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Human rights defenders demand retrials and release of three new political prisoners

2021 2021-08-11T19:33:29+0300 2021-08-11T19:33:30+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Statement by the human rights community of Belarus

August 11, 2021

We, representatives of the human rights community in Belarus, note the increased number of court rulings taken in politically motivated criminal trials and marred by numerous violations of basic procedural rights, which, in the absence of an independent, impartial and objective trial, result in arbitrary convictions. The criminal penalties imposed in these trials exceed those usually imposed in the absence of a political motive and are excessively strict, not corresponding to the degree of alleged public danger and the personalities of the convicts.

Criminal liability for incitement of “other social hatred or discord” (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) has been selectively and discriminatorily applied by both the investigators and the courts in an apparent attempt to protect the institutions of power. Moreover, it seems unreasonable to label representatives of the authorities, police officers, military personnel, etc. as separate social groups falling under protection in this context. In particular:

Aliaksei Korshun was sentenced to two and a half years in prison under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code (deliberate actions aimed at inciting other social hostility and discord on the basis of a different social affiliation) for publishing a comment online.

Comments of the kind posted by the convict are not a direct call for violent action, but are part of public debate.

Yauhen Siamionau was sentenced on July 7 by the Saviecki District Court of Minsk to five years in prison under Articles 369, 364, 415, Parts 1 and 2 of Article 205 of the Criminal Code. Siamionau was convicted of posting two comments in a Telegram chat targeting GUBAZIK officers Ivan Tarasik and Aliaksandr Alioksa over their alleged involvement in the torture of political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok. In addition, he was convicted of theft (Parts 1 and 2 of Article 205 of the Criminal Code) and for evading a criminal sentence.

All of the crimes allegedly committed by Siamionau belong to the category of less serious crimes, which may be punished, among other things, by non-custodial sentences. At the same time, the court, without proper justification, selected the most severe type of punishment and its excessive duration. Thus, he was convicted selectively in comparison with other convicts in trials without a political motive.

Yahor Mikhailau was sentenced on July 26 by the Frunzienski District Court of Minsk to ten years in prison under Part 1 of Art. 289 of the Criminal Code (act of terrorism). He was accused of setting fire to a tank at a railway station near Minsk. State media said the video of the arson was fake, and the Ministry of Defense showed this tank undamaged.

An act of terrorism presupposes arson in a generally dangerous way or carrying danger of deaths, bodily harm or other grave consequences, as well as specific goals: influencing decision-making by the authorities, or obstructing political or other social activities, or intimidating the population, or destabilization of public order. According to the verdict, the existence of these circumstances has not been proven. In particular, the arson was committed in a way that did not cause damage to property, in a secluded and remote place, and the text posted on behalf of the accused argued that the purpose of this protest action was to attract the attention of military personnel to the anti-constitutional processes taking place in the country.

In such circumstances, we, representatives of human rights organizations, emphasizing our adherence to exclusively peaceful means of protest, believe that freedom of expression in relation to Mikhailau was violated due to the disproportionate and inadequate penalty imposed by the court, namely the most severe form of punishment for an excessively long period.

Once again, we emphasize that in a number of these cases, the illegality of the actions of the accused were a consequence of the lack of the possibility of free expression of opinion. They were caused by the authorities’ failure to investigate of crimes against peaceful protesters and other victims of cruel treatment and torture, together with disappointment in the ability of the authorities to prevent impunity.

Evaluating all these cases of criminal prosecution, we come to the conclusion that each of them has a political motive.

The application of domestic legislation in the listed cases, the assessment of facts and evidence to one degree or another were arbitrary and constituted obvious errors, by which the court violated its obligation to independence and impartiality, and the imposition of demonstratively harsh sentences significantly worsened the position of the accused in comparison with other convicts in similar situations without a political motive.

According to the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, a political prisoner is a person who is deprived of their freedom, if at least one of the following factors takes place in the presence of political motives for persecution:

a) the detention has been imposed in violation of the right to a fair trial, other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;

b) the detention was based on falsification of evidence of the alleged offence, or imposed in the absence of the event or elements of the offence, or imposed in connection with an offence committed by another person;

c) the length of the detention or its conditions are clearly disproportionate (incommensurate) to the offence the person is suspected, accused or has been found guilty of;

d) the person has been detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons.

We, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, declare that the persecution of Aliaksei Korshun, Yauhen Siamionau and Yahor Mikhailau is politically motivated, and the convicts are therefore political prisoners.

In this regard, we call on the Belarusian authorities to:

  • review the custodial measures and judicial decisions taken against them, while respecting the right to a fair trial and eliminating the factors that influenced the verdict;
  • immediately release all political prisoners and stop political repression in the country.

Human Rights Center "Viasna"

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House

Belarusian Association of Journalists

PEN Belarus

Belarusian Helsinki Committee

Legal Initiative

Belarusian Documentation Center

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