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We demand the rehabilitation of 22 former political prisoners

2024 2024-06-25T10:27:44+0300 2024-06-25T10:27:44+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

June 24, 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, 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 peaceful assembly and freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to seek, receive, and disseminate all kinds of information and ideas, regardless of state borders, orally, in writing, or through print or artistic forms of expression, or by other means of their choice; even such a form of expression is included in the scope of this paragraph which may be considered deeply offensive, but its use may be subject to restrictions in accordance with the following rule:

this freedom is not subject to any restrictions other than those established by law and necessary in a democratic society for the sake of respect for the rights and reputation of others; for the protection of state security, public order, and public health or morals.

Nevertheless, if a state party to the Covenant imposes restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, these restrictions should not jeopardize the very principle of this right.

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 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.

However, the Belarusian authorities arbitrarily detained, convicted in violation of the rule of law, and now continue to prosecute criminally and administratively for exercising freedom of expression and freedom of assembly under various articles of the Criminal Code: for insulting A. Lukashenka, judges, officials, slander of A. Lukashenka and officials; for mocking state symbols, hooliganism and vandalism, for participating in group actions that grossly violate public order, etc. The facts of this politically motivated persecution often become known only on the eve or after the release of a victim of persecution, whom the human rights community had not recognized as political prisoners before;

The authorities do not recognize their responsibility for the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of citizens in connection with the exercise of their rights and freedoms provided for by international treaties binding on Belarus, continue to arbitrarily persecute the repressed even after their release, infringing their rights by including them in the list of citizens of the Republic of Belarus, foreign citizens, or stateless persons involved in extremist activities.

During this period, the human rights community recognized many of the dissidents and protesters as political prisoners at the time when they were deprived of their liberty, and collected information about those sentenced to various types of punishment for this, related and unrelated to imprisonment, in respect of which a preventive measure was often chosen in the form of detention or house arrest.

In accordance with the guidelines adopted by the human rights community on the definition of "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 through their political, religious, or other beliefs, as well as in connection with the non-violent exercise of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, 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 applied solely because of nonviolent 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.

Those convicted solely for expressing an opinion without signs of direct calls to violence or non-symbolic destruction of property, not related to non-symbolic destruction and damage to property for the purpose of expressing an opinion, fully and unconditionally met the specified criteria during their imprisonment. Their release from custody, house arrest, or after serving their sentence leaves unresolved questions about the revision of their sentences with the purpose of complete cancellation, their rehabilitation, and compensation for the damage caused by arbitrary conviction.

We know the names and circumstances of the cases of the following people who, as punishment for exercising the right to peaceful assembly, were deprived of their liberty: detained, put under house arrest, sentenced to prolonged administrative arrest, to deprivation or restriction of liberty, arrested, and until now released without rehabilitation and compensation for the damage caused:

Natallia Kukishava, Aliaksandr Sayevich, Yauhen Martsiuh, Anton Klimenka, Henadz Darozhkin, Maryna Dziohtseva, Alesia Zhaliazouskaya, Viktar Zalatsilin, Barys Zdanovich, Siarhei Zmitrovich, Iryna Zinevich, Dzmitry Martsinkevich, Uladzimir Paulavich, Natallia Lupan, Uladzislau Murauski, Tatsiana Makarava, Yury Tsarevich, Mikalai Katsura, Vital Kavalenka, Vital Karshun, Yury Marozau, Alena Tserashkova.

We assess the persecution of the above-mentioned persons as politically motivated persecution in connection with their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in relation to the announced results of the presidential elections of the Republic of Belarus and other socially significant events, 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:

  • cancel 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.

Human Rights Center Viasna;

Legal initiative;

Belarusian Helsinki Committee;

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House;

PEN Belarus.

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