On March 30, it became known that a well-known artist Ales Pushkin had been detained by the Interior Ministry in the village of Žyličy in the Kiraŭsk district, Mahilioŭ region.
On March 26, the Hrodna city prosecutor’s office opened a criminal case against Ales Pushkin and Pavel Mazheika, head of the Center for Urban Life in Hrodna, together with other individuals, for “deliberate actions aimed at rehabilitating and justifying Nazism” (Part 3 of Art. 130 of the Criminal Code, “incitement to hatred”). Pavel Mazheika was detained but later released without a charge.
According to the prosecutor’s office, the reason for the criminal case was a portrait of Yauhen Zhykhar with a machine gun on the shoulder by artist Ales Pushkin exhibited at the Center for Urban Life on March 19. According to the prosecutor’s office, during the exhibition, Ales Pushkin “characterized Zhykhar as a man of the Belarusian resistance, a fighter against the Bolsheviks, by which glorified and approved of his actions.”
In connection with the detention and indictment of Ales Pushkin, we, representatives of human rights organizations in Belarus, note the following:
Ales Pushkin’s portrait of Yauhen Zhykhar, a member of the anti-Soviet post-war guerrilla underground, is in no way a justification for the ideology and practice of Nazism. Nor is it an endorsement of crimes against peace and security committed by the Nazis, including war crimes, recognized as criminal by the verdicts of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg or judgments of other courts based on the verdicts of the International Military Tribunal.
The post-World War II anti-Soviet resistance on the territory of Belarus targeted the totalitarian and extremely repressive Stalinist communist regime and constitutes a chapter in the history of our country. By describing the portrayed person, Ales Pushkin did not incite enmity on national, racial, religious or other grounds, did not propagandize war, did not call for any violent actions. Accordingly, his actions do not constitute a crime under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code.
Criminal prosecution in this context is extremely politicized, as it is based on the ideological foundation of Soviet historiography as the only true dogmatic approach to history.
We are convinced that any punishment for expressing an opinion on historical facts is incompatible with the obligations of states under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect freedom of expression and the right to freedom of expression. Restrictions on freedom of opinion should not be imposed under any circumstances, and restrictions on the right to freedom of expression should not go beyond the requirements of paragraph 3 of Art. 19 and Art. 20 of the Covenant.
Assessing this information as a whole, we conclude that the criminal prosecution of Ales Pushkin bears an apparent political motive and will therefore consider him as a political prisoner.
In this regard, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, call on the authorities of the Republic of Belarus to:
- immediately release political prisoner Ales Pushkin and end the criminal prosecution against him;
- stop the use of Article 130 of the Criminal Code in order to punish for expressing opinions on historical facts, which is incompatible with the obligations of the Republic of Belarus under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”