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 persons imprisoned for contempt of the president, officials (police officers), judges, and desecrating state symbols:
- Viachaslau Karatkevich – convicted by the Svislač District court of Hrodna region under Article 367 of the Criminal Code for slander against the president to a year and a half in prison;
- Aliaksandr Bychkouski – convicted by the Jeĺsk District Court of Homieĺ region under Article 369 of the Criminal Code for contempt of an official to a year and a half of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility, serving his sentence;
- Pavel Semakovich – convicted by the Vaŭkavysk District Court of Hrodna region under part 1 of Article 339 of the Criminal Code (disorderly conduct) for burning the national flag and sent to an open-type correctional facility for three years;
- Yauhen Karalchuk – convicted by the Stolin District Court of Brest region under Article 370 of the Criminal Code for desecrating state symbols to one year of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility, serving his sentence;
- Yauhen Pashaliuk – convicted by a Kamieniec District Court of Brest region under Article 391 of the Criminal Code for contempt of a judge to two years of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility, serving his sentence;
- Ihar Faletski – sentenced by the Babrujsk District Court of Mahilioŭ region under Article 368 of the Criminal Code for contempt of the president and Article 369 of the Criminal Code for contempt of an official to one year in prison;
- Mikhail Hulidau – convicted by the Leninski District Court of Mahilioŭ under Article 368 of the Criminal Code for contempt of the president, under Article 369 of the Criminal Code for contempt of an official, and Article 409 of the Criminal Code for illegal actions against property subject to seizure or confiscation to one year in prison.
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 Viachaslau Karatkevich, Aliaksandr Bychkouski, Pavel Semakovich, Yauhen Karalchuk, Yauhen Pashaliuk, Ihar Faletski, Mikhail Hulidau 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 Association of Journalists;
Belarusian PEN Center;
Lawtrend Center for Legal Transformation;
Belarusian Documentation Center;
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House.