Human rights groups insist on retrials and release of six more convicts
Joint statement of the Belarusian human rights community
October 5, 2021
In response to the passing of a number of verdicts in criminal trials involving protesters and other persons charged with using violence against police officers, violent resistance to police officers, and other officials performing official duties (Articles 363, 364, 366 of the Criminal Code):
Viktar Prusau, sentenced on September 17, 2021 in a closed session to three years in a penal colony under Art. 364 of the Criminal Code for using violence against a police officer;
Kanstantsin Mikhaltsou, sentenced on September 22, 2021 by the Rečyca District Court to three years in a penal colony under Art. 364, 342 and 368 of the Criminal Code for participating in a peaceful assembly, insulting the president and obstructing the detention of another participant in a peaceful assembly;
Arseni Shcharbinin, sentenced by Lida District Court to three years and six months of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) under Art. 342 and 364 of the Criminal Code for participating in a peaceful assembly and resisting police violence during its dispersal; sent to serve the sentence;
Mikita Filchuk, sentenced by the Lida District Court to three years and six months of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) under Articles 342 and 364 of the Criminal Code for participating in a peaceful assembly and resisting police violence during its dispersal; sent to serve the sentence;
Pavel Kaminski, sentenced by the Lida District Court to three years and six months of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) under Articles 342 and 364 of the Criminal Code for participating in a peaceful assembly and resisting police violence during its dispersal; sent to serve the sentence;
Andrei Navitski, sentenced on September 30, 2021 by the Lieninski District Court of Minsk to five years in a penal colony under Articles 368, 342 and 295 of the Criminal Code for participating in a peaceful assembly, insulting the president and possessing 33 grams of gunpowder.
Reaffirming our position set out in the joint statement of human rights organizations of January 16, 2021, we note the following:
Peaceful assemblies of citizens should be protected by the state, and the police should not take actions to forcibly stop them, even if they take place in violation of the procedures for their organization and holding. Violent termination of assemblies and the use of physical force, let alone special means and weapons against protesters should be carried out only as an extreme measure, in cases when the behavior of assembly participants is of violent nature, which poses a real threat to national and public security, life and health of citizens.
Disproportionate brutal actions of the police aimed at suppressing peaceful assemblies cannot be considered as a legitimate activity for the protection and preservation of public order, and in cases of violence used by protesters in reverse provoked by the same police officers, these actions should be considered based on the severity of the injury and intent to cause such harm, and as protection from clearly unlawful actions of law enforcement officers, who followed unlawful orders.
According to the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, violence that was provoked by the initial disproportionate use of physical force, means of restraint, and if there was no intent to cause non-symbolic material damage or harm to anyone in the actions of the accused, provides grounds to hold these individuals to be political prisoners.
In addition, monitoring of these trials has shown that the courts impose disproportionately harsh (inadequate) sentences for the offense with which the individuals are charged, compared to sentences imposed in the same categories of cases outside the political context.
The length or conditions of imprisonment imposed on participants in protest assemblies were clearly disproportionate (inadequate) to the offense for which the individuals were found guilty.
In many cases, court hearings were held behind closed doors: members of the public, human rights defenders, and members of the media were not admitted. Court decisions to hold closed sessions were not based on the need to protect state secrets or the personal information of trial participants, which is undesirable for public dissemination.
All of these circumstances give reason to believe that the prosecution of these individuals is politically motivated and that the individuals themselves are political prisoners.
On this basis, and guided by para. 3.2 (a, b, c, d) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, we recognize Viktar Prusau, Kanstantsin Mikhaltsou, Arseni Shcharbinin, Mikita Filchuk, Pavel Kaminski and Andrei Navitski as political prisoners:
We deem it necessary to demand the immediate review of the measures taken against them and the court decisions in the execution of the right to a fair trial and elimination of the said factors, as well as their release from custody employing other measures ensuring their appearance in court.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Identity and Law