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Ivan Murauyou and Yauhen Merkis recognized as political prisoners

2022 2022-09-21T18:30:11+0300 2022-09-21T18:33:06+0300 en https://spring96.org/files/images/sources/merkis_muraviev.jpg The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Joint statement of the Belarusian human rights community

21 September 2022

On 29 August 2022, the Investigative Committee officers in Minsk detained journalist Ivan Murauyou. He was charged under part 3 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code (participation in an extremist formation). Under this charge, the journalist faces restriction of freedom for up to four years or imprisonment of two to six years. At the moment, Ivan Murauyou is held in Minsk pre-trial detention center.

Ivan Murauyou is a journalist, cameraman, and photographer who was previously detained in August 2020.

On 13 September 2022, the apartment of journalist Yauhen Merkis in Homieĺ was searched, and Yauhen was arrested. Yauhen Merkis was charged under Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code (facilitating extremist activities). Under this article, the journalist can be punished by the restriction of freedom for up to four years, or imprisonment of two to six years.

Yauhen Merkis is a journalist who covered protests after the 2020 presidential election. He was repeatedly arrested by police, fined, and detained for 24 hours. After a number of independent media outlets were recognized as extremist formations, Yauhen chose to engage in local historical activities.

Overly broad and vague definitions of "extremist activity" and "extremist formation" in the Belarusian law allow authorities to manipulate this wording for the sake of illegitimate restrictions on the right to information, freedom of speech and freedom of association. Since 2021, we have observed a wide-sweeping practice of arbitrary recognition of articles in independent media publications as "extremist content," along with declaring Belarusian media "extremist formations." One of the most egregious forms of harassment is the criminal prosecution of journalists for participating in an extremist formation or contributing to extremist activities.

We, the undersigned organizations, believe that the persecution of Ivan Murauyou and Yauhen Merkis represent a continuation of the authorities' deliberate policy of restricting the distribution of uncensored information in the country and a continuing attack on freedom of speech. After the 2020 presidential election dozens of socio-political and media websites were blocked in Belarus, many print media outlets were forced to stop publishing, and journalists and media workers were put behind bars in Belarus.

Considering these circumstances, we conclude that the real reasons for criminal prosecution of Ivan Murauyou and Yauhen Merkis are political ones and are aimed at suppressing or changing the nature of their public activities related to the non-violent exercise of freedom of expression and information dissemination. On this basis, guided by paragraphs 2.1 and 3.1 of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoner adopted at the II Belarusian Human Rights Forum, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights organizations, recognize Ivan Murauyou and Yauhen Merkis as political prisoners and demand

  • the immediate release of Ivan Murauyou and Yauhen Merkis and the termination of criminal proceedings against them;
  • the disuse of criminal prosecution as an instrument of suppression of freedom of expression or other rights and freedoms;
  • an immediate end to the repression and the release of all political prisoners.

Belarusian Association of Journalists;

Human Rights Center "Viasna";

Legal Initiative;

Human Constanta;

Lawtrend;

Belarusian PEN;

Belarusian Helsinki Committee;

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House.

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