We call for solidarity with all political prisoners and people subjected to criminal, administrative, and other types of political persecution
Statement by human rights organizations of Belarus on the Day of Political Prisoners
We, Belarusian human rights defenders, would like to remind you that on May 21, 2021, political prisoner Mr. Vitold Ashurak died in the cell-type facility of Škloŭ penal colony No. 17. An objective, independent investigation into his death has not been carried out by the authorities. This tragic event, coupled with ongoing criminal political repression in Belarus, prompted us to commemorate the first anniversary of the event on May 21, 2022, and declare this day as the Day of Political Prisoners in Belarus, reminding of over 1,200 political prisoners who were in captivity at that time, many of whom also became victims of torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment.
Since the beginning of the 2020 presidential election campaign, 2,291 people, including 381 women, have been recognized as political prisoners by the Belarusian human rights community. Currently, 1525 individuals, including 171 women, are held in places of detention. These detentions are connected to their beliefs, the non-violent exercise of freedom of thought, expression, peaceful assembly, association, and other rights and freedoms. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees these rights.
In addition, some are being held due to non-violent activities aimed at protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms or due to politically motivated persecution. They are being deprived of their freedom in violation of the right to a fair trial and other rights and freedoms. These, too, are guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Others are incarcerated based on falsified evidence of the alleged offense or in cases where there is no event or composition of the offense. Some individuals are held under conditions or for durations that are clearly disproportionate to the alleged offense.
Lastly, some individuals have been selectively deprived of their freedom compared to others.
Shortly before the Day of Political Prisoners, on May 5 this year, political prisoner and disabled person Mr. Mikalai Klimovich died in Viciebsk colony No. 3, sentenced to imprisonment for liking a caricature of Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka on social media. This tragic event again reminds us that the right to life is among the rights violated by politically motivated sentences, which is especially relevant for over a hundred known people with disabilities, serious illnesses, and elderly people among political prisoners.
We emphasize that the cessation of repression and the release of political prisoners are unconditional and essential prerequisites for the beginning of any genuine political dialogue and the restoration of national consensus in the face of the threat of loss of Belarusian statehood and sovereignty in light of geopolitical processes in recent years.
We are convinced that it is the responsibility of the Belarusian authorities to restore the proper functions of the law and ensure compliance of national legislation and law enforcement practices with Belarus' international obligations and universally recognized principles of international law.
We are outraged that officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Prosecutor's Office, departments of the Investigative Committee, and over a third of Belarusian judges knowingly participated in politically motivated persecution and deprivation of freedom. Their actions constitute crimes under international law, resulting in imprisonment and brutal deprivation of freedom for many individuals, severely violating the international legal norms safeguarding thousands of people’s freedom in exercising their fundamental rights. Furthermore, these actions specifically target a group of individuals based on political motives within the context of a widespread and systematic crackdown on the citizenry. The perpetrators of these crimes will inevitably be prosecuted.
Addressing our fellow compatriots, we call for solidarity with all political prisoners and people subjected to criminal, administrative, and other types of persecution. Until the goal of their release and cessation of persecution is achieved, our collective help and support are the little we can oppose the efforts of ruthless tyranny.
In this regard, we remind the Belarusian authorities of our demands for the release of all political prisoners, the review of all politically motivated cases, an end to the persecution of citizens for the peaceful exercise of their political and civil rights, for their protection from violations and for their rehabilitation, and we strongly protest the continued policy of repression and human rights violations.
We also continue to demand the effective investigation of all protest- and dissent-related deaths and torture, acts of cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment, and the identification and prosecution of those responsible.
Human Rights Center Viasna
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian PEN Center