People of Word (32)

Human rights defenders call to release 73 people detained in Zeltser case

Statement by the human rights community of Belarus

We, representatives of the human rights community of Belarus, note that arrests and imprisonment have become an instrument of repression against dissidents. In particular, more than 200 people were detained, and 136 of them were taken into custody on suspicion of committing crimes under Art. 130 and 369 of the Criminal Code for publishing comments on the Internet in connection with the deaths of IT worker Andrei Zeltser and KGB agent Dzmitry Fedasiuk. Henadz Mazheika, a journalist with Komsomolskaya Pravda V Belarusi and the author of an article about a shootout in Zeltser’s apartment, was also detained.

Detainees in this case are being held in inappropriate conditions, their procedural rights, including the right to defense, are widely violated.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to freedom of expression. However, in order to protect the rights and reputation of others, there may be certain permissible restrictions on this right, which must be determined by law and be necessary to respect the rights and reputation of others or to protect public safety, public order, health or morals.

Investigators and courts have been selectively and discriminatorily applying criminal liability for inciting “other social hatred or enmity” (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) solely to protect the institutions of power, while the separation of government officials, law enforcement officers, civil servants, the military, etc. as social groups that fall under protection in this context seems to us unreasonable.

Decriminalization of defamation offenses is a standard formulated and substantiated in the decisions of a number of international organizations. International bodies, the UN and the OSCE, have recommended repealing laws criminalizing defamation, or at least abstaining from imprisoning people convicted of defamatory offenses, making civil prosecution the norm. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media stated that “criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws.”

In accordance with the Johannesburg Principles (Principles 15 and 16), the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression should not be seen as a threat to national security or subject to restrictions or punishment. An expression of opinion that does not pose a threat to national security includes, but is not limited to, expressions that criticize or insult the nation, state or its symbols, government, government agencies, or government and public figures.

No one may be punished for criticizing or insulting a nation, state or its symbols, government, government agencies or public and political figures, or a foreign nation, state or its symbols, government, government agencies or state and public figures, unless this criticism or insults are intended to incite violent acts or may lead to such acts. Restrictions on freedom of expression should not be linked to the official position of the persons affected by the disseminated information.

To target dissidents, the authorities unreasonably use detention in the absence of sufficient grounds for restraining their freedom. As the UN Human Rights Committee notes, “detention pending trial must be based on an individualized determination that it is reasonable and necessary taking into account all the circumstances.”

“Detention in custody of persons awaiting trial shall be the exception rather than the rule. […} Release from such custody may be subject to guarantees of appearance, including appearance for trial, appearance at any other stage of the judicial proceedings and (should occasion arise) appearance for execution of the judgment. That sentence applies to persons awaiting trial on criminal charges, that is, after the defendant has been charged, but a similar requirement prior to charging results from the prohibition of arbitrary detention […] It should not be the general practice to subject defendants to pretrial detention. Detention pending trial must be based on an individualized determination that it is reasonable and necessary taking into account all the circumstances, for such purposes as to prevent flight, interference with evidence or the recurrence of crime. The relevant factors should be specified in law and should not include vague and expansive standards such as “public security”. […] Neither should pretrial detention be ordered for a period based on the potential sentence for the crime charged, rather than on a determination of necessity.”

In particular, we know about detention of the following persons:

  1. Uladzimir Ahiyevich
  2. Raman Ahnishchanka
  3. Siarhei Aleksiayeuski
  4. Siarhei Anufryenka
  5. Ihar Artsiukh
  6. Palina Arekhava
  7. Andrei Balakhonau
  8. Vadzim Baranau
  9. Maksim Bas
  10. Tsimur Bashlakou
  11. Pavel Bialenik
  12. Pavel Belaholau
  13. Larysa Berazhnova
  14. Siarhei Bushyk
  15. Aliaksandr Veliasnitski
  16. Andrei Hapiyenka
  17. Aliaksandr Haurylik
  18. Hleb Hladkouski
  19. Mikalai Halaukou
  20. Pavel Hancharyk
  21. Aliaksei Horbach
  22. Yury Hrabianiok
  23. Ryhor Hryh
  24. Dzmitry Dziameshka
  25. Siarhei Dalivelia
  26. Ivan Dubinka
  27. Siarhei Yesmanovich
  28. Artsiom Zadrutski
  29. Uladzimir Zapolskikh
  30. Vital Ivaniukovich
  31. Yauhen Kalenda
  32. Andrei Kachaharau
  33. Aliaksei Kachanau
  34. Maryna Kirylchyk
  35. Dzmitry Kazlouski
  36. Andrei Kandratovich
  37. Mikalai Karsiuk
  38. Andrei Kastsou
  39. Daniil Kastsiukevich
  40. Viktar Katouski
  41. Dzmitry Krakasevich
  42. Ivan Kuziur
  43. Dzmitry Kunusau
  44. Dzmitry Lahodzich
  45. Vital Loika
  46. Dzianis Maksimau
  47. Illia Mironau
  48. Matsvei Mitsura
  49. Henadz Mazheika
  50. Alena Nestsiarovich
  51. Natallia Nikitsina
  52. Yaraslau Pashkou
  53. Dzmitry Pendzik
  54. Aliaksandr Piatrashka
  55. Yauhen Rakevich
  56. Ivan Rahatniou
  57. Maksim Razhkou
  58. Mikalai Serhiyenia
  59. Siarhei Sliazhou
  60. Anton Somau
  61. Aliaksei Sianko
  62. Aliaksandr Stankevich
  63. Ema Stsepulionak
  64. Kiryl Suslin
  65. Yauhen Tazau
  66. Stsiapan Talkachou
  67. Maksim Filipavets
  68. Kanstantsin Filipau
  69. Tsimur Khairulin
  70. Yuliya Chamlai
  71. Arseni Chyzhyk
  72. Andrei Shunkevich
  73. Dzianis Yadzevich

There is no information that the mentioned persons called for violent acts on national, ethnic, racial or religious grounds.

We emphasize once again that in a number of the above cases the actions were the result of numerous and widespread human rights violations, lack of freedom of expression, distrust of the state’s law enforcement system, including failure to properly investigate the numerous crimes against peaceful protesters and other victims of ill-treatment and torture, and disappointment in the authorities’ ability to use the force of law to protect violated rights.

Assessing all these cases of prosecution, we conclude that there is a political motive in each of them.

According to the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, a person deprived of liberty is to be regarded as a political prisoner, if at least one of the following criteria is observed:

  • the detention has been imposed solely because of their political, religious or other beliefs, as well as non-violent exercise of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) or the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR);
  • the detention has been imposed in violation of the right to a fair trial, other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;
  • the person has been detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons.

We, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, declare that the persecution of these persons is politically motivated, and the detainees are therefore political prisoners.

In this regard, we call on the Belarusian authorities to:

  • review the measures and procedural decisions taken in relation to the mentioned political prisoners, with due respect for their right to a fair trial and eliminating the factors that influenced the decisions to apply pre-trial detention;
  • ensure an impartial investigation and a fair trial for the listed persons with observance of all procedural guarantees;
  • decriminalize defamatory crimes;
  • immediately release all political prisoners and end political repression in the country.

Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Belarusian Helsinki Committee


Legal Initiative

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House

PEN Belarus