Stop persecution of Andrei Bandarenka. Joint statement by Belarusian human rights organizations
Joint statement by representatives of the Belarusian human rights community on new criminal charges against Andrei Bandarenka
Minsk – 29 November 2016
On 25 November 2016, it was announced that on November 14 the Mahilioŭ interdistrict department of the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case under Part 2 of Article 411 of the Criminal Code (“willful disobedience to the correctional institution administration”) against human rights activist Andrei Bandarenka.
Andrei Bandarenka is a human rights activist known for heading from 2011 to 2014 the human rights initiative Platforma, which monitored conditions in places of detention, protected the civil rights of prisoners, exposed ill-treatment of detainees by representatives of law-enforcement bodies, advised the prisoners and their families about their rights.
In November 2011, Andrei Bandarenka presented a report on torture in Belarus at the 47th session of the United Nations. In 2012 and 2013, Platforma published monitoring reports subjecting the government to harsh criticism for violating the rights of prisoners.
During his active human rights work, Andrei Bandarenka was repeatedly subjected to pressure from the authorities. In particular, in 2012, the State Security Committee (KGB) put him on the preventive register; in the same year he received an official warning from the Prosecutor General’s Office for taking part in a campaign in protest against the Ice Hockey World Championship in Belarus. He was among a number of well-known politicians, human rights defenders and civil society activists who were arbitrarily restricted from leaving Belarus. In 2013, he served an administrative arrest for trying to organize a moment of silence at the detention center in Minsk, where an inmate, Ihar Ptsichkin, had died under mysterious circumstances. In October 2012, at the suit of the Ministry of Taxes and Duties Platforma was liquidated, and was later succeeded by the cultural and educational institution Platform Innovation.
In August 2014, Bandarenka was sentenced on charges of hooliganism to three years of imprisonment in a medium regime penal colony.
Since the beginning of serving the sentence, first in penal colony No. 2 (Babrujsk, 27 October 2014 – 3 January 2015), and then in penal colony No. 17 (Škloŭ, 1 January – 22 December 2015), Bandarenka’s life and health have been in danger. Among all possible measures to protect the imprisoned human rights defender, the administrations of the above-mentioned colonies use only one option — confining Bandarenka in the so-called safe place, but in fact in an isolated cell. Moreover, the administration reacted harshly to formal violations of the disciplinary rules. During this period, the prison authorities ten times applied disciplinary measures, including three times by placing the prisoner in a punishment cell, one time by transferring him to a cell-type room. As a result, on 5 May 2015 Bandarenka was labeled a ‘malicious offender’ of the order of punishment and was subsequently deprived of the right to amnesty. On 17 December the conditions of his imprisonment were tightened, after the Court of Škloŭ district ordered to transfer Bandarenka to serve the remaining part of his sentences in prison.
While serving a sentence in prison No. 4 in Mahilioŭ between 22 December 2015 to the present time, Bandarenka was three times subjected to discipline penalties, including one times by placing him in a punishment cell. He is currently in solitary confinement and placed on the preventive register as ‘a person who is prone to hostage-taking, attacks on the administration, manifestations of hooliganism’. The latest penalty was issued on 6 October 2016.
Violations for which Bandarenka received penalties were as follows: twice — refusal to work for the collective self-service (assigned exclusively to humiliate the prisoner and is therefore considered inadmissible); absence from the dining room at lunch time because of a delay in the church service; refusal to occupy a berth in the cell as instructed by the administration and two more refusals – in the punishment cell; violations of the daily routine in the cell and separately refusals – in the punishment cell; untidy appearance; twice — tactless behavior towards the penitentiary staff; breach of confinement measures (when replying to a question about the cell number from a person other than a prison officer during an escorted walk); a delay in the presentation during the entry of a prison officer into the cell.
All attempts to challenge the biased and unfounded penalties by the prison administration to the Department of Corrections, the Prosecutor's Office and courts were unsuccessful. The human rights activist receives formal refusals, there were documented facts of denial of justice in relation to A. Bandarenka, when the Lieninski District Court of Mahilioŭ refused to consider his appeal against putting him on the register as ‘a person who is prone to hostage-taking, attacks on the administration, manifestations of hooliganism’, redirecting it to the Department of Corrections; the same appeal was rejected by the Škloŭ District Court.
In June 2016, Bandarenka was formally warned about the possibility of bringing him to criminal responsibility under Article 411 of the Criminal Code (“willful disobedience to the correctional institution administration”). A criminal case was officially opened on November 14.
Andrei Bandarenka was expected to be released on 31 March 2017 upon the expiration of his sentence, but new charges against him under Art. 411 of the Criminal Code may lead to the re-conviction of up to two years in prison.
The presence in the Criminal Code and the practical application of Art. 411 have repeatedly evoked criticism from the human rights community of Belarus, as this article can be arbitrarily and selectively used by the administrations of correctional institutions in respect of disloyal prisoners, including for the purpose of politically motivated prosecutions.
We condemn the opening of a new case against prisoner Andrei Bandarenka. Despite the fact that the sentence pronounced against him in 2014 was not related to his human rights activities, we believe that the new prosecution is a form of politically motivated pressure associated with his earlier human rights activities.
If convicted under Part 2 of Art. 411 of the Criminal Code, the criteria applied by the Belarusian human rights organizations will allow us to qualify Bandarenka as a political prisoner.
We demand to:
- put an end to the politically motivated and groundless prosecution of Bandarenka on new charges;
- review appeals and complaints submitted by Bandarenka with due respect to the principles of fairness and objectivity;
- verify the legitimacy and proportionality of the penalties imposed, bearing in mind that the abolition of those that were imposed unjustly and illegally will be the basis for mitigating the detention regime or the conditional reduction of Bandarenka’s sentence.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Center for Legal Transformation
Committee for the Protection of the Repressed "Solidarity"
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Belarusian Documentation Center