On 8 May 2020, the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus set the date for Belarus’s presidential elections for 9 August 2020.
On 12 May 2020 Viktor Babariko, an ex-chairman of the board of Belgazprombank, announced that he was going to participate in the elections as a presidential candidate.
On 20 May 2020, the Central Commission on Elections and Republican Referenda (CER) registered Babariko’s presidential candidacy campaign group.
On 28 May 2020, Znak, having signed an agreement between his law office and Babariko, joined Babariko’s team to provide legal assistance on electoral law issues, after which Babariko issued power of attorney to Maxim Znak as representative of Babariko’s interests in all courts and state authorities on any legal issues related to participation in the election campaign. Znak’s decision to join the campaign was made based on his position on civil rights: he is for fair elections and for the participation of alternative candidates. He also recognised that Babariko needed professional legal assistance to protect his rights as a candidate, since participation in Belarus’s presidential elections as an alternative candidate to the incumbent raises the risk of obstacles to exercise this right as well as personal risks. In previous elections, a number of candidates have been prosecuted and convicted.
On 12 June 2020, after Alexander Lukashenko’s public statements that one of his competitors (i.e., Viktor Babariko) “made his money fraudulently”, the State Control Committee of the Republic of Belarus (KGB) initiated a particularly wide-ranging criminal case on tax evasion (Part 2 of Art. 243 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus) and legalisation of unlawful income (Part 2 of Article 235 of the Criminal Code). After the case was initiated, more than 15 Belgazprombank employees were detained.
On 18 June 2020, Babariko was detained due to the criminal case as the former head of Belgazprombank, and on 20 June 2020, he was charged and taken into custody. To date, he remains in the KGB’s pre-trial detention center.
On 20 June 2020, Znak, on behalf of Babariko, submitted an application for registration of Babariko as a presidential candidate of the Republic of Belarus to the CER.
On 14 July 2020, Znak represented Babariko at a meeting of the CER, where the issue of registering the latter as a presidential candidate was considered. The CER refused to register Babariko on the basis of a letter from the Committee on Financial Control, containing allegations of alleged crimes committed by Babariko. This occurred in the absence of evidence and a court verdict. On 15 July 2020, Znak filed a complaint on behalf of Babariko to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus on the CER’s decision. On 16 July 2020, the Supreme Court overruled the complaint.
On 14 July 2020, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was registered by the CER as a presidential candidate. On 16 July 2020, Tikhanovskaya, Maria Kolesnikova (a representative of Babariko’s headquarters), and Veronika Tsepkalo (representative of the headquarters of another unregistered candidate, Valery Tsepkalo) announced the unification of their headquarters. Znak continued to work on the election campaign as a lawyer on the basis of his agreement with Babariko and the power of attorney dated 12 June 2020, and also on the basis of another agreement on legal assistance with Tikhanovskaya dated 6 August 2020. Legal assistance consisted, as before, in the preparation of legal documents, consulting and maintaining publicity of the work, and other activities such as legislation clarification.
On 9 August 2020, presidential elections were held in Belarus. According to official results, the incumbent, President Alexander Lukashenko won by 80.1 per cent, against Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s 10.1 per cent of the vote. However, the elections were held in an atmosphere where electoral procedures were not transparent and independent election observers of the election commissions’ work experienced oppression. Numerous violations of electoral legislation were recorded. Therefore, the election results caused unrest among the joint headquarters and many citizens, leading to large-scale protests throughout Belarus, with initiatives organising to expose the falsification of the election results and advocating a vote recount.
On 10 August 2020, Tikhanovskaya, together with Znak, filed a complaint on the election results to the CER at their building, where law enforcement officers spoke with her. After this she left the CER building, without a lawyer, and her whereabouts were unknown until the next day. On the morning of 11 August, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius announced that Tihanovskaya was in Lithuania. This was followed by statements by Tikhanovskaya and the joint headquarters that she was forced to leave Belarus and go to Lithuania, as she was under unprecedented pressure.
On 14 August 2020, there were the first mass protests against the election results, which led to strong reactions from the authorities in the form of violence against the protesters. Police and security forces used special equipment (police batons, stungrenades, firearms with rubber bullets, tear gas) and tortured detainees in isolation wards. Tikhanovskaya announced that she and her headquarters were ready for dialogue with the authorities and that she would be initiating the creation of a Coordination Council, consisting of representatives of civil society. Tikhanovskaya instructed her confidant Olga Kovalkova and Znak (power of attorney issued on 20 August 2020) to accept applications for the nomination of council members from organisations and associations of citizens.
On 18 August 2020, the Coordination Council began its work. The Resolution, approved at the meeting of the Council on 19 August, states that the Council “aims to find ways to overcome the political crisis in the Republic of Belarus and ensure harmony in society on the basis of the Constitution. The Coordination Council does not aim to change the constitutional order and foreign policy”. The initial number of Council members included 4,691 citizens. Znak was elected to be one of the members of the Presidium of the Coordination Council.
On 18 August 2020, the activities of the Council as an association of citizens met with opposition from the state. Lukashenko called the creation of the Coordination Council an attempt to seize power at a meeting with Security Council members.
On 19 August 2020, the Prosecutor General of Belarus, Alexander Konyuk, initiated a criminal case concerning the creation of the Coordination Council and qualifying their actions to be a crime under Part 3 of Art. 361 of the Criminal Code. On 21 August 2020, Znak was summoned to the Investigative Committee for questioning as a witness in the case initiated on 19 August 2020.
On 21 August 2020, Znak, on behalf of Tikhanovskaya, filed a complaint to the Supreme Court to declare the elections invalid. The complaint was accompanied by 25 large files of documents proving the grounds for the complaint. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal.