Immediately release political prisoners Maryia Babovich and Dzianis Hrakhanau!
Minsk – October 29, 2020
On September 9, 2020, Maryia Babovich and Dzianis Hrakhanau were detained by police for painting the inscription “We Will Not Forget” on the sidewalk near the Puškinskaja metro station in Minsk.
Babovich was detained as part of a criminal case under Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism committed by a group of persons), while Dzianis Hrakhanau was detained under Art. 341 of the Criminal Code (desecration of buildings and damage to property). Hrakhanau was later released, but on October 22, he was re-arrested, taken into custody in the detention center and charged under Part 2 of Art. 339 and Part 2 of Art. 218 of the Criminal Code.
The charges against Maryia Babovich were also reclassified to Part 2 of Art. 339 and Part 2 of Art. 218. At the moment, she is in the pre-trial detention center in Žodzina.
Thus, the maximum penalty for Maryia and Dzianis is 10 years in prison each.
In this regard, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, note the following.
Painting the phrase “We Will Not Forget” does not constitute hooliganism. We strongly disagree with this qualification of the actions of Maryia and Dzianis.
The graffiti they painted did not destroy or damage the object (sidewalk), nor did it lead to the loss of its consumer qualities. Bringing it to its original form required certain material costs, which could be incurred later on the perpetrators of damage under civil law.
The content of the inscription, the place where it was made (the place of the murder of peaceful protester Aliaksandr Taraikouski), in the context of socio-political events, public debates and political protests taking place in the country in the past three months, indicate that the motive for painting the inscription was expression of opinion on these socially significant topics.
We believe that this form of expression falls under the protection of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has nothing to do with the charges they are facing.
In accordance with Art. 19 of the Covenant, everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of their choice. The exercise of this right may impose special duties and special responsibilities. It may, accordingly, be subject to certain restrictions, which, however, must be established by law and be necessary: for respect for the rights and reputation of others, for the protection of public safety, public order, health and morals of the population.
The accused did not encroach on sacred or historical and cultural values, did not destroy them, and the inscription did not cause irreversible damage to the surface where it appeared. The accused did not use obscene language or hate speech on the grounds of nationality, race, religion or social origin and other grounds.
The actions of Maryia Babovich and Dzianis Hrakhanau were exclusively peaceful and accordingly fall under the protection of Art. 19 of the Covenant.
In addition, the amount of damage allegedly caused by the actions of Maryia and Dzianis is clearly overstated. In particular, the Horremautador municipal company estimated the damage at 10,182 rubles for Maryia, and 10,000 rubles for Dzianis.
The inscription “We Will Not Forget” could not cause significant damage or destruction of the sidewalk surface, and the material damage from such an inscription was clearly symbolic.
The overstated amount of damage led to the additional qualification of the actions of Maryia Babovich and Dzianis Hrakhanau under Part 2 of Art. 218 of the Criminal Code: intentional destruction or damage to property committed in a socially dangerous manner or causing large-scale damage. The maximum penalty provided for this offense in Article 218 is up to 10 years of imprisonment.
In this context, we consider the imprisonment of Maryia Babovich and Dzianis Hrakhanau to be arbitrary and politically motivated, and Maryia Babovich and Dzianis Hrakhanau to be political prisoners in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
In this regard, we, representatives of human rights organizations in Belarus, demand to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Maryia Babovich and Dzianis Hrakhanau from custody and drop the criminal charges they are facing;
- Immediately release all political prisoners and put an end to political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Initiative Group “Identity and Law”
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Belarusian Documentation Center
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”