Human Rights Situation in Belarus: June 2022
- The situation in Belarus is the result of an extremely deep crisis of human rights, as well as the support of the state leadership for the aggressive war unleashed by the Russian Federation in Ukraine.
- The Human Rights Center Viasna (Viasna - hereinafter) strongly condemns the actions of Belarusian and Russian authorities that undermine the principles of peaceful coexistence of peoples, violate the Constitution and laws of Belarus, and international treaties.
- During June 2022, the Belarusian authorities kept actively prosecuting citizens on political grounds. Detentions of dissidents for spreading information and subscribing to groups in social networks and Telegram channels continue together. In June, Viasna documented 10 fines and 31 instances of administrative detention sentenced by courts against protesters, more than 100 people were arrested.
- By the end of June, 1 236 political prisoners were held in places of detention. The number continues to increase steadily.
- Members of Viasna continue to be held in pre-trial detention on arbitrary charges: Chairman Mr. Ales Bialiatski; Member of the Board, and Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich; lawyer and coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign Mr. Uladzimir Labkovich; coordinator of Viasna’s volunteer network Ms. Marfa Rabkova and volunteer Mr. Andrei Chapiuk whose trial has commenced. A Viasna member and the head of Center for Strategic Litigation Mr. Leanid Sudalenka who was sentenced to three years of imprisonment, and a volunteer at Viasna Ms. Tatsiana Lasitsa who was sentenced to two years and six months - are in penal colonies.
- Human rights defenders and journalists continue to report numerous cases of ill-treatment of politically imprisoned citizens, and those detained and administratively arrested for participating in peaceful assemblies. Viasna experts consider the inhumane conditions that have been deliberately created for political detainees by administrations of pre-trial prisons and other facilities as torture.
- Torture and other ways of ill-treatment continue to be used during investigations of politically motivated criminal cases.
- On June 28 in Geneva, Ms. Anaïs Marin, UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus, presented her report on the situation of human rights in Belarus at the 50th Session of the Human Rights Council. The presentation was followed by the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur. The report prepared by Ms. Anaïs Marin covers the period from April 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022. It analyses the developments and trends that followed the contested presidential election of 9 August 2020. The Special Rapporteur analyses the continuing repression of political dissent, the further curtailment of freedom of opinion and expression in the country, and the growing number of arbitrary arrests and detentions on politically motivated grounds.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
By late June, the number of political prisoners increased by 19 to 1,236; and continued to grow steadily. Fifty people were recognized as political prisoners by human rights defenders. It is known that 28 political prisoners have been released, including those who have served their sentences in full.
During the Week Against Torture, Viasna human rights defenders presented three reports for the years 2021–2022: “Criminal Prosecution for Political Reasons” and “Politically motivated administrative prosecution: standards and realities”, which analyze trials and repressive practices of the authorities against citizens for the previous year, and the report on the results of monitoring detention facilities in Belarus. The purpose of the report is to raise awareness of the public, national and international institutions, and state bodies about human rights violations in 2021-2022–2022 in Belarus. This post-electoral period is characterized by a severe human rights crisis and total destruction and suppression of civil society.
The criminal prosecution of the participants in protests against rigged presidential elections in 2020 and later political protests for freedoms, against cruelty, and arbitrariness continues. Criminal prosecutions remain widespread and pervasive, affecting people from all social groups. Judges at all levels are actively engaged in suppressing any political or social activism and dissent as they create a semblance of legitimacy while depriving of and restricting liberty, and civil rights. The purpose of the egregious arbitrariness and often blatant harshness of sentences handed down in criminal and administrative cases is to create an atmosphere of total fear in order to halt protest and prevent a new wave of public outcry. At the same time, closed-door trials that have become a new norm protect judges and prosecutors from making public the arbitrariness and speculative nature of charges, as well as their violations of the state's human rights obligations. Even formally public trials sometimes are de facto held behind closed doors in correctional facilities.
The Chairman of Viasna Mr. Ales Bialiatski, a Member of Viasna Board and the Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovich, and lawyer and coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign Mr. Uladzimir Labkovich remain in custody on trumped-up charges.
Closed-door hearings of the criminal case against Viasna volunteer service coordinator Ms. Marfa Rabkova, volunteer Mr. Andrei Chapiuk, political prisoners, and another eight political prisoners continue in the Minsk Municipal Court. Judge Siarhei Khrypach is presiding over the case.
The head of Viasna Homieĺ branch Mr. Leanid Sudalenka (sentenced to three years of imprisonment) and volunteer Ms. Tatsiana Lasitsa (sentenced to 2.5 years) remain in penal colonies.
Correspondence is being intentionally and arbitrarily restricted for all imprisoned human rights defenders. In particular, after the transfer of Ms. Lasitsa to the penal colony, only her father receives letters from her. Mr. Sudalenka’s lawyer still is not allowed to see his client.
Overall, the trend of convicting more than 100 people per month in politically motivated cases persists; Viasna registered 96 convictions in May, 89 in April, and 99 in March. Human rights activists suggest that about 20% of all cases are overlooked due to their closed nature ordered by courts. In this regard, human rights defenders encourage citizens to share with them all known information about politically motivated persecution.
Authorities are prolonging jail terms for political prisoners.
On June 13, in an off-site trial on the premises of the Homieĺ penal colony, a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 411 of the Criminal Code (malicious disobedience to the demands of administration of the correctional institution) against political prisoner Ms. Viktoryia Kulsha was considered. Relatives were not allowed to enter the penitentiary. A Čyhunačny District Court of Homieĺ Judge Siarhei Maltseu sentenced the political prisoner to 12 more months of imprisonment in addition to two years and six months.
Violation of freedom of peaceful assembly, and suppression of freedom of expression
Criminal and administrative persecution of peaceful protesters and dissidents continues. The courts are still passing verdicts against the participants of the 2020 protests:
On June 6, the court of the Žlobin district handed down a verdict in the criminal case of Mr. Vitaly Bahamazov, who was accused of organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order (Part 1, Article 342 of the Criminal Code). He was sentenced to three years of imprisonment in a high-security penal colony.
On June 7, 2022, Zavodski District Court of Minsk passed a verdict in the criminal case against the coordinator of the Flying University, political prisoner Ms. Tatsiana Vadalazhskaya, who was charged under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them). Ms. Tatsiana Vadalazhskaya is a well-known sociologist, an expert in the analytical group of the Agency for Humanitarian Technologies, coordinator of the Flying University, and an analyst at the Center for European Transformation.
Today, on June 15, Ms. Aksana Kolb, a journalist and editor-in-chief of the Novy Chas newspaper, was sentenced in the Centraĺny District Court of Minsk. Judge Dzmitryi Karsiuk found her guilty of participation in actions that grossly violate public order under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code for taking part in one of the August 2020 rallies and sentenced her to 2.5 years of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility
The verdict against Mr. Aliaksei Ivanchykau, who protested the referendum to amend the constitution, also came to light. On June 2, the Centraĺny District Court of Homieĺ convicted him of violence against an employee of the internal affairs bodies (Article 364 of the Criminal Code). Mr. Ivanchykau was detained on February 27, 2022, the main day of voting. As he was leaving the polling station he was approached by police officers in plain clothes. He tried to escape from them, and when he was arrested he grabbed the one officer's uniform and allegedly tore off a button. The next day, he was placed under administrative arrest for participating in an unauthorized mass event held at a polling station against Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Ivanchykau was not released after he served his term. Instead, he was detained under Article 364 of the Criminal Code and placed in pre-trial detention center in Homieĺ. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to two and a half years of imprisonment in a penal colony.
On June 14, 2022, a new criminal case against Mr. Pavel Piaskou was heard. Previously, Mr. Piaskou was convicted of resisting riot police he tried to prevent police from arresting peaceful protesters and sentenced to 3.5 years of imprisonment. This was the first politically motivated verdict for the events of 2020. The new charge under Article 411 (Malicious disobedience to the demands of administration of the correctional institution) was brought while he was already serving his term in the Babrujsk penal colony No. 5. Earlier human rights activists learned that Mr. Piaskou was regularly subjected to pressure from the organization, which repeatedly placed him in a punishment cell. As a result, Judge Pavel Kartsinin sentenced the political prisoner to 12 more months of imprisonment.
Police officers continue to ransack houses and apartments, detain people at their workplaces, and conduct searches and interrogations. The authorities are stepping up various forms of pressure and repression for active citizenship and opposition to government policies. The courts, usually by video conference, hear administrative cases against persons arrested for displaying flags and stickers on their windows and storing them in their homes, sharing posts and commenting on social media, as well as other forms of protest activities or expression of opinion, disloyalty, and dissent.
On June 22, Mr. Siarhei Badunou, an employee of a state-owned oil refinery Naftan located in Navapolack, was detained at his workplace. The reason for the detention was a subscription to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The police wrote up a report under Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code for the dissemination of extremist materials. On June 24, Navapolack court judge Zinaida Balabolava found the father of two minor children guilty and arrested him for 10 days. Since May 14, another Naftan employee Barys Zhakhouski, who had already been convicted three times in administrative cases and who kept hunger strike for 16 days, was also kept behind bars. After 45 days of arrest, Barys was released.
Viasna continues to accumulate information on administrative persecution for exercising the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression of peaceful protesters (including at anti-war rallies), as well as on arbitrary detentions for displaying symbols of protest, including in private homes and areas. Viasna documented 100 instances of administrative detention in June. At least 10 fines for protest activity were imposed, and at least 31 administrative arrest sentences were handed down. This is by no means a complete record of the number of politically motivated administrative cases. In many cases, judges secretly hold closed hearings by videoconference without announcing the date and place. This grossly violates the procedural and constitutional rights of defendants in administrative proceedings, and observers of fair justice standards are persecuted for their lawful activities.
Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code punishes the dissemination of extremist materials and is constantly being used by the Belarus authorities to repress dissent. There were 16 verdicts passed down under that Article in June. Judges punish the reposting of various socio-political materials from resources whose information products are recognized as extremist, and even the subscription to ‘extremist’ sources of information, which is regarded as storage of extremist materials, although under the Administrative Code only such storage, which aims at the further distribution of these materials, is punishable.
During the month new court decisions were issued, adding to the State List of Extremist Materials. About 10 information resources were declared extremist by the court, including those related to the aid initiatives targeting people prosecuted on political grounds By_help and BYSOL, as well as their creators and activists.
Viasna human rights defenders continue to monitor criminal cases related to the intolerance of the Belarus authorities to any form of expression. Criminal prosecutions under defamation articles continue. Individuals are being charged with defamation and insult of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, government officials, and judges; as well as for desecration of state symbols (Articles 367, 368, 369, 370, and 391 of the Criminal Code). Courts in all regions of Belarus hear criminal cases on such charges.
It became known that on March 10 and 11, 2022, the trial of Mr. Kiryl Pilipuk was held in the court of Maskoŭski district of Brest. He was accused under Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code of Belarus of publicly insulting Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka. Mr. Kiryl Pilipuk accessed Odnoklassniki social network on May 3, 2021. There he saw a picture with Aliaksandr Lukashenka in a coffin and left a comment: “When this clown dies, I will celebrate the week.” For this comment, which contained a ‘negative assessment‘ of Mr. Lukashenka, expressed by the word ‘clown’, Judge Ina Klyshpach sentenced Kiryl Pilipuk to 24 months of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility.
On June 7, 2022, the Navabielica District of Homieĺ convicted political prisoner Mr. Mikalai Vitsikau of discrediting the Republic of Belarus under Article 369-1 of the Criminal Code. Judge Aliaksandr Zinchuk considered the case, and the prosecutor Kiryl Kadouba represented the state prosecution. Mr. Vicikau, a retired deputy of the village council, was detained on January 14, 2022. He was placed in Homieĺ pre-trial detention center No. 3 pending trial. The reason for his detention was his letter to the local newspaper Mayak to discuss amendments to the Constitution. The investigators qualified the letter under Part 1 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code (Incitement of hatred), while the district newspaper reacted with an insulting article. Later the charges were changed to discrediting the Republic of Belarus (Article 369-1 of the Criminal Code). Mr. Vicikau was sentenced to 8 months of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony for "attempted dissemination of untrustworthy, insulting" information about the activities of state bodies and law enforcement officers.
On June 10, Baranavičy court ruled in the case of Tatsiana Kupchyna, who was charged under three criminal articles: Part 1 of Article 368 (insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus), Article 369 (insulting a government official), and Article 391 of the Criminal Code (insulting a judge). The trial was headed by Judge Mikalai Kmita. Ms. Kupchyna left insulting comments about Mr. Lukashenka, police officers, and the Judge of Pieršamajski district court of Minsk on the Internet. The names of the victims were not mentioned. The defendant was finally sentenced to 24 months of imprisonment in a general-security penal colon and fines.
On June 17, the Pružany District Court sentenced 65-year-old political prisoner Ms. Alena Hnauk to 3.5 years in a general-security penal colony and a fine of 3,200 rubles (about 950 US dollars). Judge Yuryi Zhytko passed the verdict. Alena was found guilty under two articles of the Criminal Code: Article 367 (defamation of the President of Belarus) and Article 369-1 (discrediting the Republic of Belarus) for her posts on Facebook and Instagram about Kurdish families and the situation of migrants in Belarus. Since 2020, Ms. Hnauk has been targeted by the authorities. She was arrested and charged with administrative offenses 17 times, fined a total of 5,536 rubles (about 1,600 US dollars), her house was searched several times, and she was convicted under criminal charges in the notorious ‘dancing protest case’ and for insulting Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka.
On June 20, the Malarytskyi district court handed down a verdict in the criminal case of the politically imprisoned activist of the BPF Party Ms. Liudmila Romanovich. Ms. Romanovich was accused of insulting Mr. Lukashenka (Article 368 of the Criminal Code) because of the letter she sent to the Investigative Committee. Judge Volha Smirnova considered the case. At the beginning of March 2022, Ms. Ramanovich submitted a letter to the official bodies in which she expressed her disagreement with Belarus' participation in the war against Ukraine. From the indictment, it became known that the basis for the criminal prosecution of the activist was the word ‘usurper’ used by her in the letter to the Investigative Committee. The activist was found guilty under Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 18 months in a general-security penal colony.
On June 23, the Minsk Regional Court sentenced political prisoner, philosopher and founder of the Flying University Mr. Uladzimir Matskevich to five years of imprisonment in a medium-security penal colony. Judge Siarhei Yepikhau considered the case. Uladzimir Matskevich was accused of organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order (Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code), creating a formation (Part 1 of Article 361-1), and insulting the President (part 1 of article 368). The closed-door hearings began on June 9. Today, June 23, 2022, the court found Mr. Uladzimir Matskevich guilty and sentenced him to five years in a medium-security penal colony.
These and other instances of condemnation of the exercise of freedom of expression form an atmosphere of total fear and silent protest.
Freedom of association
The Prosecutor General of the Republic of Belarus sent a statement to the Supreme Court about the termination of the activities of the Free Trade Union of Belarus (SPB); the Free Trade Union of Metal Workers (SPM); the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of Miners, Chemists, Oil Refiners, Energy Engineers, Transporters, Builders and Other Workers; Belarusian Radio-Electrical Manufacturing Workers' Trade Union (REM); and the Association of Trade Unions Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions. The agency claims that the activities of the independent trade unions became politicized and their leaders were engaged in ‘destructive activities’. Criminal proceedings were initiated in all of the cases.
Violation of freedom of information. Persecution of journalists and media
Freedom of speech in Belarus continues to be violated in various forms. 31 media representativeshave been imprisoned.
On June 9, the Brest Regional Court issued a verdict in the case of Ms. Volha Buyan, who was accused of promoting extremist activities under Part 1 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code. Judge Vera Filonik considered the case. The defendant is 27 years old. She lives in Rečyca, Stolin district, 7 km from the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, and is bringing up a young child. On March 21, 2022, Ms. Buyan took her child to kindergarten. On their way she noticed Russian military vehicles with identification marks, recorded a video of them and sent it to the Telegram project Bielaruski hajun. The court sentenced Ms. Buyan to four years of restricted freedom under home confinement under part 1 of article 361-4 of the Criminal Code.
On June 5, journalist Ms. Tsina Palynskaya was searched. Ms. Palynskaya was detained and released after several hours, but her equipment was confiscated.
Earlier in Babrujsk the police detained the journalist of the local newspaper Kommercheskiy kurʹyer Mr. Dzmitryi Suslau. The police came to the editorial office and took him away without any explanations. It is known that Mr. Suslau was kept in the police station until late evening, then sent to the temporary detention center. On Monday, June 6, it became known that Mr. Suslau was sentenced to 15 days of administrative imprisonment. He was convicted under Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code for dissemination of extremist materials. The trial was held in the temporary detention facility.
On June 8, the Mahilioŭ Regional Court considered the criminal case against freelance journalist for Radio Freedom Europe/Radio Liberty and political prisoner Mr. Andrei Kuznechyk. He was accused of creation of an extremist formation (Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code). The trial was held behind closed doors. Judge Ihar Shvedau considered the case. The court found Mr. Kuznechyk guilty and sentenced him to six years of imprisonment in a medium-security penal colony.
On May 18, 2022 the KGB searched the editorial office of Belorusy i rynok newspaper and the home of the newspaper director Mr. Kanstantsin Zalatykh. Mr. Zalatykh was detained and his laptop and means of communication were seized. The lawyer of the detainee could not meet with his client for almost a week and the whereabouts of the newspaper director remained unknown. Later, Mr. Zalatykh. was charged under Part 2 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred, combined with violence or committed by an official).
On May 26, 2022, the house of journalist Mr. Aliaksandr (Ales) Liubenchuk was also searched. Mr. Liubenchuk was detained as part of a criminal case.
The law enforcers detained the director and the chief accountant of dev.by online media, Mr. Vital Androsau and Ms. Alena Androsava. Pro-government Telegram channels reported that “the two played an important role in the operation of the portal, where negative emotions toward own country were deliberately stirred up in favor of so-called European values”.
Journalist Mr. Aleh Hruzdzilovich is subjected to pressure in a penal colony.
The Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, on the situation of human rights in Belarus and on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism of the UN Human Rights Committee sent a communication to the government of Belarus. In it, they expressed their concern about the amendments to the Criminal Code of Belarus, which introduced the death penalty for the preparation and attempted commission of crimes related to terrorism. The Special Rapporteurs expressed their concern about the process of adoption of these amendments, which lacked transparency and civil dialogue, and did not provide adequate time for consultations with experts and civil society.
The Special Rapporteurs reminded the government of Belarus' obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture. In particular, the Special Rapporteurs stressed the inconsistency of the adopted amendments with Article 6 of the ICCPR, which provides that the death penalty may be imposed only for the most serious crimes involving intentional deprivation of life. The Special Rapporteurs expressed concern about the broad and vague wording of Article 289 of the Criminal Code (an act of terrorism), which could potentially cover acts such as expressing dissent and defending human rights. The Special Rapporteurs recalled that crimes punishable by the death penalty, like any other crime, should be clearly defined in law in accordance with the principle of legal certainty.
The communication also emphasizes that expanding the scope of the death penalty “is contrary to the spirit and purpose of Article 6 of the ICCPR”. According to the Special Rapporteurs, the amendments could lead to “irreversible damage and flagrant violations of the right to life”. Moreover, the Special Rapporteurs drew attention to reports of systematic violations of the right to a fair trial for those facing the death penalty, and noted that states that impose the death penalty have an obligation to strictly and rigorously observe the judicial guarantees enshrined in Articles 9 and 14 of the ICCPR to avoid arbitrary deprivation of life.
Torture. Cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment
Released political prisoners and their relatives continue to note the intentional worsening of conditions for political detainees that have consequently become borderline torturous and remain harsh, degrading, and inhumane. Reports of torture of detainees in criminal cases continue to come to light.
Ms. Volha Rytus was detained on April 12, 2022, for participating in peaceful demonstrations in 2020 Later her relatives learned that in order to obtain this information, the woman was abused and then kept in the detention center in inhumane conditions for almost 10 days. Relatives of the political prisoner reported that in order to force her to testify police officers doused her with water and threatened to put her son in jail, later offering the mother to watch the corresponding video.
Ms. Nasta Kukharava claimed torture and abuse in the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK) and inhumane conditions in the detention center.
As before, pressure on political prisoners in places of detention is regularly reported.
The widely known shocking cases of torture that political prisoners have brought to light remain uninvestigated.
Fair trial standards violations
The trial of the people involved in the ‘Autukhovich case’ continue in the Hrodna prison building. The defendants are Mr. Mikalai Autukhovich, priest Mr. Siarhei Rezanovich, Ms. Liubou Rezanovich, their son Mr. Pavel Rezanovich, human rights activist Ms. Halina Dzerbysh, Baranavičy activist Mr. Uladzimir Hundar, activist Ms. Volha Mayorava, pensioner Ms. Iryna Melkher and her son Mr. Anton Melkher, Ms. Iryna Harachkina, Mr. Viktar Snehur, and Mr. Pavel Sava. The case is being considered by a Regional Court of Hrodna Judge Maksim Filatau. All defendants, depending on the role, are charged under more than 10 articles of the Criminal Code in various combinations. Sometimes only the relatives of the accused are admitted to the court session. Mr. Mikalai Autukhovich and Ms. Liubou Rezanovich are kept in standing cells in the courtroom.
The trial of political prisoners Mr. Aliaksei Ivanisau and Mr. Aliaksei Hameza, together with Mr. Mikalai Biblis, Mr. Andrei Budai, and Mr. Aliaksandr Murauyou, Mr. Aliaksandr Sidarenka started in the Minsk Municipal Court on June 6, 2022. Judge Anastasiya Papko considers the case. She ordered the trial to be closed at the request of Ms. Yuliya Laneuskaya, representative of the state prosecution.
In the same conditions, Minsk regional court considers the BelaPAN case, in which four political prisoners are tried: journalist and media manager Mr. Andrei Aliaksandrau and his partner Ms. Iryna Zlobina, BelaPAN editor-in-chief, and director Ms. Iryna Leushyna, and former agency director Mr. Dzmitryi Navazhylau. Judge Viachaslau Tuleika presides over the closed hearing.
Repression against lawyers continues. On June 8, the Qualification Commission on lawyer's activity in the Republic of Belarus held a regular attestation of lawyers of Minsk City, Minsk Regional and Homieĺ Regional Bar Associations. As a result of the attestation, the Qualification Commission decided that lawyers Dravitsa, Praudzikau were unable to perform their professional duties due to insufficient qualification. The licenses of Mr. Baranouski, Mr. Lebiadzeu, and Mr. Stelmashuk were terminated “due to insufficient qualifications”, as well as the license of Mr. Maksim Znak, “due to exclusion from Minsk Regional Bar Association in connection with the entry into force of the court verdict finding the lawyer guilty of committing an intentional crime”.
On June 16, Minsk Lieninski District Court pronounced the verdict in the criminal case against Mr. Andrei Machalau, a defender in many politically-motivated cases. The lawyer, unaware of his exclusion from the Bar Association, handed over the warrant for participation in criminal proceedings and produced a lawyer's certificate. Judge Tatsiana Shotsik found him guilty under Part 1 of Article 380 of the Criminal Code. The former lawyer was sentenced to 24 months of restricted freedom in an open-type penitentiary. Human rights defenders consider the criminal prosecution of Mr. Machalau as politically motivated and arbitrary, and the sentence as a retaliation for the selfless, principled, and highly professional defense of political activists, protesters, and dissidents, which had already cost the lawyer the opportunity to continue his legal practice in his previous position. Despite the threats to his legal career, Mr. Andrei Machalau openly and publicly spoke about the facts of torture against political prisoner Ms. Volha Zalatar that became known to him and about how the employees of the Investigative Committee, through their inaction, allowed the perpetrators of this grave crime to escape responsibility.
In a joint letter of June 8, Lawyers for Lawyers and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) issued a joint statement regarding the detention of attorney Mr. Vital Brahinets and the criminal case against attorney Mr. Andrei Machalau. The organizations report that as a result of the administrative arrest Mr. Brahinets will lose his lawyer's license and the right to perform his professional duties as a lawyer and that the charges brought against Mr. Machalau are unfounded and rather related and serve to illegally interfere with his legitimate activities as a lawyer.
Lawyer Vital Brahinets was detained by KGB officers on the morning of May 23 on his way out of the house. Then he was taken to the police station “to be checked for involvement in protest activities”. From there, he, according to the court, tried to leave, which was considered disobedience. He was charged under Article 24.3 of the Administrative Code and sentenced to 15 days of administrative imprisonment. Mr. Brahinets was supposed to be released on the evening of June 7, but it did not happen. Later it became known about further prosecution of the lawyer.