HRDs call for immediate release of all persons arrested in ‘rioting and armed group case’ after reports of torture in KGB prison
Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights organizations
Minsk, 7 June 2017
On 5 June 2017, representatives of the Belarusian human rights organizations received evidence of the use of torture in the KGB pre-trial prison against Siarhei Kuntsevich, one of the persons charged under Part 3 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code as part of a criminal case of ‘preparing mass riots’, which has attracted much public attention.
Kuntsevich’s testimony was recorded in detail. He further filed a request in the Investigation Committee asking to open a criminal case in connection with the commission of a crime against him. He argued, inter alia, that during a questioning in the KGB building, which took place in the absence of a lawyer, several persons in black uniforms and masks hit him several times, after the investigators left the interrogation room. After that, one of them three or four times used an electroshock weapon against the victim, applying it to his left leg for 30-40 seconds. This resulted in an acute physical pain. Moreover, during his stay in the KGB pre-trial prison, Kuntsevich was held in degrading and inhumane conditions: he was forced to sleep on the floor for 14 days, sitting on a narrow board during the day; the prisoner received no medical attention. After his transfer to detention center No. 1, he was beaten by employees of the facility.
In connection with the above information, of particular concern is the closed nature of the case (also known as ‘the White Legion case’ or ‘the Patriots case’), including total absence of any official information about the investigation, the essence of the charges, the physical condition and the conditions of detention of persons in custody. Under the threat of prosecution, the defense lawyers are prohibited from disclosing information about their clients, their complaints of violation of their rights. The persons earlier suspected or charged in the case, who have been released from custody before trial, were forced, in violation of Part 2 of Art. 198 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, to sign agreements of non-disclosure of information relating to the preliminary investigation. Meanwhile, the notion of ‘preliminary investigation’ is interpreted very widely by officials. This severely limits the persons’ right to legal protection.
Under these circumstances, the information provided by Siarhei Kuntsevich requires a particularly careful consideration, unbiased verification and response.
The above information about the use of torture by officials raises concerns about the conditions of the 14 persons arrested in the criminal case, who have been for a long time held in the KGB pre-trial prison and the Interior Ministry’s detention center.
We, representatives of the country’s human rights community, once again remind the authorities of the Republic of Belarus that:
Freedom from torture is an absolute right and is not subject to any restrictions even in a military conflict or a state of emergency. By ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, Belarus committed itself to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. Similarly, the Republic of Belarus is obliged to ensure that all acts of torture are viewed as offenses under national criminal law.
We remind that, in accordance with the current legislation, evidence obtained in violation of the law has no legal force, cannot be taken as a basis for the charges and cannot be used as evidence.
In this regard, we, representatives of the country’s human rights organizations, urge:
- the General Prosecutor's Office and the Investigative Committee to conduct an objective investigation of the torture report voiced by Siarhei Kuntsevich and to bring those responsible to justice;
- to change the measure of restraint in respect of all the 14 persons arrested in the criminal case of ‘preparing mass riots and creating an illegal armed group’ and to immediately release them from custody in order to avoid being subjected to torture;
- to comply strictly with its international obligations to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that were undertaken by the Republic of Belarus.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Legal Transformation Center
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Belarusian Documentation Center
Committee to Protect the Repressed "Solidarity"
Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs of Belarus