4 more political prisoners convicted in defamation trials
Joint statement by representatives of the Belarusian human rights community
August 20, 2021
In response to the new cases of conviction and imprisonment of individuals under a number of defamatory articles of the Criminal Code, as well as on charges of insulting the state symbols, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, once again reaffirming our repeated calls to decriminalize defamation and refrain from imprisoning individuals for insulting officials, the state, state bodies and symbols (joint statement of December 22, 2020), we note the following.
We have received information about the following persons imprisoned for insulting the president, government officials (police officers), judges and state symbols, as well as the use of other permissible forms of expression:
Hanna Illyina was detained in Mahilioŭ on charges of libel against the president under Article 367 of the Criminal Code;
Viachaslau Karatkevich was sentenced on April 21, 2021 by the Lieninski District Court of Mahilioŭ to 2 months in prison for painting white-red-white graffiti under Art. 341 of the Criminal Code; sent to serve the sentence;
Mikhail Berasniou was sentenced on April 23, 2021 by the Maskoŭski District Court of Minsk to 2 years of restricted freedom in an open penal facility (“khimiya”) for painting political slogans under Art. 339 of the Criminal Code; sent to serve the sentence;
Piotr Zinevich was sentenced on May 25, 2021 by the Baranavičy District and City Court to 2 years of restricted freedom in an open penal facility (“khimiya”) for libel against a police officer under Art. 188 of the Criminal Code; sent to serve the sentence.
In this regard, we consider their persecution and imprisonment to be politically motivated, as they are related to the peaceful exercise of expression. The convicts 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 Hanna Illyina, Viachaslau Karatkevich, Mikhail Berasniou, and Piotr Zinevich and end criminal prosecution against them;
- take measures aimed at decriminalizing defamatory offenses and abolishing articles of the Criminal Code that provide for liability for insulting the state, state symbols and officials, namely, Articles 188, 189, 367, 368, 369, 369-1, 370, and 391 of the Criminal Code of the Republic Belarus, and terminate all previously initiated criminal cases under these articles;
- immediately release all political prisoners and stop political repression.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Belarusian Documentation Center