Eight more people recognized as political prisoners
Statement by the human rights community of Belarus
August 25, 2023
We, representatives of the human rights community in Belarus, note that criminal liability for ‘incitement of social hatred’ under Article 130 of the Criminal Code 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, etc. 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 this and other politically motivated cases grossly violates the procedural rights of the accused and reduces to a minimum the assessment of the credibility, sufficiency and admissibility of any evidence for the prosecution.
We are aware of the criminal convictions of the following persons:
- Mr. Yauhen Kavalenka was convicted of “public insult” of A. Lukashenka (Article 368 of the Criminal Code), “public insult of a government official” (Article 369 of the Criminal Code), “slander” against A. Lukashenka (Article 367 of the Criminal Code), “incitement of hatred” (Article 130 of the Criminal Code), and “organization and active participation in group actions that grossly violate public order” (Article 342 of the Criminal Code). He was sentenced to two and a half years of imprisonment in a penal colony.
- Mr. Siarhei Yeudakimenka was convicted of “complicity in inciting hatred" (part 6 of Article 16 and part 3 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code) for transmitting data of state officials to protest media. He was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment in a penal colony.
- Mr. Anton Dzianeika was convicted of “threatening Department of Internal Affairs’ officers and officials” (Articles 364 and 366 of the Criminal Code) and “insulting the president of Belarus and government officials” (Articles 368 and 369 of the Criminal Code) for commenting online. He was sentenced to five years of imprisonment in a penal colony.
- Mr. Pavel Abazny was convicted of “participation in hostilities on foreign soil” (part 1 of Article 361-3 of the Criminal Code) for his intention to join the Ukrainian defense forces, as well as under charges of being in the possession of 12 cartridges (article 295 of the Criminal Code) and illegal transportation across the border of a potent substance (anabolic steroid drug). He was sentenced to five years of imprisonment in a penal colony.
- Ms. Alena Yafremenka was convicted of “insult to the president of Belarus” (part 1 of Article 368), “insult of a government official” (Article 369 of the Criminal Code), “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them” (part 1 of Article 342), “violence or threat of violence against an official” (part 2 of Article 366 of the Criminal Code), and “incetement to hatred” (part 1 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code) over her comments posted online. She was sentenced to imprisonment.
- Mr. Uladzislau Pudziak was convicted in a closed trial of “high treason” (part 1 of Article 356 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to imprisonment in a penal colony.
- Mr. Ruslan Zakharchanka was convicted of “incitement to hatred” (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) for his online commentaries. He was sentenced to two years of imprisonment in a penal colony.
We are also aware of Mr. Uladzislau Beladzed being detained on charges of inciting hatred to officials (Article 130 of the Criminal Code).
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.
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, the representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, declare that Mr. Yauhen Kavalenka, Mr. Siarhei Yeudakimenka, Mr. Anton Dzianeika, Mr. Pavel Abazny, Ms. Alena Yafremenka, Mr. Uladzislau Pudziak, Mr. Ruslan Zakharchanka, Mr. Uladzislau Beladzed are recognized as 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 Helsinki Committee