In response to the new convictions, including terms of imprisonment, on charges of defamation, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, once again reaffirm our demands to decriminalize defamation and refrain from imposing custodial sentences for insulting officials, the state, government agencies and national symbols (see joint statement of December 22, 2020), and note the following.
We have received information about the following persons imprisoned for insulting officials:
Aliaksandr Kulaha – sentenced by the court of Brahin district to two years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Part 1 of Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus); the convict has been sent to serve his sentence;
Uladzimir Chyzheuski – sentenced by the court of Astraviec district to one year and three months in prison under Part 1 of Art. 368 (insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus) and Art. 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a government official).
We consider the persecution and imprisonment Aliaksandr Kulaha and Uladzimir Chyzheuski to be politically motivated, as they are linked to their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression. The convicts are therefore political prisoners, according to para. 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines for the Definition of Political Prisoners.
We call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately release political prisoners Aliaksandr Kulaha and Uladzimir Chyzheuski and overturn their criminal convictions;
- take measures aimed at decriminalizing defamation offenses and repealing articles of the Criminal Code that provide for liability for insulting the state, state symbols and officials, namely Articles 188, 189, 367, 368, 369, 369-1, 370, and 391 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, and to drop all criminal cases opened on these charges;
- immediately release all political prisoners and put an end to political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian Association of Journalists