On April 8, the Brest District Court sentenced Yaraslau Burak to three months and Dzmitry Kharsto one month in prison for spray-painting “3%”, “Leave” and “Long Live Belarus!” on the pedestal of a Lenin monument in the village of Damačava near Brest.
We, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, note the following.
The inscriptions of this kind do not constitute criminal hooliganism.
The content of the slogans and their location, the pedestal of the monument to Lenin (a figure whose role in history is ambiguous and causes just criticism), which does not possess any historical or cultural value and which is not sacred and revered, in the context of socio-political events and public debates amid the political protests taking place since the summer of 2020, suggest that the motive for the act was expressing opinions on socially significant topics.
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 brought against the convicts.
In accordance with Art. 19 of the Covenant, everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. The exercise of this right may impose special duties and special responsibilities. It may, accordingly, be subject to certain restrictions, which, however, must be established by law and be necessary: for respect for the rights and reputation of others, for the protection of public safety, public order, health and morals of the population.
The convicts did not encroach on significant values or destroy them. The inscriptions 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 material damage from such an act was clearly symbolic.
In this context, we consider the imprisonment of Yaraslau Burak and Dzmitry Khars to be politically motivated, and the convicts to be political prisoners, in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
In this regard, we, representatives of human rights organizations in Belarus, call to:
- immediately and unconditionally release Yaraslau Burak and Dzmitry Khars from custody and close the criminal case against them;
- immediately release all political prisoners and end political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Center for Legal Transformation (Lawtrend)
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Belarusian Association of Journalists