Viasna calls to repeal criminal defamation
12 April 2016
On 12 April 2016, a ruling of the Court of the Frunzienski district of Minsk found that Aliaksandr Lapitski committed socially dangerous acts provided for in Article 368 (“insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus”), Article 369 (“insulting the authorities”), Article 391 (“insulting a judge or a lay judge”) of the Criminal Code of Belarus, and these acts were committed in a state of unconsciousness. As a result, Aliaksandr Lapitski was subjected to compulsory security measures and treatment. This means that after the judgment becomes final he will be deprived of liberty for a period of compulsory psychiatric treatment.
In accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, an individual, his or her rights, freedoms and the guarantees of their implementation are the supreme goal and value of society and the State.
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and sets the permissible limitations of this right. These limitations are not associated with the official position of the persons affected by the disseminated information.
Thus, the level of protection against defamation forms of expression (attacks on honor, dignity and reputation of persons through the dissemination of offensive information or statements) in respect of government officials, including the President, a prosecutor or a judge, cannot exceed that of any other citizen.
Decriminalization of defamation offenses is a standard articulated and justified in the decisions of a number of international organizations. The UN and the OSCE recommended to repeal the laws that criminalize defamation, or at least, not to imprison persons for committing defamation offenses, taking the civil-law proceedings as a standard. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has called for the repeal of all laws that criminalize defamation of public persons, the state or its organs. Authorized representatives of the UN, the OSCE and the OAS on matters of freedom of speech declared that “criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws.”
The influential international organization Article 19 states that “public authorities, including police and public prosecutors, should take no part in the initiation or prosecution of criminal defamation cases, regardless of the status of the party claiming to have been defamed, even if he or she is a senior public official; under no circumstances should defamation law provide any special protection for public officials, whatever their rank or status.”
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" insists on the decriminalization of acts committed by Aliaksandr Lapitski, and calls for the termination of criminal prosecution for defamation offenses, considering as a first step the abolition of Articles 367, 368, 369, 369-1, 391 of the Criminal Code. The decision on the involuntary hospitalization of Aliaksandr Lapitski should be taken based solely on the security of citizens and of Aliaksandr Lapitski, and in the absence of such threats – not to infringe on his personal freedom.