Statement on recognition of eight people as political prisoners
Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community
19 June 2023
We, representatives of the human rights community of Belarus, note that criminal liability for “incitement of hatred” under Article 130 of the Criminal Code has been selectively and discriminatorily applied by both the investigating officers and courts in an apparent attempt to protect the representatives of authorities. Moreover, we consider it ungrounded to label government officials, police officers, military personnel, etc. as separate social groups 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 related to the lawful performance of their duties for punishing citizens who have spoken out against 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.
The hearing of these cases in camera violates the procedural rights of the defendants and reduces to a minimum the assessment of the reliability, sufficiency, and admissibility of any evidence for the prosecution.
We have been informed of the following convictions:
- Vital Skudarnau, charged with publicly insulting and libeling A. Lukashenka (Article 368 and 367 of the Criminal Code) and inciting social hatred or discord (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to a prison term;
- Aliaksandr Kandratsiuk, charged with publicly insulting and libeling A. Lukashenka (Article 368 and 367 of the Criminal Code) and inciting social hatred or discord (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to three years and six months of imprisonment;
- Yaraslau Sakovich, sentenced for desecration of state symbols and illegal actions with weapons and ammunition under Art. 370 and 295 of the Criminal Code to two years of imprisonment and remanded on charges related to participation in the defense of Ukraine against Russia’s military aggression;
- Aliaksei Shahayeu, charged with publicly insulting a public official (Art. 369 of the Criminal Code) and inciting social hatred or discord (Art. 130 of the Criminal Code) in an online comment and sentenced to two years of imprisonment;
- Uladzimir Hemza, charged with inciting social hatred or discord (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to two years of imprisonment;
- Dzmitry Bahachenka, sentenced to two years of imprisonment for inciting social enmity or discord (Article 130 of the Criminal Code);
- Hanna Karneyenka, charged with sending information to protest internet resources under Part 3 Article 130 of the Criminal Code (incitement of social hatred) and Part 3 Article 203-1 of the Criminal Code (illegal actions involving private information) and sentenced to five years of imprisonment;
- and the prolonged remand of Dzmitry Zahalovets on charges of publicly insulting A. Lukashenka (Article 368 of the Criminal Code), insulting a public official (Article 369 of the Criminal Code), and inciting social enmity or discord (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) in online comments, as well as assisting in “extremist activities” under Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code.
We reiterate that in a number of the above-mentioned cases, the nature of the accused persons’ actions was the result of systematic widespread human rights violations, infringements on freedom of expression, lack of investigation of crimes against peaceful protesters and other victims of cruel treatment and torture, disappointment in the authorities’ ability to use the law to protect violated rights of citizens, lack of fair trial and conditions for a democratic and constitutional change of power to genuine choice.
We once again recall that the hearing of politically motivated criminal cases in closed or virtually closed courtrooms in the absence of the public, observers and independent press is a gross violation of the procedural rights of defendants and reduces to a minimum the assessment of the credibility, sufficiency, and admissibility of any evidence for the prosecution.
In evaluating all of these prosecutions, we conclude that a political motive for the prosecution of the accused exists in each of them.
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 further imprisonment of Vital Skudarnau, Aliaksandr Kandratsiuk, Yaraslau Sakovich, Aliaksei Shahayeu, Uladzimir Hemza, Dzmitry Bahachenka, Hanna Karneyenka, and Dzmitry Zahalovets is politically motivated and that they are political prisoners. In this regard, 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 stop political repression against the population.
Viasna Human Rights Center;
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House;
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
Belarusian Helsinki Committee;
Belarusian Association of Journalists.