Viasna demands to release Aliaksandr Lapitski from psychiatric hospital and to decriminalize defamation offenses
On November 14, it became known that Aliaksandr Lapitski, 80, was forcibly sent to a psychiatric hospital, after a court decision in the criminal case against him had entered into force.
On April 12, the Frunzienski District Court of Minsk found Lapitski guilty of committing socially dangerous acts provided for by Article 368 (“insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus”), Article 369 (“insulting an official”) and Article 391 (“Insulting a judge”) of the Criminal Code. However, these actions were allegedly committed in a state of insanity. As a result, the court ordered compulsory security measures and treatment. All subsequent appeals were rejected and the court decision has finally come into force.
In this regard, we once again reiterate our position, which is as follows:
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and sets the permissible limitations of this right. However, these limitations should not be associated with the official position of the persons affected by the disseminated information.
Decriminalization of defamation offenses is a standard articulated and justified in the decisions of a number of international organizations. The UN and the OSCE recommended to repeal the laws that criminalize defamation, or at least, not to imprison persons for committing defamation offenses, taking the civil-law proceedings as a standard. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has called for the repeal of all laws that criminalize defamation of public persons, the state or its organs. Authorized representatives of the UN, the OSCE and the OAS on matters of freedom of speech declared that “criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws.”
Thus, the level of protection against defamation forms of expression (attacks on honor, dignity and reputation of persons through the dissemination of offensive information or statements) in respect of government officials, including the President, a prosecutor or a judge, cannot exceed that of any other citizen.
Lapitski’s case once again stresses the need for the abolition of criminal prosecution for defamation offenses as a first step towards the abolition of Articles 367, 368, 369, 369-1, and 391 of the Criminal Code.
We believe that the officials who were recognized as victims in the criminal case should be provided with other measures of legal protection of their honor and dignity, including in civil proceedings on an equal basis with others.
We believe that the decision on the involuntary hospitalization of Aliaksandr Lapitski is not based on the actual state of his health or on any motives of threat he may pose to others or himself, but is, in fact, punishment and deprivation of liberty in connection with charges of discrediting officials.
It is also worth noting that for almost a year since Lapitski committed the acts he has not been involved in any actions that would pose a threat to other citizens or himself, which, in our opinion, indicates the absence of the need for his compulsory hospitalization and isolation.
Under these circumstances, we believe that the compulsory isolation of Lapitski is evidence of a politically motivated approach by the authorities.
Lapitski’s detention in conditions of forced isolation in hospital entails the restriction of his freedom and allows to view him as a political prisoner.
In this regard, we urge the authorities to:
- Release Aliaksandr Lapitski from psychiatric hospital and, if necessary, to ensure that he is treated in conditions not involving deprivation of personal liberty.
- Take measures aimed at the decriminalization of defamation offenses.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Helsinki Committee