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Dispatch from Belarus: The story of L. – a young Belarusian woman describes her arbitrary arrest, ‘trial’ and 15-day imprisonment – JURIST

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JURIST The correspondent in Belarus, Ulyana Belaya, is currently a student in the International Law and European Union Law program at the European University for the Humanities, Vilnius, Lithuania. She left Belarus in September 2021. The text of this dispatch has been lightly edited to preserve the author’s voice. The Russian war against Ukraine has lasted 113 days so far. This means that it is the 113th day since Russian weapons have been delivered from Belarusian territory. In a previous JURIST dispatch I wrote about the Russian occupation of the territory of Belarus and mentioned the courage of the Belarusian people who continue to protest and support Ukraine. However, the question of the collective responsibility of Belarusians still arises. That is why I would like to describe what the repression against those who participated in the anti-war protests, and those who did not, looks like in Belarus at the moment. To write this dispatch, I spoke with my acquaintance, L., who had the courage to share his experience. She is 18 years old and she was arrested on February 28 and sentenced to 15 days in prison. She, her friends, her sister were not doing anything, they were just standing in the square next to the train station in Minsk, Belarus. At first I thought I would describe her experience and comment on where and how her human rights were violated. So I decided to retell her own words with some explanatory interjections. This is what life in Belarus looks like now. In the previous paragraph, I say that L was ‘stopped’. This is how L. describes what happened to him: We were standing in the square, and we had even bought tickets to go to our friends’ houses. We decided to go there if the protest [a protest against the war in Ukraine] was unsuccessful. There were also about 50 people standing by the station, but it was obvious that most of them were policemen. They didn’t wear uniforms, but now we all know how to tell them apart even in civilian clothes. Also, some of them had cameras and were taking pictures of others. At a certain point, some of them broke away from the crowd and approached us. They did not identify themselves or explain what was happening. They ignored our tickets and asked us to follow them. So at no time during L’s detention, or after his arrest, or during his trial, were any explanations given to the detainees. There was also no documentation of his arrest. After giving all the information at the police station I asked if he could go. The policeman said ‘Yes, of course’, and I was walking down the hall smiling happily because nothing bad had happened. But the moment I opened the door, I saw a prison truck. I thought I was free to go, but just a little longer! L. couldn’t even get any answers to questions from him during the trial: The judge asked me if he wanted to submit any application for the trial. I had no idea what it might require, so I asked the judge. She just clicked her tongue and didn’t explain anything. During the trial I also asked some other questions and she just yelled at me. Since the trial is mentioned, there must be a description of it. Today’s legal community is discussing the modernization of trials, and even online trials as well. Here is a description of an ‘online trial’ in Belarus in the 21st century… We had to wait for the trial all day since morning. Waiting means standing in the hall, facing the wall and holding hands behind your back. Those who wanted to use the bathroom had to beg for it. I couldn’t get over such humiliation, therefore I stayed there for 9 hours. It was also very stressful, as you never know what awaits you: a day, a week or a year in prison. The trial was in the usual room, where there was a place for a laptop, for me and for the policeman. We stood there for about 15 minutes, and only 5 of them were actually on trial. The rest of the time, the policeman was just trying to connect with the judge via Skype. The witness was wearing a mask around his neck that covered his entire face and was basically reading his testimony from the newspaper. Later, some of my acquaintances told me that during his trial, the witness had the nickname ‘KGB’ written on the application; the others saw that the witness was openly marked ‘Renegade’. The judge yelled at me for asking questions and for expressing my mistrust of the trial. I am very sorry that I did not reply, as it is now obvious to me that it will not influence anything. All of us, about 70 people who were sentenced that day, had our terms prejudged. Then L. mentions to her cellmate, that she was criminally accused: I have no hope that she will be released. I used to believe, but now I know how Belarusian justice works. There is no hope. At first I said this article would be about the crackdown on anti-war protesters. However, some people are actually being arrested for nothing. L. tells about her cellmate in prison: We were both 18 years old, so we were the youngest. She had just left the subway and was stopped for nothing. She didn’t know anything about politics and she asked ‘Who is Tsikhanouskaya?’ However, she was a political prisoner. L. tells her experience with a lot of jokes and tenderly refers to the people with whom she spent it. We created a schedule, where we had English and French lessons and some other lectures. We hear about Jewish culture and about women’s rights. We also did exercises every morning. They were all so nice to each other. I spent 15 days there and there were no arguments or fights. I felt such strong solidarity. The first day a prison worker came to tell us that they did not have enough food for everyone. So they gave only half of us something to eat, but he impressed me so much that we all shared the food without hesitation or arguing. Problems with food supply were normal: we had breakfast at 6 am, lunch at 2 pm and dinner at 6 am. One day they didn’t feed us. We asked where he was and the policeman said ‘Let me see’. He didn’t come back until dinner time. L. mentions that type of constant lies and the ignorance of the prison workers as something that was the most shocking for her: As political prisoners, in the temporary detention center we slept without mattresses. Some women tried to complain about it and demanded mattresses. The jailer said ‘We are not that type of institution that has mattresses’. The next day we were going to court and we saw piles of mattresses lying in the hallway. There were so many of them! And we had to sleep in bunk beds with gaping holes or even on the floor. In prison they refused to give me medicine, saying they didn’t have any. But we could see through the door that they did. The absence of medication and medical help caused horrible incidents that L. told me: There was a woman with a chronic illness, something with her kidneys. She had to take medication every day a few times, but she was not given it. On the fourth day we thought that she was dying, since she could not open her eyes. We were screaming and demanding an ambulance. And she finally arrived after 5 hours of waiting. Another woman had an epileptic seizure. For 4 hours we asked the jailers to call the ambulance, and that was relatively fast. At the end of my term, almost everyone got sick. It was probably an infection or it was just too cold in the cell. Anyway, almost everyone had a fever and there was no medicine. They were giving us – 33 women! – a pack of sanitary towels per day. To be honest, I have no idea how to comment on the terrible living conditions in the prison. L. had experienced sleeping on the floor; her being in the prison cell with 40 people at the moment (whereas she was meant to be used for only 4 inmates); absence of hot water; and no toilet paper. Once we were offered to take a shower. I felt something was wrong, so I didn’t go. Those who did, told us that they only had time to take off their clothes. The water started running and stopped after about a minute. So they didn’t get a chance to wash up and they all came back wet. All these humiliating conditions were only for political prisoners. And in the context of war that was even more terrible. The jailers drank a lot. They told me that once they were drinking and then they broke into the cell with men and beat them. Meanwhile they were listening to the song called ‘Sky of the slavic’, which is a hymn of the Russian Nazis. Once all the women began to cough for no reason. There was a kind of gas in the room, and the workers also suffered from it. However, it stopped after a while. And we listen to the men in the next cell. They were coughing, unable to inhale, and that was the most horrible sound I had ever heard. As usual, no explanation from the police. But some of us, who had participated in the 2020 Belarusian protest, recognized the gas. Peaceful protesters were persecuted with him. We decided that they wanted to punish the men but miscalculated the amount of gasoline. Every day we were examined in the corridor. We just got inspected by a woman. But then the men were beaten during the inspection. A dog was sick behind them and they were made to run. One night we heard that a man felt so bad that he could not stand up and walk. Then the jailers would taunt him and shout ‘Slide faster! Faster!’ The policeman told my sister that we are all Nazis. She wanted him to be killed in the war as soon as possible. L. mentions terrible things, like being forced to stand for hours just because the prison workers wanted him to, or sleeping on the floor with the lights on as usual. She says: I didn’t do anything abnormal, they just stopped me on the street. Thousands of Belrussians have been through this. And she is right. The Belarusian authorities are trying to hide the protests. For example, detainees are transported at night so no one can see how many prison trucks are approaching. Despite all the terror and oppression, Belarusians continue to fight.L. and her sister were expelled from the university after that. Which is also part of the repression machine. But she says: I don’t regret anything. I remember when we were transferred to another cell. And there was a book, a part of normal life, a book! – there. It was the biography of Lesya Ukrainka. And we decided to guess with him. We ask ‘Will there be a free Belarus?’ and the reply was ‘Greetings from London, Geneva and Paris’. That is what I expect.

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US Supreme Court Grants Review of Federal Bankruptcy Case – JURIST

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On Monday, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear MOAC Mall Holdings v. Transform Holdco, a case examining appellate court jurisdiction over sales orders in federal bankruptcy proceedings. The case revolves around the sale and transfer of a lease for a store in a shopping center. In 1991, Sears obtained a lease for a store in the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The lease only cost Sears $10 a year and was supposed to last 100 years. Sears, however, went bankrupt in 2018. As part of federal bankruptcy proceedings, Sears sold its assets and the Mall of America lease was transferred to Transform Holdco LLC, a corporation formed by Sears’ new owners. Mall of America sought to prevent the transfer because they claim that Transform Holdco LLC does not intend to occupy the leased facilities but to sublet them to other companies. Transform Holdco LLC argues that the long-term lease constitutes a substantial portion of the value Sears was sold for in the bankruptcy proceeding. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit transferred the lease as it was deemed “integral” to a court-approved bankruptcy sale. Mall of America filed a petition with the US Supreme Court, arguing that a remedy is available that would not affect the validity of the sale. Therefore, according to Mall of America, the appellate court should be allowed to intervene. Transform Holdco LLC responds that no such remedy exists, and that the Second Circuit’s ruling should stand. The US Supreme Court must now determine whether federal bankruptcy law limits appeals on sales orders deemed “comprehensive,” even when a remedy is available that will not affect the validity of the sale. The court is set to hear oral arguments in the case next term.

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US appeals court to rehear challenge to Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine executive order – JURIST

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The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an order on Monday stating that the court will rehear Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden, a challenge to President Joe Biden’s 2019 executive order that required federal employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or face termination. In late May and early June, America First Legal Foundation, America’s Frontline Doctors, Airline Employees For Freedom Health, and an additional group of vaccine plaintiffs filed four amicus briefs in favor of a new full hearing. The plaintiffs in Rodden v. Fauci also filed a class action lawsuit made up of federal employees who contracted COVID-19, developed COVID-19 antibodies, “but remain subject to the federal employee vaccination mandate.” The Rodden plaintiffs argue that Biden and the “agencies he directs have no power to direct the personal medical decisions of federal employees,” and therefore this executive order is like an illegal government mandate. In addition, the group asserts that the panel’s refusal to review executive employment decisions is unlawful and thus protects “the exercise of unlawful governmental power.” In January 2022, a Texas judge blocked Biden’s executive order. Other state judges have also blocked enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. In December 2021, a Georgia judge blocked the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for government contractors after the Texas Governor ordered a statewide ban on all COVID-19 vaccination mandates in October 2021 .

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Ukraine’s richest man sues Russia for loss of property and profits – JURIST

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Ukraine’s richest man on Monday filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights against Russia for “serious violations of his property rights during Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine.” Rinat Akhmetov, a Ukrainian businessman who owns much of the country’s manufacturing infrastructure, says he has lost billions of dollars in business since the Russian invasion began. Akhmetov’s announcement highlighted both ongoing human rights violations and infrastructure destruction committed by Russia. He wrote: In addition to the untold human suffering he has caused, Russia’s invasion has resulted in massive destruction of Ukraine’s infrastructure. The shelling of the Azovstal steel complex in Mariupol by Russian artillery seeking to eliminate the last vestiges of Ukrainian resistance in that city has become an international symbol of Russia’s disregard for international law and human rights. As the owner of the Azovstal steel complex, Akhmetov has suffered estimated losses of billions of dollars in both property and profits as a direct result of the Russian invasion. This lawsuit is one of the first initiated by a private individual against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Akhmetov stated several times throughout the announcement that he hopes the court will award him damages so that Ukraine can begin to rebuild.

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