Human rights defenders call to release political prisoner Pilip Shaurou
Statement by the human rights community of Belarus
Minsk - April 16, 2020
On January 19, 2020, Pilip Shaurou, an activist of the youth opposition organization “Young Front”, was arrested after he turned himself in to the police to confess to painting the hands of the Pushkin monument in Minsk.
On March 18, the Centraĺny district department of the Investigative Committee charged Shaurou under Part 1 and Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code.
The charges stemmed from three separate counts. On January 16-17, he allegedly spray-painted a white-red-white flag on a granite memorial to Interior Ministry officers killed on duty and later painted red the hands of the monument to the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin in central Minsk.
In addition, between January 17 and January 19, he spray-painted “1937” on the fence of a water-supply facility near Minsk.
The case file has been sent to the Centraĺny District Court of Minsk. Pilip Shaurou is still being held in detention center No. 1 in Minsk. If found guilty, he faces up to six years in prison (the maximum punishment provided for in Article 339 of the Criminal Code).
In connection with the charges brought against Shaurou, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, note the following.
As a result of a legal analysis of the charges and the circumstances of the case, we came to the conclusion that Shaurou’s actions did not constitute an offense under Part 1 and Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code (“hooliganism”).
The graffiti he spray-painted did not destroy or damage the objects, nor did they lose their consumer qualities. Their restoration required some material costs, which could be further imposed on the perpetrator under the civil law procedures.
The contents of the images and inscriptions in the context of the social and political events and public debates that took place (a series of public protests against the so-called "advanced integration" of Russia and Belarus) at the end of 2019 indicate that Shaurou’s motives were expressing his opinion on these issues of public importance.
We believe that these forms of expression are covered by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and have nothing to do with the motives set out in the Investigation Committee's procedural document.
In accordance with Art. 19 of the Covenant, everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes the freedom to seek, receive all kinds of information and ideas, regardless of frontiers, whether orally, in writing or through the media or artistic forms of expression, or by any other means of their choice. The exercise of this right may impose special duties and special responsibilities. It may, accordingly, be subject to certain restrictions, which, however, must be established by law and must be necessary: for the respect of the rights and reputation of others, for the protection of public safety, public order, health and morals of the public.
The accused did not encroach on sacred, historical or cultural values, did not destroy them, did not cause permanent damage, did not use obscene language in his inscriptions or language of hostility and hatred on grounds of national, racial, religious or social origin or other grounds. The actions of Pilip Shaurou were exceptionally peaceful and, accordingly, fall under the protection of Art. 19 of the Covenant.
Pre-trial detention in the case is groundless and excessive and we regard it as a means of exerting pressure on the accused as an act of revenge for his exercise of universally recognized civil rights and in connection with Shaurou's affiliation with the opposition youth organization "Young Front”, whose members are regularly persecuted by the Belarusian authorities. It was for this reason that he was charged under Part 1 and Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code because such an accusation allowed the investigators to take him into custody.
It should be noted that the confinement of Shaurou in conjunction with the order of non-disclosure imposed on his lawyer seriously limit the possibilities of defense and allowed for a long time to conceal from the public the essence of the charges brought in the case.
In this context, we consider the imprisonment of Pilip Shaurou arbitrary and politically motivated, and the activist himself a political prisoner in accordance with paragraph 3.1(a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
In this regard, we, representatives of human rights organizations in Belarus, call to:
Clear Pilip Shaurou of the charges under Art. 339 of the Criminal Code and to release him from custody.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Belarusian PEN Center
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Legal Transformation Center “Lawtrend”
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Identity and Law
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Assembly of NGOs
Belarusian Documentation Center