Human rights groups call to release three opposition activists facing rioting charges
Minsk – October 2, 2020
In response to recent reports of the charges under Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (mass riots) brought against activists of the European Belarus opposition group Andrei Voinich, Yauhen Afnahel and Pavel Yukhnevich, reaffirming the position set out in the joint statement of the human rights community of August 10, we note the following:
Freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by Art. 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 democracies for the purposes of national and public security, public order, public health and morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The post-election protests were spontaneous, self-organized, and were caused by distrust of the official results of the August 9 presidential election, which were marred by numerous violations and fraud, and were not recognized by the international community as democratic, fair or free.
The assemblies were peaceful and did not pose a threat to national or public security. Despite this, the demonstrators were attacked by special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs with disproportionate use of physical force, riot gear means and weapons.
For the first time in the history of Belarus, rubber bullets and water cannons were used against peaceful demonstrators. A particularly large amount of damage was suffered from the use of stun grenades.
In a statement of August 10, the Belarusian human rights community condemned the actions of law enforcement agencies and placed all responsibility for the events of August 9 and 10 on the authorities of the Republic of Belarus.
We also consider it necessary to note that the demonstrators did not commit any of the actions covered by Art. 293 of the Criminal Code and accordingly cannot be qualified as mass riots. The protesters did not set fires, destroy property or put up armed resistance to law enforcement agencies.
Isolated cases of violence against police officers by demonstrators require a separate legal qualification, taking into account the context and circumstances of the use of violence, including in the context of self-defense against knowingly disproportionate actions of police officers.
It should be noted that the representatives of the European Belarus group Andrei Voinich, Yauhen Afnahel and Pavel Yukhnevich are principled and long-time opponents of the current political regime.
Yauhen Afnahel took part in the creation of one of the most active and well-known youth opposition organizations of the 1990s, the Young Front. Later, Afnahel, Yukhnevich and Voinich were among the founders and active members of the opposition movement Zubr. For their exclusively peaceful opposition activities, they have repeatedly been repressed by the current government, including through fines, administrative arrests, beatings, intimidation and pressure.
After the events of 2010, Yauhen Afnahel was forced to emigrate for a long time, but eventually returned to Belarus to continue his opposition political activities.
We assess the persecution of Andrei Voinich, Yauhen Afnahel and Pavel Yukhnevich, who were charged under Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (mass riots), as politically motivated, as it is solely connected with the exercise of their freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. We, therefore, consider them to be political prisoners.
In this regard, we call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately release political prisoners Andrei Voinich, Yauhen Afnahel and Pavel Yukhnevich and drop the criminal charges they are facing;
- immediately release all political prisoners, as well as citizens detained in connection with the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly in the post-election period, and put an end to political repression against citizens.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Documentation Center
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House