Amnesty International calls on Belarusian President to free youth activists
Here is the full text of the statement:
Belarusian youth activists must be freed
26 November 2009
Call on Belarusian President to free youth activists
In April and May 2008, seven youth activists were sentenced to up to two years of ‘restricted freedom’ in Belarus after they participated in a peaceful demonstration in the capital, Minsk.
Amnesty International believes that Artsyom Dubski, Tatyana Tishkevich, Alyaksei Bondar, Mikhail Kryvau, Maxim Dashuk and Ales Charnyshou have been targeted for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.
The seventh activist, Ales Straltsou, served just over 18 months of his two-year sentence of 'restricted freedom' before he was amnestied in November 2009.
Thousands of people, including civil society activists and businessmen, took to the streets in Minsk on 10 January 2008 to participate in a demonstration against the introduction of a presidential decree concerning restrictive tax and employment regulations for small businesses.
The demonstration was organized by entrepreneurs who had applied to the authorities for permission to hold the demonstration. They did not receive a reply to their request and decided to go ahead with the protest.
Fourteen individuals were subsequently convicted for “taking part in or organizing actions that gravely disturb public order” and sentenced to up to two years of ‘restricted freedom’.
While seven of them have since been pardoned under an amnesty and one has been released, the sentences of Artsyom Dubski, Tatyana Tishkevich, Alyaksei Bondar, Mikhail Kryvau, Maxim Dashuk and Ales Charnyshou remain in force.
The terms of ‘restricted freedom’ are so severe that they are considered by Amnesty International to amount to house arrest.
The terms of ‘restricted freedom’ include: allowing police officers to enter their place of residence at any time to check that they are abiding by the terms of their sentence; the seven individuals need permission to leave their town or district of residence; they are required to be at home when not at work, at least from 7pm to 6am unless work hours do not allow this; they are regularly required to report to their local police station.
Amnesty International is also concerned that, although the sentence of ‘restricted freedom’ is imposed by a judge, the details of the restrictions can be set by the police officer in charge of the case.
This results in a situation where the restrictions can be changed arbitrarily by police officers, making it very difficult for the convicted person to comply, and offering them no right of appeal against such decisions.
In June 2009, Maxim Dashuk's sentence was increased by 15 months of further ‘restricted freedom’ after a police officer was unable to find him at home on several occasions. Maxim Dashuk says that he was at work with his mother at the business she owns. He had been working longer hours after the death of his father in April.
In July 2009, Artsyom Dubski was sentenced to one year in prison after the police officer in charge of his case told the prosecutor he had violated the terms of his sentence. He is currently serving his sentence in Prison No.19 in Mogilov, eastern Belarus.
Tatyana Tishkevich left Belarus on 21 January 2008 after she was expelled from university because of her political activities. She was sentenced in her absence.
Alyaksei Bondar and Mikhal Kryvau also left the country after they were sentenced. All three face up to three years’ imprisonment if they return to Belarus as leaving the country means they have automatically violated the terms of their sentence.
Amnesty International believes that the convictions against all six activists violate their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.
It is calling on the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Artsyom Dubski, to lift the restrictions on Tatyana Tishkevich, Alyaksei Bondar, Mikhail Kryvau, Maxim Dashuk and Ales Charnyshou and to allow the three who have fled to return to Belarus without risk of further charges being brought against them.