Due to the increasing number of cases of convictions and imprisonment of Belarusian citizens under several defamation articles of the Criminal Code, as well as under the cases of desecration of state symbols of the Republic of Belarus, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, reiterate our repeatedly stated demands to decriminalize defamation and to prohibit imprisonment for contempt of officials, the state, state bodies and symbols (joint statement of 22 December 2020).
We have received information about the following individuals imprisoned for contempt of the president, government officials (police officers), judges, and for desecrating state symbols, as well as for using other acceptable forms of expression:
- Maksim Shymanski was convicted by the Navahrudak District Court of Hrodna region under Article 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting an official to one year of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility, serving his sentence;
- Viachaslau Ulasevich was convicted on 31.05.2021 the Baranavičy District Court of Brest region under article 370 of the Criminal Code for tearing down the state flag to one year of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility, serving his sentence;
- Aliaksei Kapitonau was convicted on 22.02.2021 by the Pieršamajski District Court of Vitebsk under Article 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting a police officer online to two years of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility, serving his sentence;
- Yahor Karapuzau was convicted on 11.02.2021 by the Vitebsk Region Court under Article 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting an officer of internal affairs online to a year and a half of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility, serving his sentence;
- Kanstantsin Sinkevich was convicted under Article 369 of the Criminal Code in Vitebsk for insulting a police officer online to two years of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility, serving his sentence;
- Aliaksandr Babkin was convicted on 28 June 2021 by the Minsk District Court under Article 368 of the Criminal Code for contempt of the president to one year of imprisonment.
In this regard, we consider their prosecution and imprisonment politically motivated, linked to the peaceful exercise of the freedom of expression, recognize them as political prisoners under paragraph 3.1(a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, and demand that the Belarusian authorities
- Immediately release political prisoners Maksim Shymanski, Viachaslau Ulasevich, Aliaksei Kapitonau, Yahor Karapuzau, Kanstantsin Sinkevich, Aliaksandr Babkin and terminate criminal prosecution against them.
- Take measures aimed at decriminalization of defamation offenses and the abolition of articles of the Criminal Code which provide for responsibility for contempt of the state, state symbols, and officials, namely articles 188, 189, 367, 368, 369, 369-1, 370, 391 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, and to terminate all criminal cases which were previously opened on these articles.
- Immediately release all political prisoners and stop political repressions against citizens of the country.
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Belarusian Documentation Center
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Belarusian PEN Center
Lawtrend Legal Transformation Center