8 names added to the list of political prisoners
Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community
December 3, 2021
In response to an increase in the number of cases of conviction and imprisonment of individuals under a number of defamatory articles of the Criminal Code, as well as for insulting state symbols of the Republic of Belarus, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, reaffirming our repeated calls to decriminalize defamation and to refrain from imposing terms of imprisonment for insulting officials, the state, government agencies and symbols (as mentioned in the Joint statement y of Decemeber, 22, 2020), note the following.
At the moment we know about the following persons imprisoned for insulting the president, police officers, judges, as well as insulting state symbols:
- Andrej Jurkou, sentenced by the Maladziečna City and District Court to one and a half years in prison under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting Lukashenka;
- Siarhei Bekman, sentenced by the Dziatlava District Court to two years in prison under Articles 369 and 364 of the Criminal Code for insulting a government official;
- Yury Prakharenka, sentenced by the Saviecki District Court of Homieĺ to compulsory psychiatric treatment under Articles 369, 368 and 391 of the Criminal Code for insulting a representative of the authorities, insulting the President and insulting a judge, accordingly;
- Andrej Zvanarou, sentenced by the Baranavičy City and District Court to two years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting the former Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Karaeu; sent to serve his sentence;
- Vital Markusheuski, sentenced to two years and six months of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) under Art. 367 of the Criminal Code for insulting Aliaksandr Lukashenka; sent to serve his sentence;
- Mikalai Havarko, sentenced by the Biaroza District Court to 3 months of arrest for insulting a government official under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code; started to serve his sentence;
- Yauhen Kahotska, sentenced by the Babrujsk District and City Courts to 6 months of home confinement (“domestic khimiya”) for insulting state symbols under Art. 370 of the Criminal Code. Upon the prosecutor's appeal, the sentence was changed into one year of restriction of freedom;
- Daniil Kasenka taken into custody on charges of insulting a government official under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code.
In this regard, we consider the persecution and imprisonment of the persons listed above as politically motivated in connection with the peaceful exercise of their views, and the convicts as political prisoners in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
We, therefore, call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately release political prisoners Andrej Jurkou, Siarhei Bekman, Yury Prakharenka, Andrej Zvanarou, Vital Markusheuski, Mikalai Havarko, Yauhen Kahotska and Daniil Kasenka, and end criminal prosecution against them;
- take measures aimed at decriminalizing defamation offenses and repealing articles of the Criminal Code that provide for liability for insulting the state and state symbols, namely Articles 188, 189, 367, 368, 369, 369-1, 370 and 391 of the Criminal Code, and stop all ongoing criminal cases under these articles;
- immediately release all political prisoners and stop political repression.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House