15 new political prisoners in Belarus
Joint statement by Belarusian human rights organizations
Minsk – May 28, 2021
We, representatives of the human rights community of Belarus, note with concern the continuous repressions in connection with the protests against the falsification of the presidential election results and acts of torture and cruelty by law enforcement officers.
In particular, on May 18, the Lieninski District Court of Brest sentenced:
Yauhen Kombul under Part 1 of Art. 309, and Parts 1 and 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code to 5 years in a general-security penal colony;
Siarhei Silich under Part 1 of Art. 309 and Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code to 4 years in in a general-security penal colony;
Maksim Siliuk under Part 1 of Art. 309 and Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code to 2 years 6 months in a general-security penal colony;
Maksim Pytsel under Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code to 3 years in a general-security penal colony;
Siarhei Krasouski under Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code to 2 years in a general-security penal colony;
Volha Syravatka under Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code to 2 years in a general-security penal colony;
Natallia Barynava under Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code to 1 year in a general-security penal colony;
Alina Muratava under Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code to 1 year in a general-security penal colony;
Uladzimir Katsiubka under Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code to 1 year 6 months in a general-security penal colony;
Maryna Silionak under Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code to 1 year and 6 months of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility; the convict will be considered a political prisoner after starting to serve her sentence.
Kombul, Muratava, Barynava, Krasouski, Syravatka, Katsiubka, Pytsel and Silionak were convicted for hanging in Brest an effigy with a sign reading “OMON” (“riot police”) in order to “protest against the results of the election of the President of the Republic of Belarus and the actions of law enforcement officers.”
Kombul, Silich and Pytsel were also convicted for placing on the road and setting fire to three car tires at night for the same purposes.
Silionak was also convicted for spray-painting a protest slogan on the fence of a local factory.
Silionak and Siliuk were additionally convicted for spray-painting a protest slogan on an outdoor concession stand.
We consider all these actions to be different forms of expression that fall under the protection of Art. 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Imprisonment for these acts is a clearly disproportionate and therefore unacceptable restriction on the right, especially in the absence of conditions in Belarus for legal protests against violations of political and human rights.
In this regard, we, reaffirming our repeated demands to decriminalize defamation and inadmissibility of imprisonment for insulting officials, the state, government agencies and symbols (joint statement of December 22, 2020), consider the persecution and imprisonment of Alina Muratava , Natallia Barynava, Siarhei Krasouski, Volha Syravatka, Uladzimir Katsiubka, Maksim Pytsel and Maryna Silionak to be politically motivated in connection with the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, and the convicts are therefore political prisoners in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
Kombul, Syravatka and Silich were also convicted for breaking the glass in the premises of a police station. The damaged was estimated at 160 rubles. The qualification of these acts as hooliganism is incompatible with the purposes and motives of the accused established by the court; the symbolic nature and extent of the damage allows us to describe the actions of each of the convicts as generally non-violent.
Kombul, Silich and Siliuk were also convicted of installing a metal wire on the railways, as a result of which an electric train was delayed for 16 minutes. The alleged damage amounted to 270 rubles.
We note with concern that the criminal law is arbitrarily applied to imprison people who, for protest reasons, briefly suspended the operation of trains, without causing destruction and without endangering passengers and transport. The absence of such a danger has been repeatedly confirmed in court by prosecution witnesses. Cases of this category were analyzed by human rights lawyers.
In particular, on April 27, 2021, the Baranavičy District Court sentenced Siarhei Bohdan, Uladzimir Lankevich and Viktar Ivantsou to various terms of imprisonment. Bohdan and Lankevich were found guilty under Part 1 of Art. 14 (attempt) and Art. 309 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to three years in a general-security colony. Ivantsou was found guilty under Art. 309 and sentenced to two years' imprisonment in a general-security penal colony.
On April 28, 2021, the Puchavičy District Court was sentenced Siarhei Rozum to two years in prison under Part 1 of Art. 309 of the Criminal Code.
On May 3, Siarhei Shabunia and Pavel Fedukevich were sentenced by the Maladziečna District Court to one year and nine months of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony under Art. 14 and Art. 309 of the Criminal Code.
In essence, the actions of all the above defendants in the criminal trials under Art. 309 of the Criminal Code contain signs of blocking transport communications (by creating obstacles or otherwise). However, qualifying them as a criminal offense requires the occurrence of certain consequences: causing damage on a large scale (Part 1 of Article 310 of the Criminal Code) or causing serious or less serious bodily injury (Part 2 of Article 310 of the Criminal Code), which are absent in the above cases. Therefore, they cannot qualify as criminal offenses.
It is important to note that the placing on the railway tracks of objects that can cause disruption of railway traffic is only an administrative offense.
Moreover, all the defendants under Art. 309 of the Criminal Code were unreasonably sentenced to the most severe type of punishment in the presence of alternatives.
Thus, without disputing the illegal nature of the actions committed, we firmly believe that the convicts were prosecuted on politically motivated grounds.
According to the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, a political prisoner is also a person deprived of liberty if, for political reasons, he or she is persecuted for at least one of the following reasons:
b) the detention was based on falsification of evidence of the alleged offense, or imposed in the absence of the event or elements of the offence, or imposed in connection with an offense committed by another person;
c) the length of the detention or its conditions are clearly disproportionate (incommensurate) to the offense the person is suspected, accused or has been found guilty of.
In this regard, we consider the persecution and imprisonment of Yauhen Kombul, Siarhei Silich, Maksim Siliuk, Siarhei Bohdan, Uladzimir Lankevich, Viktar Ivantsou, Siarhei Rozum, Siarhei Shabunia and Pavel Fedukevich to be politically motivated. The convicts are therefore political prisoners in accordance with para. 3.2. (b, c) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
We, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately release political prisoners Alina Muratava, Natallia Barynava, Siarhei Krasouski, Volha Syravatka, Uladzimir Katsiubka and Maksim Pytsel and stop the criminal prosecution against them;
- reconsider the detention and court rulings taken against Yauhen Kambul, Siarhei Silich, Maksim Siliuk, Siarhei Bahdan, Uladzimir Lankevich, Viktar Ivantsou, Siarhei Rozum, Siarhei Shabunia and Pavel Fedukevich, respecting their right to a fair trial; release them from custody and select other measures to ensure their appearance in court;
- immediately release all political prisoners and end political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House