In response to recent reports of the charges under Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (mass riots) brought against Siarhei Bryl, Andrei Papou, Pavel Niadbaila, Siarhei Liazhenka, Dzmitry Ivashkou, Yury Bialko, Dzmitry Lastouski, and Yaraslau Zbarouski, as well as under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (group actions grossly violating public order) against Dzianis Boltuts, 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.
We assess the persecution of Siarhei Bryl, Andrei Papou, Pavel Niadbaila, Siarhei Liazhenka, Dzmitry Ivashkou, Yury Bialko, Dzmitry Lastouski, Yaraslau Zbarouski, and Dzianis Boltuts 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 Siarhei Bryl, Andrei Papou, Pavel Niadbaila, Siarhei Liazhenka, Dzmitry Ivashkou, Yury Bialko, Dzmitry Lastouski, Yaraslau Zbarouski, and Dzianis Boltuts 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"
Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities