Human rights organizations insist on release of three new political prisoners
Joint statement by representatives of the Belarusian human rights community
July 28, 2021
We have received information about the sentencing and imprisonment of three more individuals for spray-painting protest slogans in various public places:
Yury Dreka – sentenced on March 13 by the Saviecki District Court of Minsk to one year of restricted freedom in an open correctional institution (he started serving his sentence) under Part 1 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code for spray-painting “SB – Beware, you, b….s” (the slogan refers to the government-owned daily SB – Belarus Segodnya) on the fence of a construction site in the center of Minsk. Several employees of the publishing house “Belarus Segodnya” were recognized as victims, including first deputy director and editor-in-chief Mikhail Liabedzik and journalists Andrei Mukavozchyk, Dzmitry Krat, Liudmila Hladkaya and Raman Rudz.
Aliaksandr Bazhkou – sentenced by the Orša District Court to three months in prison (he started serving his sentence) under Art. 341 of the Criminal Code for spray-painting protest slogans on the building of a correctional facility.
Viktar Kalinouski – sentenced by the Brest District Court to two years and six months of restricted freedom in an open correctional institution (he started serving his sentence) under Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code for spray-painting protest slogans in various public places in Brest and the Brest district.
We, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, note the following:
The above examples of political slogans are not a manifestation of hooliganism or vandalism.
The content of the inscriptions in the context of socio-political events and public discussions that have taken place in the country since the summer of 2020 indicate that the motive was the expression of opinions on socially significant topics.
We believe that this form of expression falls under the protection of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has nothing to do with the charges brought against the convicts: in accordance with Art. 19 of the Covenant, everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes the freedom to seek, receive all kinds of information and ideas, regardless of state borders, orally, in writing or through the media or artistic forms of discovery, or by other means of their choice. The exercise of this right may involve special duties and responsibilities. It may, accordingly, be associated with certain restrictions, which, however, must be established by law and are necessary: to respect the rights and reputation of others, to protect public safety, public order, health and morals of the population.
The convicts did not encroach on significant values and did not destroy them. The inscriptions themselves do not contain any language of enmity and hatred on the basis of national, racial, religious or social origin or other characteristics. The obscene language used by some of them did not in itself testify to the presence of a criminal offense in their actions.
The material damage from such actions was symbolic.
In this context, we consider the imprisonment of Yury Dreka, Aliaksandr Bazhkou and Viktar Kalinouski to be politically motivated, and the convicts are therefore political prisoners in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
In this regard, we, representatives of the human rights organizations in Belarus, call to:
- immediately and unconditionally release Yury Dreka, Aliaksandr Bazhkou and Viktar Kalinouski and terminate the criminal prosecution against them;
- immediately release all political prisoners and put an end to political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Documentation Center
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Legal Transformation Center “Lawtrend”
Belarusian Association of Journalists