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 of 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 state symbols, as well as the use of other permissible forms of expression:
Pavel Churkin – sentenced to one year in a penal colony by the Kastryčnicki District Court of Mahilioŭ under Article 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president;
Andrei Piatrouski – sentenced to one year and six months in a penal colony by the Smarhoń District Court under Part 1 of Article 367 of the Criminal Code for slandering the president;
Dzmitry Zalomski – sentenced to two years in a penal colony under Article 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting an official, Article 368 for insulting the President, and Article 389 for threatening a judge;
Mikhail Lintouski – sentenced to one year and six months in a penal colony by the Miory District Court under Article 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting the president.
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 Pavel Churkin, Andrei Piatrouski, Dzmitry Zalomski, and Mikhail Lintouski 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
Identity and Law
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Association of Journalists