Immediately release political prisoner Artsiom Bayarski!
Joint statement of Belarusian human rights organizations
Minsk – May 6, 2021
As reported by a reliable source, Artsiom Bayarski, a Belarusian State University student, was detained by the police on April 18, after serving 25 days of administrative detention for participating in a peaceful assembly. He then was charged under Part 1 of Art. 361-1 of the Criminal Code (creation of an extremist formation). Bayarski was taken into custody in pre-trial prison No. 1 in Minsk.
Artsiom Bayarski reportedly told his lawyer that on March 24 he was tortured by Interior Ministry officers, who forced him to appear in a video confession admitting his role in the administration of the Telegram channel “Maya Kraina Belarus” (“My Country of Belarus”). On March 25, the video was posted on the Telegram channel of a well-known state TV propaganda worker Ryhor Azaronak.
In this regard, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, note the following.
Artsiom Bayarski’s persecution comes amid unprecedented post-election repression and a profound human rights crisis in the country. Recently, in order to combat dissent and protest activity, the authorities are increasingly resorting to the application of so-called anti-extremism legislation. The Belarusian human rights community previously exposed the numerous shortcomings of existing legislation in the field of combating extremism, its incompatibility with international human rights standards and the highly flawed law enforcement practices. However, now that the Prosecutor General’s Office of Belarus has submitted amendments to the anti-extremism act, we firmly note that the real purpose of this law is to fight dissent in the country following the worst traditions of the Soviet era.
Blacklisting local online chats as extremist, and persecuting their founders and moderators as creators of extremist formations, the purpose of which is to “organize and hold unauthorized gatherings”, is an extremely dangerous trend, as it grossly encroaches on fundamental, constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and international standards in the field of peaceful assemblies, freedom of expression and freedom of association.
Artsiom Bayarski exercised his freedom of peaceful assembly and expression in an exclusively peaceful manner. His public activities did not in any way pose a threat to national or public security, public order, the health and morals of the population, the rights and freedoms of others. Accordingly, such activities have legitimate and legal purposes and cannot be subject to the permissible restrictions set out in Arts. 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Peaceful protests and criticism of the current government’s policies are an inalienable right of Belarusian citizens, while harassment and imprisonment for exercising these rights is nothing but human rights violations.
We also note that the pre-trial detention ordered by the investigation is clearly excessive, as it was selected without taking into account the characteristics of the person, solely for repressive purposes.
Pursuant to para. 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, note the exclusively political nature of the persecution of Artsiom Bayarski by the authorities and will consider him as a political prisoner.
In this regard, we call to:
- immediately release Artsiom Bayarski from custody and drop the criminal charges he is facing;
- immediately release all political prisoners in Belarus and end political repression;
- open a criminal case to investigate reports of torture by Interior Ministry officials against Artsiom Bayarski and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Center for Legal Transformation (Lawtrend)
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House