Human rights defenders call to end violations of the right to defense and the presumption of innocence
Statement of human rights organizations in connection with numerous violations of procedural rights and guarantees of defendants and their lawyers in politically motivated criminal cases
Minsk – May 11, 2021
We, representatives of the human rights community, note with concern that the proceedings in politically motivated criminal cases are increasingly marred by disrespect for the basic rights of suspects and accused, as well as their defenders.
Media reports allege that torture is used against suspects in the phase of investigation. By using torture, Interior Ministry officers force detainees to testify in the absence of a lawyer and record video confessions, which are later used not only by the state propaganda, but also as evidence in court.
There are more reports of lawyers facing obstacles in representing their clients, as their right to confidential meetings are severely restricted. Lawyers are also pressured for expressing their opinions. An outrageous case was the audio and video recording of a confidential conversation between Siarhei Tsikhanouski and his defense counsel in the pre-trial detention center, as well as the leakage of this recording to a state TV channel, which later used it in a propaganda documentary.
Courts unreasonably appoint and hold closed court hearings in the absence of any valid grounds for this. In particular, the criminal cases of Vitold Ashurak, Yauhen Vincha, Aliaksei Melnikau, Eduard Zhdanko, Aleh Korban, Volha Klimkina, Siarhei Skok, Maksim Siarheyenka and others were considered behind closed doors. Similarly, the upcoming trial of Pavel Sevyarynets, Yauhen Afnahel, Pavel Yukhnevich, Dzmitry Kazlou, Maksim Viniarski and Andrei Voinich is expected to be held in a closed court session. Consideration of a criminal case in a closed session severely limits the possibilities for citizen observation, as well as virtually deprives the defense of the opportunity to be involved in a socio-political debate on the validity of criminal prosecution and sentencing of defendants, expose allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, allege other abuses of investigation and trial.
Criminal cases against a number of political prisoners are being considered or were appointed to be heard by the Supreme Court, which means that the sentence will become final immediately after it has been handed down and there will be no right to have the case reviewed by a higher court. In particular, this procedure was used to hear the criminal charges against Viktar Babaryka and the criminal case of a group of opposition politicians and bloggers, Mikalai Statkevich, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, Ihar Losik, Artsiom Sakau, Dzmitry Papou and Uladzimir Tsyhanovich.
The state-controlled media are engaged in an ongoing propaganda campaign targeting those accused of criminal cases with a political component, aimed at discrediting them in the eyes of the public and suggesting their guilt of criminal offenses before the verdict is passed. This violates the presumption of innocence – the right is presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law.
Under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all persons are equal before the courts and tribunals.
Everyone has the right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law in all criminal charges brought against him. The press and the public may not be admitted to all or part of the trial for reasons of morality, public order or public security in a democratic society, or if the interests of the parties require it, or to the extent that the court considers it strictly necessary – in special circumstances where publicity would violate the interests of justice.
Everyone charged with a criminal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
Everyone convicted of a crime has the right to have his conviction and sentence reviewed by a higher tribunal in accordance with the law.
We remind that violations of the fundamental rights of the accused preclude the recognition of the verdicts as fair and impartial.
We call on the authorities, investigators, prosecutors and courts to take comprehensive measures to return to the legal framework of the law enforcement and judicial system, to regulate public relations on the basis of laws acceptable in a democratic society, as well as to:
- stop acts of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees;
- stop violations of the right to defense and the presumption of innocence;
- investigate all such acts and bring the perpetrators to justice;
- abandon the practice of violating the right to a public trial of criminal cases and the right to review the sentence by a higher court.
- stop political repression in the country as a whole and take immediate action to release all political prisoners, as well as to review all politically motivated sentences handed down by courts in violation of the principles of a fair trial and take measures to restore the violated rights of convicts.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Center for Legal Transformation (Lawtrend)
Belarusian Documentation Center
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House