We demand retrials and release of three more political prisoners
Joint statement of the Belarusian human rights community
Minsk – July 21, 2021
In response to the sentencing of:
Vital Shyshlou, to 6 years in prison for participation in riots, group actions that grossly violate public order, and violence and the threat of violence against police officers (under Art. 293, 342 and 364 of the Criminal Code),
Siarhei Dziatsuk, to 3 years in prison for threat of violence against police officers (under Art. 364 of the Criminal Code),
Aleh Krautsou, to 3 years in prison for attempting to organize group actions that grossly violate public order, and incitement to deliberately rendering unusable roads, signaling facilities and other transport equipment (under Art. 342 and 309 of the Criminal Code),
we note the following:
Freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This freedom is not subject to any restrictions other than those established by law and necessary in a democratic society for the purposes of national and public security, public order, public health and morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The post-election protests were spontaneous, self-organized, and were caused by distrust of the results of the August 9 presidential election, which was marred by numerous violations and fraud, and was not recognized by the international community as democratic, fair and free.
The meetings were peaceful and did not pose a threat to national or public security. Despite this, the demonstrators were attacked by special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs who used disproportionate violence, riot gear and non-lethal weapons.
For the first time in the history of Belarus, rubber bullets and water cannons were used against peaceful demonstrators. A particularly large amount of damage was inflicted by the use of stun grenades.
In its statement of August 10, the Belarusian human rights community condemned the actions of law enforcement agencies and placed all responsibility for what happened on August 9 and 10 on the authorities of Belarus.
We also consider it necessary to note that the demonstrators did not commit any of the actions covered by Art. 293 of the Criminal Code and accordingly cannot be qualified as mass riots. The protesters did not set fires, destroy property or put up armed resistance to law enforcement agencies.
Individual cases of violence against police officers by demonstrators require a separate legal qualification, taking into account the context and circumstances of the use of violence, including in the context of self-defense against knowingly disproportionate actions of police officers.
However, Shyshlou’s actions were assessed without taking into account the provisions of the Covenant, as the duration and conditions of imprisonment is clearly disproportionate (inadequate) to the offense of which he was found guilty; he is imprisoned selectively compared to others.
Peaceful assembly and freedom of expression must be protected by the state. We share the position of the UN Human Rights Committee that “a functioning and transparent legal and decision-making system lies at the core of the duty to respect and ensure peaceful assemblies. Domestic law must recognize the right of peaceful assembly, clearly set out the duties and responsibilities of all public officials involved, be aligned with the relevant international standards and be publicly accessible. […] No one should be harassed or face other reprisals as a result of their presence at or affiliation with a peaceful assembly.”
Dziatsuk’s actions were the result of a clear violation of the constitutional, internationally recognized and procedural rights of his mother, whom police officers suspected of participating in a peaceful picket and searched (“inspected”) her apartment, during which her phone was confiscated. Thus, they had the character of self-defense: it is not a crime to commit an act committed in a state of necessary protection, that is, to protect the rights of the defender or another person, the interests of society or the state from socially dangerous encroachment. These circumstances were not taken into account by the court when passing the sentence.
The duration and conditions of Dziatsuk’s imprisonment are clearly disproportionate (inadequate) to the offense of which he was found guilty; he is imprisoned selectively compared to others.
Krautsou’s intentions to block transport in Lida by obstructing traffic at railway crossings can be considered as intentions to implement one of the forms of peaceful protest, and given the total lack of opportunities in Belarus to exercise the right to peaceful assembly and expression, as defined by national law and the practice of its application – as an acceptable form of exercise of their rights under Articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Regarding the conviction of Krautsou under Art. 309 of the Criminal Code, we refer to the position set out in the joint statement of Belarusian human rights organizations and conclude that it is arbitrary; besides, the duration and conditions of Krautsou’s imprisonment are clearly disproportionate (inadequate) to the offenses of which he was found guilty; he is imprisoned selectively compared to others.
Based on this and guided by paragraph 3.2 (a, b, c, d) of the Guide to the definition of "political prisoner", we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, declare Vital Shyshlou, Siarhei Dziatsuk and Aleh Krautsou political prisoners and call to:
- immediately review the measures and court decisions taken against them, while respecting their right to a fair trial and eliminating the above factors, and to release them with the application of other measures that ensure the appearance in court;
- immediately release all political prisoners and end political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Documentation Center