The statement of human rights defenders on the recognition of eight people as political prisoners
Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community
December 4, 2023
In connection with information about charges, detention, and imprisonment in a colony under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (group actions grossly violating public order) against Artur Panchanka, Ina Bahdanava, Ruslan Kazakevich, Yauhen Leankou, Yury Khlebavets, Stanislau Rubasheuski, under Part 1 of Article 342 and Article 367 of the Criminal Code (for defamation of A. Lukashenka) against Volha Zhalabkova, under Part 1 of Article 342 and Part 3 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code (for tax evasion) against Aliaksandr Kalin, we note the following:
Freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This freedom is not subject to any restrictions other than those established by law and necessary in democratic countries for the purposes of national and public security, public order, public health, and morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Protests by citizens were spontaneous, self-organized and were caused by distrust of the results of the August 9, 2020, presidential election, which was held with numerous violations and falsifications 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. A considerable amount of damage was inflicted by the use of stun grenades.
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.
Further protest actions were peaceful; meetings and their participants had to be protected by law.
We assess the persecution of the above-mentioned persons who were imprisoned and accused of group actions grossly violating public order as politically motivated persecution in connection with their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression of their opinion regarding the announced results of the presidential elections and recognize them as political prisoners.
Conviction of A. Kalina under Article 243 of the Criminal Code does not affect the conclusions about politically motivated prosecution, since imprisonment for violations related to business activities is not a proportionate measure; we also take into account the direct connection between criminal prosecution under Article 243 of the Criminal Code and the participation of A. Kalina in protests.
In this regard, we demand that the Belarusian authorities:
Immediately release Artur Panchanka, Ina Bahdanava, Ruslan Kazakevich, Yauhen Leankou, Yury Khlebavets, Stanislau Rubasheuski, Volha Zhalabkova, Aliaksandr Kalin and stop their criminal prosecution.
Immediately release all political prisoners, and other individuals detained in connection with their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly in the post-election period, and stop political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center Viasna;
Belarusian Helsinki Committee;
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House;