HRDs demand to release political prisoner Natallia Hershe
Minsk – December 23, 2020
On December 7, 2020, the Saviecki District Court of Minsk found Natallia Hersche guilty of committing a crime under Part 2 of Art. 363 of the Criminal Code (resistance to a police officer) and sentenced her to 2 years and 6 months in prison.
According to the verdict, when being detained for taking part in an unsanctioned demonstration on September 19, Natallia Hersche resisted a police officer, grabbed him by his uniform, tore off his mask and scratched his face, which caused bodily injuries.
In this regard, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, relying on the opinion of experts and lawyers of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", who monitored the trial, note the following:
The criminal prosecution of Natallia Hersche, who is both a citizen of the Republic of Belarus and of Switzerland, is politically motivated and is part of the general policies enforced before and after the August 9 presidential election, namely strengthening or retaining power.
During the consideration of the criminal case, the court did not assess the legality of the demands and actions of police officers who dispersed the assembly, which took place in Minsk on September 19, 2020 and was attended by Natallia Hersche.
We believe that the convict did not commit a criminal offense at all, as the activities of the Interior Ministry to detain the participants of the peaceful assembly went beyond their “duties to protect public order.” The spontaneous protest was exclusively peaceful, and, according to international standards (paragraph 131 of the OSCE Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly), it must be protected by the authorities.
In this regard, the court had to classify the actions of the accused as committed not in connection with the victim’s protection of public order and general official duties, but in case of injuries — based on intent to cause harm and severity of consequences.
In assessing the nature of the defendant’s actions in inflicting injuries on the injured police officer, we believe that they were committed through negligence and are not criminal.
Actions showing signs of disobedience or resistance were initially provoked by the disproportionate use of physical force by officers of the Interior Ministry, a threat of riot control equipment and non-lethal weapons, although the defendant’s actions were not intended to cause non-symbolic material or health damage.
It should be noted that even if Hersche’s actions were generally described as resistance to a police officer, the act of removing the mask (balaclava) from the victim is a separate action (of symbolic nature) aimed at de-anonymizing those who arbitrarily detain protesters and use violence against them, and it has nothing to do with disobedience or resistance.
We believe that the sentence of imprisonment was imposed on Nattallia Hersche as a result of a trial held in violation of the principles of a fair trial, and that the sentence chosen by the court, taking into account its duration and conditions of imprisonment, is disproportionate to the offense of which she was found guilty.
It is obvious that it was due to the presence of political motives on the part of the authorities that Natallia Hersche was selectively deprived of her liberty, in contrast to other similar cases.
Taking into account all these circumstances and guided by paragraph 3.2 (a, c, d) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, we recognize Natallia Hersche as a political prisoner and in this regard call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately reconsider the sentence of Natallia Hersche, taking into account the principles of a fair trial and eliminating the factors that influenced the verdict;
- release Natallia Hersche and select other measures to ensure her appearance in court.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House