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:
Ivan Kiva – sentenced by the Lieninski District Court of Mahilioŭ to two years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting police officers on the Vkontakte social media; sent to serve the sentence;
Artur Rybin – sentenced by the Homieĺ Regional Court to three and a half years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony under Part 1 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism) and under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred) for making an installation with a portrait of Lukashenka, and for an insulting comment on the Telegram messaging application;
Aliaksei Bayarovich – sentenced by the Smarhoń District Court to one year and six months of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president on the Vkontakte social media; sent to serve the sentence;
Aliaksandr Shcharbatsiuk – sentenced by the Saviecki District Court of Minsk to one year of imprisonment in a medium-security penal colony under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president;
Andrei Asaula – sentenced by the Zavodski District Court of Minsk to three years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony under Part 2 of Art. 368 (“insult to the president”), Art. 364 (“violence or threat of violence against a police officer”) and Art. 369 (“insult to a representative of the authorities”);
Tatsiana Zviarko – sentenced by the Lida District Court to one year and six months of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony region under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (“insult to the president”) and Art. 369 of the Criminal Code (“insult to a representative of the authorities”); the convict was taken into custody in the courtroom;
Dzianis Ivanou – sentenced by the Centraĺny District Court of Minsk to two years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president; 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 Ivan Kiva, Artur Rybin, Aliaksei Bayarovich, Aliaksandr Shcharbatsiuk, Andrei Asaula, Tatsiana Zviarko and Dzianis Ivanou 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 Helsinki Committee
Belarusian Documentation Center