HRDs call for retrials and release of political prisoners Larysa Kuzmenka, Aliaksandr Tsimashenka and Kiryl Kanapatski
Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community
Minsk — December 9, 2021
In response to the recent sentences pronounced in a number of politically motivated criminal trials involving protesters and other persons accused of using violence against or violent resistance to police officers and other officials performing official duties (Articles 363, 364, and 366 of the Criminal Code), namely:
- Larysa Kuzmenka, sentenced on December 2, 2021 by the Centraĺny District Court of Homieĺ to two years in prison under Art. 364 of the Criminal Code for violence against police officers;
- Aliaksandr Tsimashenka, sentenced on November 23, 2021 by the Mazyr District Court of the Homieĺ region to three years and six months in prison under Articles 364 and 342 for participating in a peaceful assembly and resisting police officers’ violence during its dispersal;
- Kiryl Kanapatski, sentenced on November 23, 2021 by the Mazyr District Court of the Homieĺ region to three years in prison under Articles 364 and 342 for participating in a peaceful assembly and resisting police officers’ violence during its dispersal.
Reaffirming our position set out in the Joint statement of human rights organizations of January 16, 2021, we note the following:
Citizens’ peaceful assemblies should be protected by the state, and the police should not take actions to forcibly stop them, even if they take place in violation of the procedures for their organization and holding. Violent dispersal of assemblies and the use of physical force, let alone special weapons against protesters should be carried out only as an extreme measure, in cases when the behavior of assembly participants becomes violent and poses a real threat to national and public security, life and health of citizens.
Disproportionate brutal actions of the police aimed at suppressing peaceful assemblies cannot be considered as a legitimate activity for the protection and preservation of public order, and in cases of violence used by protesters who were provoked by the same police officers, these actions should be considered based on the severity of the injury and intent to cause such harm, as well as seen as justifiable or necessary defence carried out to protect oneself from clearly unlawful actions of law enforcement officers who had followed unlawful orders.
Apart from that, we note that in the politically motivated cases, the authorities apply imprisonment in violation of the right to a fair trial, as well as other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, discriminating the defendants in comparison with defendants of other analogous cases.
According to the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, violence that was provoked by the initial disproportionate use of physical force, means of restraint, and if there was no intent to cause non-symbolic material damage or harm to anyone in the actions of the accused, provides grounds to hold these individuals to be political prisoners.
In addition, monitoring of these trials has shown that the courts impose disproportionately harsh (inadequate) sentences for the offense with which the individuals are charged, compared to sentences imposed in the same categories of cases outside the political context.
The duration or conditions of imprisonment under such sentences are clearly disproportionate (inadequate) to the offenses of which the defendants were found guilty.
All these circumstances give grounds to claim that the persecution of these persons is politically motivated, and the individuals themselves are political prisoners.
Based on this and guided by para. 3.2 (a, b, c, d) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, we recognize Larysa Kuzmenka, Aliaksandr Tsimashenka and Kiryl Kanapatski as political prisoners.
We deem it necessary to demand an immediate review and abolition of the custodial measures and court rulings taken against these political prisoners in their exercise of the right to a fair trial, as well as their release from custody and implication of other measures aimed at guaranteeing their appearance in court.
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Belarusian Association of Journalists
“Identity and Law”