Twenty one people recognized as political prisoners
Statement by the human rights community of Belarus
May 17, 2023
We, representatives of the human rights community in Belarus, once again note that criminal liability for ‘incitement of social hatred’ under Article 130 of the Criminal Code (hereafter CC) has been selectively and discriminatorily applied by both the investigators and courts in an apparent attempt to protect the state bodies. Moreover, it seems unreasonable to label government officials, police officers, military personnel, and so on as separate social groups falling under protection in this context.
We insist that it is unacceptable to apply a law aimed to protect government officials, law enforcement officers, and judges from threats in connection with the lawful performance of their duties to punish those citizens who have spoken out in connection with the apparent violation of the Constitution and law by state institutions, the involvement of government officials, prosecutors and judges in torture and in creating a climate of impunity for torture and other human rights violations, often showing signs of crimes against humanity.
A closed trial in these cases grossly violates the accused's procedural rights. It brings the assessment of the credibility, sufficiency, and admissibility of any evidence for the prosecution to a minimum level.
We are aware of the criminal convictions of the following persons:
- Mr. Aleh Zubovich was sentenced to six years of imprisonment in a correctional colony for transmitting information to a protest Telegram channel under part 3 of Article 130 of the CC (“incitement to hatred”) and part 3 of Article 203-1 (“unlawful actions regarding personal data”) of the CC.
- Mr. Aleh Zavadski was convicted of insulting Aliaksandr Lukashenka in public under Part 1 of Article 368 and inciting hatred under Part 1 of Article 130. He was sentenced to three years and six months of imprisonment in a penal colony.
- Mr. Aliaksei Mandzik was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment in a penal colony for his comments posted on the internet under Article 130 of the CC (“inciting hated”), Article 368 of the CC (“insulting the president of Belarus”), Article 369 of the CC (“insulting a public official”), Article 293 of the CC (“organizing riots”), part 1 of Article 309 of the CC (“intentional disrepair of a vehicle or communication lines”), and part 3 of Article 361 of the CC (“calling for actions aimed at causing harm to national security (sanctions)”).
- Mr. Andrei Tsypak was sentenced to imprisonment in a penal colony for transmitting data of government officials to a protest Telegram channel under part 3 of Article 130 (“inciting hated”), part 3 of Article 352 (“Illegal acquisition of computer information”), and part 3 of Article 203-1 (“illegal actions with respect to information about private life and personal data”).
- Mr. Andrei Krauchuk was sentenced to six years of imprisonment in a penal colony for comments posted on the internet under part 1 of Article 130 (“inciting hated”), Article 188 (“defamation”), part 1 of Article 368 (“insulting the president of Belarus”), part 1 of Article 367 (“slander against the President of the Republic of Belarus”), Article 369 (“insulting a government official”), and Article 369 (“insulting a judge”).
- Mr. Viktar Yaromenka was sentenced to four years of imprisonment in a penal colony in a closed court session for “incitement of hatred” under Article 130 of the CC.
Furthermore, we know about the convictions carried out in a closed court session without any established reasons of the following persons:
- Mr. Pavlo Kupriyenko, a citizen of Ukraine, was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment in a penal colony under Article 358-1 of the CС (“intelligence activities”).
- Mr. Taras Machynski was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment in a penal colony for collecting and transmitting information about military equipment movements across Belarus under part 1 of Article 356 of the CC (“high treason”).
- Mr. Aliaksei Tkachuk was sentenced to six years of imprisonment in a penal colony on trumped-up charges of keeping training ammunition under part 2 of Article 295 of the CC. A deliberately harsher punishment was imposed than is usually practiced in similar cases.
According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in determining any criminal charge against him, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law. All or part of the public may be excluded from a trial for reasons of morals, public order, or national security in a democratic society or when the interest of the private lives of the parties so requires, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in particular circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice. Apart from such exceptional circumstances, a hearing must be open to the general public, including media members, and must not, for instance, be limited to a particular category of persons. Even in cases where the public is excluded from the trial, the judgment, including the essential findings, evidence, and legal reasoning must be made public. The court did not fulfill these requirements in the case of the persons mentioned above, which could determine the attitude of human rights defenders to the hearing results.
- Mr. Vadzim Shylko, a military reenactor who participated in the historical reenactments at the entertainment complex with a military-historical component “Stalin Line”, was sentenced to three years of imprisonment under part 1 of Article 130-1 of the CC. On the recognized extremist page in the Odnoklassniki social media, Mr. Shylko posted several photos of the convict participating in reenactments in the uniform of a Wehrmacht soldier. He did not publish any information glorifying Nazism. On the contrary, his feed contains an article about the events of the first days of the war, sympathetically describing the defensive actions of the Red Army.
We are also aware of the prolonged detention of:
- Mr. Mikalai Khatsianovich, Mr. Aliaksei Barodka, Mr. Siarhei Mardzilovich, Mr. Hleb Viatoshkin, and Mr. Dzmitryi Bohush on charges of inciting hatred with their comments on the Internet under Article 130 of the CC;
- Mr. Aliaksei Mikhailau on the charge of failure to report the crime being prepared under Part 2 of Article 406 of the CC;
- Mr. Dzmitryi Neviarkevich on charges of tax evasion, attempted conspiracy to seize state power, and joining an extremist organization under part 2 of Article 243, part 1 of Article 14 and part 2 of Article 357, and part of Article 361-1 of the CC;
- Mr. Eduard Pestrak on charges of failure to exercise authority by an official under part 3 of Article 425 of the Criminal Code;
- Mr. Dzianis Filonchyk on charges of conspiracy to seize state power and joining an extremist organization under part 1 of Article 14 and part 2 of Article 357, and part 3 of Article 361-1 of the CC;
- Mr. Pavel Chykhinski on charges of conspiracy to seize state power and abuse of authority by an official under part 1 of Article 357 and part 3 of Article 424 of the CC;
- Mr. Piotr Yurkevich on charges of active participation in group actions that grossly violate public order, attempted conspiracy to seize state power, joining an extremist organization under part 1 of Article 342, part 1 of Article 14 and part 2 of Article 357, and part 3 of Article 361-1 of the CC.
The last six individuals are defendants in a criminal case investigated and heard in court with gross violations of procedural rights, including the presumption of innocence; their actions are not associated with violence that includes non-symbolic property damage or an attempt to cause such damage; the conspiracy charge is trumped-up, and other charges should be examined in court respecting the procedural rights of the accused, excluding the unjustified use of detention as a means of pressure on the defendants.
Thus, the authorities use imprisonment of political opponents of the regime in violation of the right to a fair trial, other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and selectively in comparison with other persons. As the UN Human Rights Committee noted, “remand in custody on criminal charges must be reasonable and necessary in all the circumstances”. “Detention in custody of persons awaiting trial shall be the exception rather than the rule. […] Release from such custody may be subject to guarantees of appearance, including appearance for trial, appearance at any other stage of the judicial proceedings and (should occasion arise) appearance for execution of the judgment. That sentence applies to persons awaiting trial on criminal charges, that is, after the defendant has been charged, but a similar requirement prior to charging results from the prohibition of arbitrary detention… It should not be the general practice to subject defendants to pretrial detention. Detention pending trial must be based on an individualized determination that it is reasonable and necessary taking into account all the circumstances, for such purposes as to prevent flight, interference with evidence or the recurrence of crime… The relevant factors should be specified in law and should not include vague and expansive standards such as “public security”… Pretrial detention should be ordered on a determination of necessity rather than for a period based on the potential sentence for the crime charged.”
We emphasize once again that in a number of the abovementioned cases, the nature of the acts of the accused was the result of numerous and widespread human rights violations by the authorities, the lack of freedom of expression, and 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.
We reiterate that closed trials in which politically motivated criminal cases are heard, and trials in the absence of the public, observers, and independent journalists grossly violate the rights of due process and bring the reliability, sufficiency, and admissibility of any prosecution evidence close to zero.
Assessing all these cases of prosecution, we conclude 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 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, declare that the continued detention of Mr. Aleh Zubovich, Mr. Aleh Zavadski, Mr. Aliaksei Mandzik, Mr. Andrei Tsypak, Mr. Andrei Krauchuk, Mr. Viktar Yaromenka, Mr. Pavlo Kupriyenko, Mr. Taras Machynski, Mr. Aliaksei Tkachuk, Mr. Vadzim Shylko, Mr. Mikalai Khatsianovich, Mr. Aliaksei Barodka, Mr. Siarhei Mardzilovich, Mr. Hleb Viatoshkin, Mr. Dzmitryi Bohush, Mr. Aliaksei Mikhailau, Mr. Dzmitryi Neviarkevich, Mr. Eduard Pestrak, Mr. Dzianis Filonchyk, Mr. Pavel Chykhinski, and Mr. Piotr Yurkevich is politically motivated and that they themselves are political prisoners. We demand that the Belarusian authorities:
- review the sentences passed against the mentioned political prisoners while exercising the right to a fair trial and eliminating the factors that affected the qualification of actions, the type and severity of punishment;
- release the mentioned political prisoners by taking other measures to ensure their appearance in court;
- immediately release all political prisoners, review politically motivated sentences, and end political repression against citizens.
Human Rights Center Viasna
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House