Statement: five new political prisoners in Belarus
Joint statement of human rights organizations in Belarus
Minsk, 5 July 2021
Concerning the information about detention, indictment, and sentencing under part 1 of article 342 of the Criminal Code ("group actions gravely disturbing public order") of Daniil Kalesnikau (minor), Maksim Zharau, Illia Tolkach, and Aliaksandr Ivulin, as well as under part 2 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code ("mass riots") to Ruslan Volkau, reiterating the position set out in the joint statement by the human rights community of 10 August 2020, we note the following:
Freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This freedom shall not be subject to any restrictions except those prescribed by law and that are necessary in democratic countries for the purposes of national security, public safety, public order, public health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Citizens' actions were spontaneous and self-organized and were caused by distrust of the results of the presidential elections in Belarus, which were held on 9 August 2020 with numerous violations and falsifications and were not recognized by the international community as democratic, fair, and free.
Citizens' assemblies were peaceful and did not pose a threat to either national or public security. Despite that, the demonstrators were attacked by special riot police with disproportionate use of physical force, special means, and weapons.
For the first time in the history of Belarus, rubber bullets and water cannons were used against peaceful demonstrators. The use of stun grenades caused an especially large amount of damage.
In its statement of 10 August 2020, the Belarusian human rights community condemned the actions of the law enforcement agencies and put all responsibility for what happened on 9 and 10 August on the Belarusian authorities.
We also consider it necessary to note that the protesters did not commit any actions which are covered by the disposition of Article 293 of the Criminal Code and therefore cannot be qualified as mass riots. The protesters did not commit arson, pogroms, destruction of property, or armed resistance to the law enforcement agencies.
Individual cases of violent actions against police officers by demonstrators require separate legal qualifications, taking into account the context and circumstances of the violence, including in the context of self-defense against deliberately disproportionate actions by police officers.
We consider the persecution of the above-mentioned persons who were imprisoned and charged under part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (group actions gravely disturbing public order) as politically motivated persecution in connection with their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression of their opinions regarding the announced results of the presidential election in the Republic of Belarus, and we recognize them as political prisoners.
In this regard, we demand that the Belarusian authorities:
- Immediately release from custody political prisoners Daniil Kalesnikau, Maksim Zharau, Illia Tolkach, Aliaksandr Ivulin, and Ruslan Volkau and stop their criminal prosecution.
- Immediately release all political prisoners, as well as citizens detained in connection with the implementation of freedom of peaceful assembly in the post-election period, and stop political repression against citizens.
Human Rights Center "Viasna";
Belarusian Documentation Center;
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights Centre;
Belarusian Association of Journalists;
Lawtrend Legal Transformation Centre.