Leanid Sudalenka: “My arrest was lawless. I guess my release will be as lawless!”
Viasna’s human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka left this message on the situation related to the charges he is facing marked “Publish after arrest”.
- receipt by an individual through a Belarusian bank of funds from abroad is not a criminal offense;
- the beneficiaries of payment of fines, costs of meals in detention facilities and state fees were exclusively participants in peaceful protests;
- assistance to the repressed, including by filing complaints with the courts, took place only after, and not before, their participation in the protests;
- financial assistance was provided exclusively through banks and the funds were paid to the state budget, which is confirmed by the seized receipts;
- the protection of the rights of the repressed at the national and international level was public in nature and was widely covered in the media.
DESCRIPTION OF THE SITUATION
I am a Belarusian human rights defender. For the past 20 years, I have been involved in the protection of human rights both at the national and international levels, helping to defend rights in the UN Human Rights Committee (UN HRC).
My peaceful activities to protect the rights of others are fully consistent with the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, according to which everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels (art. 1).
Nevertheless, systemic harassment of human rights defenders in Belarus continues. We are faced with the criminalization of our peaceful activities, systemic harassment and intimidation, arbitrary detention, degrading treatment, restrictions on movement, and discrimination based on our beliefs.
On January 5, searches were carried out in my office and in my house. Office equipment, bank cards and over 200 cases of repressed participants of peaceful protests in 2020 were confiscated.
On January 12, journalist Andrei Aliaksandrau was arrested in Minsk for similar assistance to victims of repression. He was charged under Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code, “financing of group actions which gravely breach public order”.
A public statement by deputy Interior Minister alleged that the journalist had been receiving money from abroad since last August and had been paying fines imposed on protesters and bills for meals in the temporary detention facility they were ordered to reimburse. It was said that he paid for about 250 receipts. In addition, the official said that a search had been conducted in the office of an unregistered organization, which he said would receive a legal assessment. And, although the name of the organization was not disclosed, it is easy to guess that it was a search in our office, since there were no other searches in the country at that time.
Since August last year, I have also paid fines, food bills and, in some cases, state duties for repressed protesters. As an expert in the field of law, I had no doubts about the legitimacy of such assistance then, and I have no doubt today, and here is why.
Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code, “organization and preparation of actions which gravely breach public order, or active participation in them,” which may be used to charge me literally sounds as follows:
“Training or otherwise preparing persons to participate in group actions which gravely breach public order, as well as financing or other material support for such activities in the absence of signs of a more serious crime shall be punishable by arrest or imprisonment for up to two years.”
A literal analysis of this provision of the criminal code allows us to come to the only conclusion that funding stands for the provision or collection of funds or the provision of financial services with the knowledge that they are intended to pay for training, recruitment, etc. of persons to participate in group activities. At the same time, “other material support” stands for any types of assistance, in particular: buying clothes, food, providing premises for housing, gathering, conducting classes, etc.
I stress that I was engaged in assistance in paying administrative fines exclusively to those brought to administrative responsibility for committing an offense under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code, as well as paying for stay in detention facilities when serving administrative penalties of detention. And here lies an important and perhaps the key detail: bringing to administrative responsibility for violations of the Law “On Mass Events” rules out a criminal offense in these actions of the protesters!
Nevertheless, I was detained on suspicion of committing a crime under Part 2 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code, namely for financing “group actions which gravely breach public order.”
In this regard, I note that I arranged financial assistance to persons whose actions did not contain any elements of the indicated criminal offense, since they were all held accountable for administrative offenses. Therefore, my actions lack components essential to the crime.
Moreover, on a subjective basis, Part 2 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code establishes responsibility for acts that, by their content, are complicity in the organization and participation in group actions which gravely breach public order. Meanwhile, it is activities aimed specifically at preparing a gross violation of public order (funding, training, payment of remuneration promised in advance to such persons, the acquisition of weapons, etc.) that can be recognized as funding.
I, on the other hand, provided material assistance to persons who had already committed an administrative offense or who had served an assigned administrative imprisonment, which is not financing of prohibited activities, according to Article 342 of the Criminal Code.
At the same time, there are no facts that I personally persuaded other persons to commit administrative offenses in violation of the Law “On Mass Events”, e.g. promising advance payments of fines, state duties or detention costs.
ABOUT PRE-TRIAL DETENTION
I was detained and taken into custody as a suspect under Part 2 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (punishable by arrest or imprisonment for up to two years).
In this regard, it is important to note that pre-trial detention is the strictest restriction and can only be imposed on a person who is a defendant in a criminal case which carries a penalty of more than two years in prison. In exceptional cases, this restriction may be imposed on a suspect or accused in cases of crimes for which the law provides for imprisonment for under two years, if they do not have a permanent place of residence on the territory of the Republic of Belarus or their identity has not been established.
Obviously, this is not my case! I was born and have a permanent place of residence in the Republic of Belarus. I have a permanent registration. I have a family, including a minor child, a permanent job and a stable income.
The listed circumstances completely rule out the application of the strictest restriction in my case, namely pre-trial detention.
Homieĺ - January 18, 2021