Valiantsin Stefanovich: Human rights defenders deny hooliganism in actions of Siarhei Kavalenka
Representatives of the Human Rights Center Viasna blankly disagree with bringing a criminal case against Siarhei Kavalenka and consider it to be politically motivated persecution.
The criminal case against the activist was brought under Article 339, part of the Criminal Code, ‘hooliganism, committed by a group of persons’. Human rights defenders insist that there are no signs of hooliganism in this case.
The criminal legislation determines hooliganism as ‘deliberate actions grossly violating civil order and demonstrating an open disrespect to the society’. Certain circumstances are necessary for qualifying a person’s actions as hooliganism: violence or threat of violence; destruction or damage of someone else’s property; or manifestation of an exceptional cynicism.
’The first two circumstances are evidently absent in the actions of Siarhei Kavalenka. The remaining circumstance is ‘exceptional cynicism’, which is a matter of evaluation given to a person’s action by the investigation and by the court. In general, hanging out a national white-red-white flag is a political event, not an action aimed at violation of public order, which can by no means be a manifestation of cynicism and disrespect to the society,’ explains Valiantsin Stefanovich.
In his argumentation the human rights defender also focuses on an important detail: ’What is the primary reason for the arrest – the flag or Kavalenka’s actions? How would the authorities have reacted had he hanged out an official red-green flag? I doubt that they would qualify it as a violation under the Criminal Code, the more that there was not intention to breach the public order in Kavalenka’s actions.
Bear in mind that the use of national symbols has often become a reason for detention of citizens, though the law provides no responsibility for it outside the limits of mass actions. In fact, hanging out a white-red-white flag presents no social danger – it is not demonstration of Nazi symbols or an insulting inscription. That’s why the people who are detained for using the national symbols are usually charged with ‘disorderly conduct’. One of the latest cases is connected with hanging out white-red-white flags in Nezalezhnastsi Square in Minsk, when a number of young activists were detained and received such charges.
By the way, the prosecutor’s office demonstrates double standards in its evaluation of incidents with white-red-white flags. In particular, after the first referendum of 1995 a group of state officials came to the roof of the House of the Parliament (if I am not mistaken) and tore into pieces the white-red-white flag that was a state symbol at that time and whose insult was penalized by the Criminal Code. However, despite all public addresses to the prosecutor’s office none of these persons were punished. The prosecutor’s office just answered that the flag was ‘utilized’ this way.
Human rights defenders oppose the restraint chosen for S.Kavalenka – two months in custody during the period of preliminary investigation.
’Siarhei Kavalenka must be at least released from jail, as it is a completely disproportionate restraint. His criminal persecution must be stopped. We will take all necessary measures for it. At present we have to state that Belarus got another political prisoner,’ stated V.Stefanovich.