Viasna alerts UN Special Rapporteurs to violations of detainees’ rights in Zeltser case
Acting on behalf of the detainees in the “Zeltser case”, human rights defenders of Viasna wrote to several UN Special Rapporteurs on the issue of cruel and inhuman treatment after their arrest and during detention in Žodzina pre-trial prison No. 8.
On September 28, a shootout took place in Minsk between KGB officers and Andrei Zeltser, an IT worker whose apartment was raided by security forces. As a result, Zeltser and a KGB officers were killed, which caused significant public response on social media. In the following days, the KGB press service said that the authorities arrested about 200 people for commenting on the victims of the incident. All of them were reportedly held on charges under Art. 130 (incitement to social discord) and Art. 369 (insulting a police officer) of the Criminal Code. On October 6, the Belarusian human rights community issued a statement to call 73 persons arrested in the case political prisoners.
According to the families of those held in the Žodzina prison, the detainees were not allowed to receive any things or mail for more than 6 weeks. As a result, dozens of prisoners were held without toiletry or warm clothes. Some of them could not see their lawyers. The unprecedented restrictions cited a covid-19 quarantine. However, it is known that these inhumane conditions only applied to those arrested in the “Zeltser case”.
“Pre-trial detention should be necessary and justified. In this situation, there is no reason to believe that the detention of about 200 people across the country for comments on the Internet is such.
No one may be prosecuted for criticism, including of officials, unless such criticism is aimed at inciting violence. With regard to at least 73 detainees who have been recognized as political prisoners, there are no reports that these individuals called for violence on national, ethnic, racial or religious grounds. The actions of the accused were the result of numerous and widespread human rights violations, lack of freedom of expression, distrust of the state’s law enforcement system due to the lack of investigation into crimes against peaceful protesters and other victims of ill-treatment and torture, and frustration with the authorities’ inability to use law to protect the violated rights of citizens,” the human rights activists stressed.
On November 4, Viasna sent an appeal to Anaïs Marin, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
On November 15, domestic media reported that the prison authorities lifted the lockdown restrictions for detainees in the “Zeltser case”. The news quoted the families of those held in pre-trial detention.