Kurapaty” campaign and initiator of the “Kurapaty Book of Honor” in memory of victims of repression who were executed by the state in 1937-1941.