In response to the new cases of conviction and imprisonment of individuals under a number of defamatory articles of the Criminal Code, as well as on charges of insulting the state symbols, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, once again reaffirming our repeated calls to decriminalize defamation and refrain from imprisoning individuals for insulting officials, the state, state bodies and symbols (joint statement dated December 22, 2020), we note the following:
We have received information about the following persons imprisoned for insulting the president, government officials (police officers), judges and desecration of state symbols, as well as the use of other permissible forms of expression:
Maksim Sarychau – sentenced by the Slonim District Court to one year of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting a police officer in a Telegram chat; sent to serve the sentence;
Yauhen Tsitou – sentenced by the Žlobin District Court to one year of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Art. 370 of the Criminal Code for removing the state flag from a government building; sent to serve the sentence;
David Sharakou – sentenced by the Viciebsk District Court to two years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting former Deputy Interior Minister Aliaksandr Barsukou in a Telegram chat; sent to serve the sentence;
Siarhei Velikarodny – sentenced to one year and six months of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president;
Illia Dziarahin – sentenced to three months in prison by the Babrujsk District and City under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president; taken into custody in the courtroom;
Yury Kavaliou – sentenced to one year of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony by the Buda-Kašaliova District Court under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president;
Dzmitry Krautsou – sentenced to three months in prison by the Drybin District Court under Art. 370 of the Criminal Code for insulting the state emblem of Belarus; sent to serve the sentence.
In this regard, we consider their persecution and imprisonment to be politically motivated, as they are related to the peaceful exercise of expression. The convicts are therefore political prisoners in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
We call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately release political prisoners Maksim Sarychau, Yauhen Tsitou, David Sharakou, Siarhei Velikarodny, Illia Dziarahin, Yury Kavaliou and Dzmitry Krautsou and end criminal prosecution against them;
- take measures aimed at decriminalizing defamatory offenses and abolishing articles of the Criminal Code that provide for liability for insulting the state, state symbols and officials, namely, Articles 188, 189, 367, 368, 369, 369-1, 370, and 391 of the Criminal Code of the Republic Belarus, and terminate all previously initiated criminal cases under these articles;
- immediately release all political prisoners and stop political repression.
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Belarusian Documentation Center
Identity and Law
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Belarusian Helsinki Committee