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Human rights organizations demand rehabilitation of 20 former political prisoners

2024 2024-03-24T22:50:18+0300 2024-03-24T22:53:48+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community

March 22, 2024

We, representatives of the human rights community of the Republic of Belarus, having received, collected, and analyzed information about the criminal prosecution by the Belarusian authorities of citizens who exercised freedom of expression during and after the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus, the practice of sentencing and executing their sentences, the legal status of those convicted under the so-called "extremist" articles of the Criminal Code, note the following:

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of borders, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice; the scope of this paragraph includes even that form of expression which may be regarded as deeply offensive, but which may be subject to restrictions in accordance with the following rule:

this freedom is only limited by the restrictions established by law, which are necessary in a democratic society to respect the rights or reputations of others, and to protect national security, public order, public health or morals.

Nevertheless, when a State party to the Covenant imposes restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, those restrictions must not jeopardize the very principle of that right.

Freedom of peaceful assemblies 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 a democratic society in the interests of state or public security, public order, public health and morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The Belarusian authorities have arbitrarily detained, convicted in violation of the rule of law and now continue to prosecute individuals for exercising their freedom of expression and freedom of assembly under various articles of the Criminal Code, including insulting A. Lukashenka, judges, officials, and slandering A. Lukashenka and officials. Additionally, charges have been brought against them for desecration of state symbols, hooliganism, vandalism, and participation in group actions that grossly violate public order. The facts of this politically motivated persecution often only come to light shortly before or after the release of another victim of repression, which explains why the human rights community did not issue a statement on the recognition of them as political prisoners.

The authorities do not acknowledge their responsibility for arbitrarily depriving citizens of their liberty in connection with the exercise of their rights and freedoms, as provided by international treaties binding on Belarus. They continue to persecute those who were repressed, even after their release, by adding them to the list of citizens of the Republic of Belarus, foreign citizens or stateless persons involved in extremist activities, thereby violating their rights.

During this period, the human rights community recognized numerous protesters and dissidents as political prisoners when they were deprived of their liberty. The community also collected data on persons sentenced to various forms of punishment, related or unrelated to imprisonment, in which detention or house arrest was often used as a preventive measure.

In accordance with the guidelines adopted by the human rights community on the definition of a ‘political prisoner’, a political prisoner is a person deprived of liberty if at least one of the following factors occurs:

  1. a) the deprivation of liberty was applied solely on the basis of political, religious, or other beliefs, or in connection with the non-violent exercise of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom of peaceful assemblies and associations, or 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;

  2. b) the deprivation of liberty was solely based on non-violent activities aimed at protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms;

  3. c) the deprivation of liberty was applied solely on the basis of sex, race, skin color, language, religion, national, ethnic, social or ancestral origin, birth, citizenship, sexual orientation and gender identity, property status or other grounds, or based on the existence of a stable connection with communities united by such grounds.

Individuals who have been imprisoned for expressing their opinions, without evidence of inciting violence or causing damage to property, and for participating in peaceful assemblies, have fully and unconditionally met these criteria during their imprisonment. Releasing individuals from custody, house arrest, or after serving their sentences does not resolve the issue of review of their sentences, which should aim to cancel the sentence, rehabilitate the individual, and provide compensation for the damage caused by their arbitrary conviction.

We know the names and circumstances of the cases of the following people who were arbitrarily deprived of their liberty as punishment for exercising the right to peaceful assembly: they were detained, sentenced to imprisonment or restriction of liberty, arrested, and served their sentences, and have so far been released without rehabilitation and compensation for the damage caused:

Aleh Dembouski, Yury Zaretski, Uladzislau Mazurau, Illia Kavaliou, Aliaksei Hryharovich, Yury Shylets, Darya Hanich, Artur Dzhamburyeu, Viktar Astapuk, Dzianis Nosau, Yauhen Pashukevich, Aliaksandr Liashkou, Zinaida Kazak, Siarhei Yukhno, Ihar Kushniarevich, Anatol Krauchuk, Klim Sinkevich, Valiantsina Zeliankevich, Aliaksandr Yakuta, Siarhei Svidrytski.

We consider the persecution of the individuals mentioned above to be politically motivated, in connection with their exercise of the rights to freedom of assembly and expression of their opinions regarding the announced results of the presidential election of the Republic of Belarus, other socially significant events, and the illegal and immoral actions of officials and judges.

With regard to the listed former political prisoners, we demand a review of their criminal cases in order to cancel their sentences, ensure their full rehabilitation with compensation for all types of damage caused by arbitrary conviction and imprisonment.

In this regard, we demand that the Belarusian authorities:

  • reverse arbitrary sentences against the persons listed in the statement, ensure their full rehabilitation, and compensate them for the damage caused by arbitrary criminal prosecutions;

  • immediately release all political prisoners, as well as 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.

Viasna Human Rights Center;

Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;

PEN Belarus;


Belarusian Association of Journalists;

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House.

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