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Belarus: Call for release of older political prisoners

2024 2024-07-02T17:33:00+0300 2024-07-04T12:50:14+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

On July 2, 2024, UN experts* urged the Belarusian authorities to pardon or remit the sentence of all imprisoned older persons jailed on political charges.

The independent experts have received a list of 63 persons aged over 60, including 15 women, who are deprived of liberty in Belarus for real or suspected political opposition. Most are serving prison sentences of up to 25 years, some are detained in pretrial detention, and some have been subjected to compulsory psychiatric care. Several detainees suffer chronic diseases, acute or grave illnesses, and some are persons with disabilities. Three prisoners aged over 60 are reportedly held incommunicado.

Some of these older persons are also included in official lists of extremists or terrorists. “These lists are notorious for including members of the political opposition and human rights defenders,” they said.

“According to various sources, inmates who have been included in these lists are submitted to various forms of ill-treatment, including incommunicado detentions and denial of prompt and adequate medical care, as well as to restrictions on correspondence and money transfers”, the mandate holders said. “One of these detainees, who is 67 years old, has been held incommunicado since February 2023 and may be a victim of an enforced disappearance.”

On 20 June 2024, the Belarusian parliament adopted a law proposing amnesty for those of pension age (63 years for men and 58 years for women). “However, the amnesty would not apply to prisoners convicted for offences such as gross violation of public order, actions aimed at harming national security, creation of and participation in an extremist formation, slander against the President or discrediting Belarus – which are frequently misused for politically motivated prosecutions.”  The amnesty would also not apply to prisoners included in the lists of persons involved in terrorist and extremist activities.

The experts said they have pointed to the incompatibility of the Belarusian legal framework of countering terrorism and extremism with international human rights law and to its frequent abuse for persecuting political opponents, civil society activists, journalists and human rights advocates.

“We reiterate our call for Belarus to bring its legislation into compliance with its international obligations and to release all persons unfairly convicted for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, such as the freedom of speech, association and assembly.”

They also called for the prohibition of discrimination based on political opinion and   extension of amnesty to all older persons imprisoned on political charges.

The experts have been in touch with the Belarusian Government on this issue.

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