Viasna strongly protests sentencing of Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa
Statement by the Human Rights Center "Viasna"
November 4, 2021
On November 3, the Centraĺny District Court of Homieĺ found our colleagues and friends - human rights activist of Viasna Leanid Sudalenka and volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa - guilty of “organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order” (Part 1 of Article 342 Criminal Code) and “training and preparation of persons for participation in such actions, as well as their financing or other material support” (Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code). Sudalenka was sentenced to three years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony, and Tatiana Lasitsa - to two and a half years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony.
The verdict was handed down by judge Siarhei Salouski. The prosecution was represented by Yauhen Fartushniak and Kiryl Vyshniakou. Another Viasna volunteer, Maryia Tarasenka, who was on trial in the same criminal case but remained free, was expected to be sentenced to two and a half years in a penal colony. However, Tarasenka left Belarus before the verdict was announced.
The criminal prosecution of the three human rights defenders of Viasna is an arbitrary repressive response of the authorities to their exclusively legitimate, peaceful and public activities to protect and promote human rights.
From the very beginning, the case was marred by arbitrariness and disregard for the universally recognized rights and freedoms of our colleagues:
- the criminal prosecution targeted activities in defense of human rights and freedoms, exercise of the rights to association and peaceful assembly, freedom of expression;
- the convicted human rights defenders were remanded in custody in a pre-trial detention center, a decision that ignored the gravity of the charges (all incriminated acts constituted less serious offenses) and the personalities of the defendants and were not substantiated by admissible evidence of necessity of its application; this, combined with the nature of the persecution, violated the right to liberty and security of person;
- lacking a legitimate aim, the trial was held behind closed doors, in the absence of the public, which violated both the procedural and constitutional rights of the accused - to be convicted in a public and open trial, as the court did not consider any issues containing state secrets and the hearings did not disclose any private aspects of the lives of those involved in the trial or information would degrade their dignity;
- during the trial, Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa were kept in a cage, which violated the presumption of innocence and deliberately gave the impression of their public danger;
- the sentencing of Leanid Sudalenka to the strictest possible type and length of punishment, and Tatsiana Lasitsa – to the strictest possible type of punishment (although shorter than requested by the prosecution) once again testified to the partiality of the court, which, disregarding the formalities of the current undemocratic laws, failed to take into account the numerous circumstances which should have influenced the imposition of the sentence; in conjunction with a violation of the right to a fair trial, this violated the right to an independent and impartial tribunal;
- the measure of restraint in conjunction with the conditions of pre-trial detention clearly indicated an intention to inflict physical and moral suffering on the defendants and thus constituted a form of cruel and degrading treatment.
We, human rights defenders of Viasna, strongly protest against this new wave of attack on the organization, condemn the use of cruelty and arbitrary imprisonment as instruments of pressure on human rights defenders and all segments of civil society in general, and reaffirm our readiness to continue peaceful legitimate activities for the promotion of human rights.
We thank international, national and foreign human rights organizations for their solidarity and unconditional support of our fellow activists and the organization in general, and urge them to continue their efforts to support Belarusian civil society organizations in their pursuit of peaceful, democratic and human rights-based transformations.
We urge the authorities return to the law-ruled relations with the country’s civil society, immediately overturn the arbitrary sentences against Leanid Sudalenka and Tatsiana Lasitsa, and release the detained members and volunteers of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” - Marfa Rabkova, Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, and Andrei Chapiuk. We also call to release other political prisoners deprived of their liberty for the peaceful exercise of their rights and to reconsider the sentences handed down to them.