Political prisoner count hits 1,300
Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community
August 19, 2022
The Belarusian human rights community notes an increase in the number of convictions and imprisonments under several defamation and desecration of state symbols articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, and for other actions aimed at the lawful exercise of the freedom of expression.
We demand to put an end to the persecution of legitimate expression of views and, reaffirming our repeated calls to decriminalize defamation and to refrain from imposing custodial sentences for insulting officials, the state, government agencies, and symbols (as mentioned in the Joint statement of December 22, 2020), note the following:
We have identified the following persons in custody or imprisoned for insulting Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, police officers, judges, and state symbols:
- Ms. Nadzeya Polkina—sentenced under Article 368 of the Criminal Code for ‘insulting the President’ to 24 months in a penal colony.
- Ms. Volha Skrashchuk—charged with ‘insulting a government official’ and ‘inciting hatred’ and taken into custody under Articles 369 and 130 of the Criminal Code for her comments following the fatal shooting of a KGB officer Mr. Fedasiuk and an IT specialist Mr. Zeltser.
- Ms. Ina Mozhchanka—charged with ‘insulting a government official’ and ‘inciting hatred’ and taken into custody under Articles 369 and 130 of the Criminal Code for her comments following the fatal shooting of a KGB officer Mr. Fedasiuk and an IT specialist Mr. Zeltser.
- Mr. Siarhei Samul—convicted under Articles 391, 368, and 369 for ‘insulting a judge’, ‘insulting the President’, and ‘insulting government officials’, and sentenced to 24 months of imprisonment in a penal colony.
- Mr. Aliaksei Matsiavin—charged with ‘insulting the President’ on the internet and taken into custody under Article 368 of the Criminal Code.
- Mr. Heorhii Herylovich—charged with ‘insulting the President’ on the internet and taken into custody under Article 368 of the Criminal Code.
- Mr. Siarhei Tsyhib—convicted of ‘illegal actions with respect to information about privacy and personal data’, ‘insulting the President’, and ‘insulting a government official’ under Articles 203-1, 368, and 369 of the Criminal Code for liking a video on a social network.
In this regard, we consider the persecution and imprisonment of the persons listed above politically motivated in nexus with the peaceful exercise of their views. Therefore, we recognize these persons as political prisoners per paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
We demand that the Belarusian authorities:
- Immediately release the political prisoners Ms. Natallia Polkina, Ms. Volha Skrashchuk, Ms. Ina Mozhchanka, Mr. Siarhei Samul, Mr. Aliaksei Matsiavin, Mr. Heorhii Herylovich, and Mr. Siarhei Tsyhib, and stop the criminal prosecution against them.
- Decriminalize defamation offenses and abolish the articles of the Criminal Code that institute 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 drop all ongoing criminal cases under these articles.
- Immediately release all political prisoners and stop political repression.
Human Rights Center Viasna
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House