Human rights groups identify seven new political prisoner
Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community
August 18, 2023
In response to the pre-trial detention, indictment, and sentencing under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (“group actions grossly violating public order”) of Ms. Yuliya Dzenisevich, Ms. Hanna Shyrvel, Mr. Mikalai Masharski (also charged under Article 368 of the Criminal Code), Mr. Andrei Mirashnichenka, Mr. Yahor Zakharchuk (also charged under Articles 368 and 369 of the Criminal Code), Mr. Anatol Bahavik, and Mr. Ivan Bahavik, reaffirming the position set out in the joint statement by the human rights community of August 369, 10, we note the following.
Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly. This freedom is not subject to any restrictions other than those established by law and necessary in a democratic society for the purposes of national and public security, public order, public health, and morals, or the protection of the rights, and freedoms of others.
The post-election protests were spontaneous and self-organized. They were caused by distrust of the results of the August 9, 2020, presidential election, which was marred by numerous violations and fraud and was not recognized by the international community as democratic, fair, and free.
Citizens assembled peacefully and posed no threat to national or public security. However, the demonstrators were attacked by special units of the Interior Ministry with disproportionate use of physical force, special equipment, and weapons.
For the first time in the history of Belarus, rubber bullets and water cannons were used against peaceful demonstrators. The use of stun grenades inflicted a considerable amount of damage.
In our statement of August 10, 2020, the Belarusian human rights community condemned the actions of law enforcement agencies and placed all responsibility for what happened on August 9 and 10 on the authorities of Belarus.
We also consider it necessary to note that the demonstrators did not commit any of the actions covered by Art. 293 of the Criminal Code and cannot be qualified as mass riots, accordingly. The protesters did not set fires, destroy property or put up armed resistance to law enforcement agencies.
Individual cases of violence performed by demonstrators against police officers require a separate legal qualification, taking into account the context and circumstances of the use of violence, including self-defense against actions of police officers known to be disproportionate.
We assess the persecution of the above-mentioned individuals who were imprisoned and accused of group actions, grossly violating public order, and riots as politically motivated, as it is related solely to their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression in the post-election period, and recognize them as political prisoners.
We demand that the Belarusian authorities:
- Immediately release political prisoners Ms. Yuliya Dzenisevich, Ms. Hanna Shyrvel, Mr. Mikalai Masharski, Mr. Andrei Mirashnichenka, Mr. Yahor Zakharchuk, Mr. Anatol Bahavik, and Mr. Ivan Bahavik. from custody and stop their criminal prosecution.
- Immediately release all political prisoners and other individuals detained in connection with exercising freedom of peaceful assembly in the post-election period, and stop political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Belarusian Association of Journalists