People of Word (32)

Andrei Kolas and Yauhen Zialkouski are new political prisoners

Joint statement of Belarusian human rights organizations

In response to the sentencing by the Maskoŭski District Court of Brest of Andrei Kolas (three years in an open penitentiary under Part 2 of Article 339 of the Criminal Code, sent to serve the sentence) and by the court of the Centraĺny District Court of Homieĺ of Yauhen Zialkouski (three and a half years in prison under Part 2 of Article 339 of the Criminal Code), we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, note the following.

According to the charge, on October 23, 2020, Andrei Kolas, together with two women (Volha Zavadskaya and Yuliya Bodak), made an effigy “presenting it to the public as the President of the Republic of Belarus, attaching two sheets of paper to it, on which an unidentified person made the inscription “He Stole The Votes” and “He Condemned the Innocent”, and, together with other persons, hung the effigy on a tree in the area of ​​the Warsaw highway, thus exposing the object to an indefinite circle of people.” Thus, according to the investigation, Andrei Kolas committed a crime under Part 2 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code, hooliganism, or intentional actions committed by a group of persons that grossly violate public order, express clear disrespect for society and are characterized by extreme cynicism.

The essence of the actions, i.e. the slogans and the effigy, indicates its protest content. Obviously, the purpose of this act was to express protest and disagreement with the falsification of the presidential election and the post-election situation in the country.

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.

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 accused did not encroach on sacred or historical and cultural values. Nor did the slogans encroach on public morals, aimed to promote hostility or hatred on the grounds of nationality, race, religion or social origin and other grounds.

Therefore, these actions cannot be qualified as hooliganism.

Sending a convict to serve a sentence of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility allows us to consider him as a prisoner.

According to the indictment, in the fall of last year, in Homieĺ, Yauhen Zialkouski twice installed a white-red-white flag with boxes placed nearby, which, according to the investigation, could be mistaken for explosive devices. The boxes contained caricatures of riot policemen and disabled firecrackers. Initially, Zialkouski faced charges under Part 3 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code, which were later downgraded to Part 2 of the same article.

The actions of the accused were of a purely protest nature and constituted an expression of the author’s opinion on socio-political events in the country and were not cynical or insulting. They did not call for violent actions and were not socially dangerous. It should be noted that the convict did not declare his intention to commit any socially dangerous actions, nor did he take any actions aimed at knowingly falsely reporting a crime, which could be considered as “hooliganism” motives and intentions.

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.

In this context, we consider the imprisonment of Andrei Kolas and Yauhen Zialkouski to be politically motivated and the detainees are therefore political prisoner 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 Andrei Kolas and Yauhen Zialkouski from custody and reverse their criminal convictions;
  • immediately release all political prisoners and end political repression in the country.

Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Legal Initiative

Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”

Belarusian Documentation Center

Belarusian Helsinki Committee

FORB Initiative

Human Constanta

PEN Belarus

Belarusian Association of Journalists