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We demand to overturn the verdict against Leanid Sudalenka, to stop court arbitrariness and persecution of human rights defenders

2024 2024-06-20T14:18:25+0300 2024-06-20T14:18:34+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Statement of the Viasna Human Rights Center

June 20, 2024

On June 17, 2024, the Homieĺ Region Court handed down a verdict in absentia against Viasna human rights defender and former political prisoner Leanid Sudalenka. According to Parts 1 and 2 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code, on charges of facilitating extremist activities, including repeatedly, the human rights defender was sentenced to imprisonment for a period of five years in a high security colony and a fine of 26,000 Belarusian rubles (about 7,700 euros). In this regard, we, the members of the Viasna Human Rights Center, declare the following:

Leanid Sudalenka is a laureate of prestigious international prizes that acknowledge his human rights work: the "Liberté-Égalité-Fraternité" Human Rights Prize of the French Republic for contribution to the protection of human rights, the Homo Homini Award for 2020, awarded by the Czech NGO Člověk v tísni, and "For the Protection of Human Rights-2021" of the Council of Lawyers and Legal Communities of Europe (CCBE). Leanid Sudalenka's activities, including speaking out in defense of rights and freedoms on public platforms and in Belarusian independent media, arbitrarily recognized by the Belarusian authorities as extremist formations, are fully legal. It should be promoted and protected like any legitimate activity for the protection and promotion of human rights.

As before, we associate these steps with Leanid Sudalenka's public condemnation of the repressive policy of the Belarusian authorities towards political opponents and dissidents, speeches in support of political prisoners, and harsh criticism of violations of the rule of law.

We also note with indignation that arbitrary prosecution in absentia for legitimate human rights activities is becoming systematic: special proceedings have been initiated against Alena Masliukova, Ihar Kazmerchyk, and other human rights defenders.

This vicious practice is compounded by the complete denial by the Belarusian authorities of procedural guarantees and the basic principles of fair justice in the form of special proceedings. This gives the conviction the features of an act of reprisal committed on behalf of the state.

In accordance with Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, everyone has the right, in any criminal charge hearing against them, to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent, and impartial court established by law. Everyone has the right, in any criminal charge hearing against them, to the minimum guarantees listed in the article, including being urgently and in detail notified of the nature and basis of the criminal charge brought against them; to have opportunities to prepare their defense, to have a lawyer chosen by them or appointed for them, to communicate with a lawyer chosen by them; anyone convicted of any crime has the right to have their conviction and sentence reviewed by a higher court.

In violation of these guarantees, the legislation of the Republic of Belarus lacks effective ways to exercise rights in special proceedings. In particular, the accused still do not have reliable information about the content of the charges, the defenders formally appointed by the investigating authorities are unknown to them or refuse to contact them for consultations and discussion of the legal position. After the verdict is announced, the accused do not have the procedural opportunity to receive a verdict and familiarize themselves with the minutes of the court session. This prevents the preparation and filing of a reasoned appeal for a review of the sentence.

Among other things, such a shameful practice involves Belarusian lawyers in the arbitrariness committed by the state and its institutions, who, under threat of arbitrary disbarment, criminal prosecution for disclosing the data of the preliminary investigation, effectively become accomplices in lawlessness.

We recall the inevitable responsibility of those guilty of crimes against humanity committed in Belarus against the civilian population, including the deliberate and serious deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law on the basis of belonging to a particular group or community: those are crimes against humanity in the form of persecution together with other related actions, as established in the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Belarus in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and in its aftermath.

We demand:

  •  to overturn the verdict and stop the criminal prosecution of human rights defender Leanid Sudalenka;

  •  to stop criminal prosecution of human rights defenders for exercising freedom of expression and activities in defense of rights and freedoms;

  •  to bring anti-extremist and criminal procedure legislation in line with Belarus' international human rights obligations.

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