Human rights defenders call to release five more persons imprisoned on defamation charges
Joint statement by representatives of the Belarusian human rights community
Minsk – June 1, 2021
In response to the new cases of conviction and imprisonment on defamatory charges and on charges of insulting the state symbols of Belarus, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, once again reaffirming our repeated demands to decriminalize defamation and refrain from imprisoning individuals for insulting officials, the state, government agencies and symbols (joint statement of December 22, 2020), note the following.
We received information about the following persons imprisoned for insulting the president, government officials (police officers), judges and insulting state symbols:
Ruslan Valiuk - sentenced by the Smarhoń District Court under Art. 188 of the Criminal Code (defamation) to two years of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility; sent to serve the sentence;
Artsiom Kandratsiyeu - sentenced by the Orša District Court under Art. 188 of the Criminal Code (defamation) to one and a half years of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility; sent to serve the sentence;
Dzmitry Lukashevich - detained, charged under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (insult to the president) and Part 2 of Art. 339 (hooliganism); in custody in a pre-trial detention center;
Andrei Sharenda - detained, charged under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting the president) and Art. 361 (appeals to actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus); under house arrest;
Siarhei Rudzinski - sentenced by the Orša District Court under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a government official) to one and a half years of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility; sent to serve the sentence.
In this regard, we consider the persecution and imprisonment of Ruslan Valiuk, Artsiom Kandratsiyeu, Dzmitry Lukashevich, Andrei Sharenda, and Siarhei Rudzinski to be politically motivated, as they are related to the peaceful exercise of freedom expression. The convicts and detainees are therefore political prisoners, in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
We call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately release political prisoners Ruslan Valiuk, Artsiom Kandratsiyeu, Dzmitry Lukashevich, Andrei Sharenda, and Siarhei Rudzinski and stop the criminal prosecution against them;
- take measures aimed at decriminalizing defamation offenses and repealing articles of the Criminal Code that provide for liability for insulting the state, state symbols and officials, namely Art. 188, 189, 367, 368, 369, 369-1, 370, 391 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, and to terminate all previously initiated criminal cases under these articles;
- immediately release all political prisoners and end political repression against the country’s citizens.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Center for Legal Transformation (Lawtrend)
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian Helsinki Committee