Human rights defenders insist on retrials and release of eight political prisoners
Statement by the human rights community of Belarus
December 23, 2021
We, representatives of the human rights community in Belarus, once again note that the criminal law against the opponents of the authorities has been applied by the courts in a selective and discriminatory manner, and the punishments are significantly harsher than those normally imposed. Courts often assess evidence disregarding the presumption of innocence principle, sentences are based on assumptions and speculation. Investigation and proceedings-related records are used as evidence, without observing genuine guarantees of privacy and the right to defense. The application of the adversarial principle in criminal proceedings has been paralyzed by the endless and unprecedented repressions against lawyers, who thus have lost the ability to carry out their professional activities freely and in the absence of any pressure.
The Čyhunačny District Court of Viciebsk sentenced Aliaksandr Matsiayuk to 9 years in prison and a fine under Part 3 of Art. 328 and Art. 332 of the Criminal Code with for illegal acquisition, storage and transportation of marijuana on a large scale with intent to sell it, as well as maintaining a brothel for using drugs. The accused admitted partial guilt: he admitted performong illegal actions with drugs, but said he did not have intention of selling them, nor provided premises for using drugs. In the same trial, Aleh Barazna was sentenced to 2 years and 3 months of imprisonment for illegal actions in relation to drugs without the intention of selling them.
These persons, who were activists of the Tsihanouski’s “Country for Life” initiative, and the premises belonging to Aliaksandr Matsiayuk were under surveillance in connection with the social activities of the accused, which enabled the criminal investigation officers to make video and audio recordings of what was happening in the premises, secretly enter the premises in the absence of its owner and perform some manipulations with the drugs, the storage of which was attributed to Aliaksandr Matsiayuk. The state prosecution did not provide sufficient evidence in support of the charges presented, the objections of the defense were not refuted, and the court, when assessing the evidence, did not eliminate the contradictions in regard to the evidence. In spite of all that, the court, without any reason given, supported the prosecution’s version, full of assumptions and speculation. The case circumstances established with an unbiased approach do not contradict the defense version. Thus, neither the accusation of selling drugs against Aliaksandr Matsiayuk, nor the accusation of handling drugs against Aleh Barazna, with the exception of 0.0057 g of marijuana found and seized from him, have not been proven. So the prison sentence for Aleh Barazna under such circumstances is excessively tough.
Babrujsk Regional and City Court found Aliaksandr Nazarovich, Vital Vasilevich and Aliaksandr Marjasau guilty of active participation in group actions that violate public order, illegal actions in relation to objects the damaging properties of which are based on the use of flammable substances, a large scale attempt to destroy and damage property in a dangerous way, and especially malicious hooliganism. The defendants were accused of setting rags on fire on railway tracks, which led to a traffic delay, as well as manufacturing an incendiary device and using it on the roof of a metal cigarette kiosk. The accused were sentenced to eight, seven and a half and seven and a half years in prison, respectively, under Articles 342, 339, 295-1, Part 1 of Article 14 and Part 3 of Article 218 of the Criminal Code.
Žodzina City Court convicted Siarhei Laukajtsis under Part 3 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code for the arson of a metal cigarette kiosk which had been organized by the special services as part of an operational experiment. The arson caused damage to the kiosk paintwork in the amount of 341 rubles.
The Čyhunačny District Court of Homieĺ convicted Vadzim Tsykunou for making and using items, the damaging properties of which are based on the use of flammable substances, as a result of which a stretch of asphalt and earth was ignited. Vadzim Tsykunou was sentenced to three years and six months in prison under Art. 295-1 and Part 3 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code. The accused was tortured during the pre-trial proceedings.
The actions of the accused were aimed at expressing their attitude to the processes taking place in society, were not aimed at causing non-symbolic damage, nor entailed serious consequences.
The Leninski District Court of Brest sentenced Dzmitry Andrasiuk to three months of arrest for refusing to testify as a witness at a court hearing under Art. 402 of the Criminal Code. The accused has been sent to serve his sentence. Dzmitry Andrasiuk explained his decision by the judge’s refusal to show him as an interrogated witness a warrant, as Dzmitry believed that the right to check a judge’s powers followed directly from the provisions of Art. 72 of the Code on the Judicial System and the Status of Judges. Thus, the accused had no intent to commit the crime. Despite this, Dzmitry Andrasiuk was subjected to the most severe punishment in terms of type and length.
We emphasize once again that in a number of these cases, the nature of the actions of the accused were the result of provocations, as well as numerous and widespread human rights violations by the authorities, the lack of freedom of expression, were caused by the lack of investigation of crimes against peaceful protesters and other victims of cruel treatment and torture, disappointment with the authorities’ reluctance to use the force of law to protect citizens’ violated rights in the absence of conditions for a democratic and constitutional change of government in fair elections.
Having studied these cases of criminal prosecution, we came to the conclusion that all of them are politically motivated.
According to the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, a person deprived of liberty is to be regarded as a political prisoner, if, along with the political motivation of their case, at least one of the following criteria is observed:
- a) the detention has been imposed in violation of the right to a fair trial, other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;
- d) the person has been detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons.
We, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, consider that further deprivation of liberty of Aliaksandr Matsiayuk, Aleh Barazna, Aliaksandr Nazarovich, Vital Vasilevich, Aliaksandr Marjasau, Siarhei Laukajtsis, Vadzim Tsykunou and Dzmitry Andrasiuk is politically motivated, and recognize them as political prisoners. In this regard, we call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- review the sentences passed against these political prisoners, respect their right to a fair trial, eliminate the factors that influenced the decision to sentence these individuals to imprisonment and release them, having ensured their appearance in court by other means;
- release all political prisoners immediately and stop political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House