HRDs call to release 9 persons convicted of defamation offenses

2021 2021-08-23T19:56:01+0300 2021-08-23T20:18:24+0300 en https://spring96.org/files/images/sources/telegtam_illustr.jpeg The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Joint statement by representatives of the Belarusian human rights community

August 23, 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:

Natallia Turava – sentenced on August 18, 2021 to one year and one month of imprisonment in a penal colony by the Lieninski District Court of Brest under Part 1 of Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president and Part 1 of Art. 377 of the Criminal Code for damaging a protocol;

Yury Serabro – sentenced on August 13, 2021 to one year and six months of imprisonment in a penal colony by the Kastryčnicki District Court of Viciebsk under Part 1 of Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president;

Aliaksandr Ihnatovich – sentenced on August 10, 2021 to two years and six months of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) by the Lieninski District Court of Mahilioŭ under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting a police officer in online comments;

Yury Vinichuk – sentenced on June 9, 2021 to one and a half years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) by the Brest District Court under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president; sent to serve the sentence;

Aliaksandr Yunitski – sentenced on June 11, 2021 to two years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) by the Svietlahorsk District Court under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting a police officer in online comments; sent to serve the sentence;

Siarhei Burak – sentenced on June 7, 2021 to two years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) by the Masty District Court under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president and under Art. 370 of the Criminal Code for insulting state symbols; sent to serve the sentence;

Uladzimir Shurubeika – sentenced on May 20, 2021 to two years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) by the Maskoŭski District Court of Brest under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting a KGB officer; sent to serve the sentence;

Siarhei Balakhonau – sentenced on August 23, 2021 to one year of imprisonment in a penal colony by the Kastryčnicki District Court of Viciebsk under Part 1 of Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president;

Anatol Sivets – sentenced on June 5, 2021 to two years and six months of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) by the Maskoŭski District Court of Minsk under Art. 339 of the Criminal Code for painting protest slogans; 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 Natallia Turava, Yury Serabro, Aliaksandr Ihnatovich, Yury Vinichuk, Aliaksandr Yunitski, Siarhei Burak, Uladzimir Shurubeika, Siarhei Balakhonau, and Anatol Sivets 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.

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