We, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, call on the Belarusian authorities to: *immediately release political prisoners Alina Muratava, Natallia Barynava, Siarhei Krasouski, Volha Syravatka, Uladzimir Katsiubka and Maksim Pytsel and stop the criminal prosecution against them; *reconsider the detention and court rulings taken against Yauhen Kambul, Siarhei Silich, Maksim Siliuk, Siarhei Bahdan, Uladzimir Lankevich, Viktar Ivantsou, Siarhei Rozum, Siarhei Shabunia and Pavel Fedukevich, respecting their right to a fair trial; *release them from custody and select other measures to ensure their appearance in court; *immediately release all political prisoners and end political repression in the country.
immediately release political prisoners Aliaksei Siamionau, Dzmitry Yurkoits, Illia Siliankou, Aliaksei Lipen, Mia Mitkevich, Aliaksandr Palivoda, Ivan Kulko, Ihar Bykouskikh, Andrei Liubetski, Volha Takarchuk, Uladzimir Kolas and Liudmila Kuzniatsova and stop the criminal prosecution against them
We assess the persecution of Aliaksandr Khrapko, Ihar Vinakurau, Eduard Kudyniuk, Aliaksandr Viniarski and Sofia Sapegaas politically motivated, as it is related solely to their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and recognize them as political prisoners.
The authorities’ references to economic violations, which allegedly led to the outlet’s persecution, have been actively used for many years to justify repressive measures against human rights defenders, the media, and independent trade unions.
Raman Pratasevich’s public activity is nothing but the peaceful exercise of the freedoms guaranteed by both the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and international human rights law, the freedom to seek and disseminate information and to express one's opinion, among others.
UN WORKING GROUP ON FORCED OR INVOLUNTARY DISAPPEARANCES INFORMED ABOUT DISAPPEARANCE OF YULYA CHARNIAUSKAJA
According to its mandate, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances is to receive, consider, and transmit allegations of enforced disappearances reported by relatives of missing persons or human rights organisations representing their interests. The Working group urges the states concerned to investigate the cases and inform the Working group of the results.
The court arbitrarily assessed the evidence presented to it and rendered a verdict contrary to the evidence established during the examination of the case file. The case file included surveillance camera video footage, which confirmed the circumstances of the conflict, as claimed by the defendant, who plead not guilty. Contrary to this evidence, the court found that the defendant had committed a number of illegal acts against the victim Bandarava in the same place immediately after the self-defense actions recorded on video, solely on the basis of the victims’ testimonies, which contradicted other case material.
We consider the persecution and imprisonment of Siarhei Skok, Volha Klimkova, and Maksim Siarheyenka to be politically motivated, as they are related to the peaceful exercise of freedom expression. The convicts are therefore political prisoners, in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
We assess the persecution of Mikhail Firaha, Viachaslau Papou, Vital Shytsikau, Valiantsin Kolb, Vadzim Chapialevich, and Ihar Harchaniuk as politically motivated, as it is related solely to their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and recognize them as political prisoners.
We, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, consider the persecution of Kiryl Kazei, Yury Siarhei and Aliaksei Paviadaila as politically motivated. The convicts are therefore political prisoners.
Reaffirming the position set out in the joint statement of the Belarusian human rights community on the detention of human rights defenders Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya and Enira Branitskaya, we consider the persecution of Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya to be politically motivated, as it is aimed at sanctioning her public and nonviolent activities for the sake of protecting fundamental rights freedoms. Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorskaya is therefore a political prisoner, according to para. 3.1 (b) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
We consider the persecution and imprisonment Stanislau Paulinkovich, Valery Loza, Yury Karnilovich, Pavel Berasniou and Vital Zaradzei to be politically motivated, as they are linked to their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression. The convicts are therefore political prisoners.
According to the Guidelines for the Definition of Political Prisoners, violence provoked by the initial disproportionate use of physical force, police equipment or weapons, provided that the actions of the accused were not intended to cause non-symbolic material damage or harm, gives grounds to consider persons in question as political prisoners. In addition, monitoring of these trials proved that the courts handed down excessively harsh (disproportionate to the offense) sentences, as compared to similar sentences pronounced in the same categories of trials outside the political context. The duration or conditions of imprisonment under the sentences handed down to protesters are clearly disproportionate to the offenses of which they were found guilty. In a number of cases, court hearings were held behind closed doors, as members of the public, human rights defenders and the media were not allowed to attend. Moreover, the courts’ orders to classify the hearings were not conditioned by the need to protect state secrets or personal information of the participants in the trials, which could be considered as undesirable for public distribution.
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.
According to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (Article 1), “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.” At the same time, the state must take all necessary measures to ensure the protection, through the competent authorities, of any person acting individually and jointly with others, from any violence, threats, revenge, negative de facto or de jure discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary act in connection with the lawful exercise of his or her rights mentioned in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Thus, harassment and pressure for legitimate human rights activities, organization of educational activities or provision of free legal aid to citizens is absolutely unacceptable.
Volha Zalatar’s persecution comes amid massive post-election repression and a profound human rights crisis in the country. Recently, in order to combat dissent and protest activity of citizens, the authorities are increasingly resorting to the application of so-called anti-extremist legislation. The Belarusian human rights community has previously drawn attention to its flaws and incompatibility with international human rights standards. Now, after the Prosecutor General's Office of Belarus submitted amendments to the law, we note that the real purpose of these amendments is to combat dissent in the country in the worst traditions of the Soviet era. Viewing local social chats as extremist, and their creators and moderators as creators of extremist organizations, the purpose of which is to “hold unauthorized gatherings in the form of tea parties, walks and concerts”, is an extremely dangerous trend and grossly encroaches on fundamental freedoms – freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and freedom of association.
We regard that as pressure and an attempt to discourage the activities of a human rights organisation.
We believe that this form of expression falls under the protection of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has nothing to do with the charges.
We assess the persecution of Aliaksei Artsetski, Dzmitry Bunevich, Dzianis Ivanets, and Raman Sidziuk as politically motivated, as it is related solely to their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and recognize them as political prisoners.
We recall once again that freedom of expression is only subject to restrictions in strictly defined cases, while these restrictions must be proportionate.
We assess the persecution of Kira Bayarenka, Volha Hlushan, Valery Melnichuk, Ivan Datsyshyn, Dzianis Khazei and Siarhei Hatskevich as politically motivated, as it is related solely to their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and recognize them as political prisoners.
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.
Statement of civil society organizations in Belarus regarding harassment of Viasna Human Rights Centre and its activists
General Directorate for Investigation of Offences related to Organized Crime and Corruption of the Central Bureau of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus has initiated criminal proceedings against the Human Rights Center “Viasna” based on its activities. This criminal case was brought under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (Organization and active participation in group actions that grossly violate public order). In this case, active investigative actions are currently being carried out, including searches in the regional offices and apartments of the organization members, summons for interrogations and other procedural actions. Dmitry Solovyov, a Council member of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", is a suspect in this case and is under a travel ban. The list of persecuted human rights defenders is apparently open.
We assess the persecution of Viktoryia Kulsha, Siarhei Mirayeuski, Ryhor Davydau, Aliaksei Berazinski, Uladzimir Rubasheuski, Siarhei Salokha, Marek Siradze, and Vitaliya Bandarenka as politically motivated, as it is related solely to their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and recognize them as political prisoners.
We consider the persecution and imprisonment of Ruslan Linnik, Viktar Tsarykevich, Ihar Kapanaika, Yan Rymarau, and Yury Kastsiuk to be politically motivated, as they are linked to their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression. Ruslan Linnik, Viktar Tsarykevich, Ihar Kapanaika, Yan Rymarau, and Yury Kastsiuk are therefore political prisoners.
We consider the following convicts as political prisoners: Mikita Kharlovich (sentenced to five years in prison under Part 1 of Article 295-1, Article 13, Part 2 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code); Dzmitry Tsimashenka (sentenced to two and a half years in prison under Article 364 of the Criminal Code); Aliaksandr Dziarkach (sentenced to four years in prison under Articles 342, 364, and 218 of the Criminal Code); Yuliya Kashaverava (sentenced to one and a half years in prison under Part 1 of Article 339 of the Criminal Code); Aliaksandr Karatchenia (sentenced to one and a half years in prison under Article 363 of the Criminal Code); Natallia Rayentava (sentenced to eight months in prison under Article 364 of the Criminal Code); Mikita Zalatarou (minor, sentenced to five years in prison under Article 13, Part 2 of Article 293, Article 295-3 of the Criminal Code).
The accused did not encroach on sacred or historical and cultural values, did not destroy them. The graffiti themselves do not contain obscene language or language of hostility and hatred on the grounds of nationality, race, religion or social origin and other characteristics. The defendants also testified that they did not intend to call for violence. The graffiti could not and did not lead to the significant damage or destruction of structures, and the material damage from such inscriptions was clearly symbolic.
UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS INFORMED ABOUT NEW DRAFT LAW ON EXTREMISM AND OTHER DRAFT LAWS AND IDEAS UNDER CONSIDERATION AIMED AT RESTRICTING HUMAN RIGHTS
We requested that the thematic special rapporteurs contact the Government of the Republic of Belarus and seek additional information about the above mentioned draft laws aimed at restricting human rights and freedoms, the purpose of their adoption and possible negative impact on the realization of human rights.
We assess the persecution of Arseni Siniak, Raman Yakhin, Danila Chamadanau, Aliaksandr Tseleshman, Mikita Litvinenka, Yauhen Pekach, Viachaslau Kastsiuchyk, Siarhei Moushuk, Dzmitry Tur, and Aliaksandr Nurdzinau as politically motivated, as it is related solely to their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and recognize them as political prisoners.
We consider the persecution and imprisonment of Illia Smolski, Uladzimir Shynkevich, Uladzimir Niapomniashchykh, Uladzimir Mikhalka, Mikhail Hladysh, Heorhi Vasilenka, and Valadar Tsurpanau 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.
For 10 years the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been providing free legal assistance, advocating for changes in legislation, and conducting educational activities to change attitudes towards people with disabilities. Belarus has joined the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in particular, thanks to their extensive work.
Stefan Lazavik was detained by police on September 16, 2020 on suspicion of spray-painting on August 12 protest graffiti reading “He lost and started killing. B…..d, resign!” on a bus stop shelter in Horki. A criminal case was initially opened by the Horki District Prosecutor’s Office under Art. 341 of the Criminal Code. Under pressure from investigators, Lazavik admitted involvement in the vandalism, but when on October 29 he refused to record a video confession, the prosecutor reclassified the charge under Part 1 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism). On November 26, the Horki District Court sentenced Stefan Lazavik to 1 year in a general-security penal colony. Stefan Lazavik was an observer during the 2020 presidential election and took an active part in the post-election protests. On December 7, 2020, in the village of Chaciežyna, Minsk district, police detained Viktar Losik, who was accused of hanging on a local bridge effigies of the Minister of Internal Affairs and chairperson of the precinct election commission. The effigies had signs reading “Never Forget! Never Forgive!”. Losik was also accused of spray-painting the Belarusian national coat-of-arms Pahonia on the bridge and on several local buildings. He was charged under Part 1 of Art. 339 (hooliganism) and Art. 341 of the Criminal Code (desecration of buildings and damage to property) and remanded in the pre-trial detention center in Žodzina.
We assess the persecution of Hanna Vishniak and Siarhei Palonis and the sentencing of Yauhen Hovar and Aliaksandr Babrou as politically motivated, as it is related solely to their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and recognize them as political prisoners.
To stop pressure on the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other civil society organisations, to stop ungrounded and excessive inspections and other forms of control on organisations’ activities and to stop using force during inspections. To stop all attempts to criminally prosecute Belarusian human rights defenders and civil society activists in connection with their legitimate activities to provide charitable and other aid to victims of human rights violations, including immediate release of Andrei Aliaksandarau, Leanid Sudalenka, Yulia Slutskaya and other CSO activists. To stop practice of intimidation and harassment of citizens in connection with the receipt, distribution and use of charitable aid, both from sources inside Belarus and abroad, as well as to eliminate excessive regulatory restrictions in this area. Immediately release all political prisoners, as well as citizens detained in connection with the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the post-election period and end political repression against the country's citizens.
It should be noted that Maksim Viniarski is a principled and long-standing opponent of the current political regime. For his exclusively peaceful political activity, Viniarski has been repeatedly repressed by the authorities, including through fines, short terms in prison, beatings and intimidation. We assess the persecution of Maksim Viniarski as politically motivated, as it is related solely to his exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and also to his opposition beliefs, and recognize him as a political prisoner.
Human rights work is a legitimate public activity, and harassment for such activities is an absolutely unacceptable and gross violation of human rights by the authorities. Based on this, we consider the persecution of Tatsiana Lasitsa to be politically motivated, as it is only aimed at stopping her public and non-violent activities seeking the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Tatsiana Lasitsa is therefore a political prisoner, according to paragraph 3.1 (b) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
The monitoring of the court hearings also revealed other violations of the principles of a fair trial, most notably, the presumption of innocence and equality before the court.
WE APPEALED TO PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE REGARDING SUSPENSION OF PARCELS IN ZHODINO CENTER FOR TEMPORARY DETENTION
We recall that the facility ceased to accept parcels for persons under administrative arrest since 27 January, citing as reasons the will to reduce the risks of COVID 19. In our opinion, there are other means of reducing these risks. For example, the Ministry of Health recommends practicing respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette, social distancing, frequent aeration and sanitizing, avoiding common-use tableware, etc.
More than 80 issues are divided into two sections: issues related to the institutional framework for combating torture and ill-treatment, and issues related to the events of August 9-13, 2020 and the following months in connection with the post-election protests.
We assess the persecution of Aliaksandra Patrasayeva, Aliaksandr Reznik, Mikhail Ferenets, Vital Shcherbich and Renata Smirnova as politically motivated, as it is related solely to their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and recognize them as political prisoners.
This recording, inter alia, mentions how Aleksandr Taraikovsky was killed, discusses setting up camps for protesters, and carte blanche in using force against protesters.
Viasna and BHC note that creating obstacles for Viktar Babaryka’s communicate with his lawyers for more than a month is a violation of his right to defense, which, together with the arrest of his lawyer Maksim Znak and the disbarment of his other lawyer Aliaksandr Pylchanka, are viewed by the country’s human rights community as an affront on the prisoner’s right to defense and a fair trial, as the authorities went to extreme lengths to thwart a full-fledged defense strategy.
Human rights activities are a legitimate public activity, and harassment for such activities is an absolutely unacceptable and gross violation of human rights by the authorities. Based on this, we consider the persecution of Leanid Sudalenka and Maryia Tarasenka to be politically motivated, as it is only aimed at stopping their public and non-violent activities seeking the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Leanid Sudalenka and Maryia Tarasenka are therefore political prisoners.
Collecting voluntary donations from individuals and foreign nationals, as well as arranging the payment of fines imposed on persons brought to administrative responsibility only for participating in peaceful assemblies and exercising the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of Belarus and international human rights law has nothing to do with financing any illegal activity and, accordingly, is not a crime. In this context, the activities of Andrei Aliaksandrau and Iryna Zlobina constitute voluntary and charitable work to help victims of mass political repression and are essentially human rights activities.
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS APPEALED TO 6 UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS REGARDING AUDIO RECORDING THAT DISCUSSES CONCENTRATION CAMPS IN BELARUS
Human rights defenders see the actions of the authorities and law enforcement agencies as gross violations of human rights. More specifically, the conversation of one of the leaders of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, who relies upon complete freedom of action authorized by the de facto Head of State, shows the authorities' complete disregard for basic personal human rights, such as the right to life, to freedom from torture, to freedom from servitude and forced labor, to liberty and security of person.
HRDs call for retrials in cases of political prisoners Dzmitry Karatkevich, Andrei Tsimafeyenka and Siarhei Yafimau
Our position on these cases is that Experts of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, however, believe that peaceful assemblies should be under state protection, while the police should not take action to forcibly stop them, even if they violate applicable rules. Violent cessation of assemblies and the use of physical force against protesters should be carried out only as a last resort, in cases where the behavior of the participants is violent, which poses a real threat to national and public security, life and health of citizens.
We assess the persecution of Sviataslau Herasimuk, Yan Falkin, Aliaksei Melnikau, Volha Paulava, Aleksandr Gedzhadze, Aliaksandr Rayentau, Viktoryia Mirontsava, Anastasiya Mirontsava, and Mikalai Shametau as politically motivated, as it is related solely to their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and recognize them as political prisoners.
Based on our earlier statement of December 22 demanding the decriminalization of defamation, cessation of the persecution and release of all political prisoners convicted of defamation or insult of officials, public officials and the President, as well as the insult to state symbols, and given that Siarhei Hardziyevich and Dzmitry Kulakouski were isolated (imprisoned) before the court, we consider their persecution to be politically motivated, and Siarhei Hardziyevich and Dzmitry Kulakouski themselves as political prisoners, in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.