Defenders demand review sentences and release four political prisoners
Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community
November 12, 2022
Human rights defenders have learned about recent sentences pronounced in politically motivated criminal trials involving protesters and other persons accused of using violence against or violent resistance to police officers and other officials in the line of duty (Articles 363, 364, and 366 of the Criminal Code). For instance:
- Mr. Mikhail Zubkou was convicted of ‘violence against an employee of the internal affairs bodies’ in response to the brutal dispersal of peaceful protest and sentenced to three years of imprisonment in a penal colony under Article 364 of the Criminal Code. No significant damage to health was inflicted as a result of the defendant's actions.
- Mr. Pavel Linkevich was convicted of ‘intentionally causing serious bodily injury to a person in connection with this person's official duties’ for carelessly running over the foot of an internal affairs officer while escaping from arbitrary detention and driving in reverse. Mr. Linkevich was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment under Part 2 of Article 147 of the Criminal Code.
In this regard, reaffirming our position set out in the Joint statement of human rights organizations of January 16, 2021, we note the following:
The state should protect citizens’ peaceful assemblies, and the police should not take actions to forcibly stop them, even if they violate 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 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 defense carried out to protect oneself from clearly unlawful actions of law enforcement officers who had followed unlawful orders.
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.
Apart from that, we note that in 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 against the defendants in comparison with defendants of other analogous cases.
Thus, the following individuals were convicted in a closed-door trial in the absence of procedural grounds for this under Article 218 of the Criminal Code (‘іntentional destruction of property’):
Mr. Zakhar Tarazevich was sentenced to seven and a half years of imprisonment and Mr. Anton Lysau was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment on charges of setting fire to the car of the State Committee for Forensic Examinations chair. Violation of procedural guarantees significantly and irreparably reduces the level of confidence in the conclusions of the court that form the basis of a conviction.
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 that 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 Mr. Mikhail Zubkou, Mr. Pavel Linkevich, Mr. Zakhar Tarazevich, and Mr. Anton Lysau as political prisoners and demand that the Belarusian authorities:
- Immediately review the sentences imposed on these political prisoners, respecting their right to a fair trial and eliminating the factors mentioned, and release them by other means to ensure their appearance in court.
- Release all political prisoners.
Human Rights Center Viasna
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities