In response to the passing of a number of verdicts in criminal trials involving protesters and other persons charged with using violence against police officers, violent resistance to police officers, and other officials performing official duties (Articles 363, 364, 366 of the Criminal Code):
Mikhail Khavanski, sentenced on September 3, 2021 by the Niasviž District Court to one year in a penal colony under Art. 364 of the Criminal Code for using violence against a police officer;
Henadz Smirnou, sentenced on October 27, 2021 by the Liachavičy District Court to two years and six months in a penal colony under Part 2 of Art. 363 and 368 of the Criminal Code for resisting a police officer and insulting the president;
Halina Haratskevich, sentenced on August 16, 2021 by the Kastryčnicki District Court of Hrodna to three years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary (“khimiya”) under Art. 342 and 364 of the Criminal Code for participation in a peaceful assembly and resisting its violent dispersal; sent to serve the sentence, and
Reaffirming our position set out in the joint statement of human rights organizations of January 16, 2021, we note the following:
Peaceful assemblies of citizens should be protected by the state, and the police should not take actions to forcibly stop them, even if they take place in violation of the procedures for their organization and holding. Violent termination of assemblies and the use of physical force, let alone special means and weapons against protesters should be carried out only as an extreme measure, in cases when the behavior of assembly participants is of violent nature, which poses a real threat to national and public security, life and health of citizens.
Disproportionate brutal actions of the police aimed at suppressing peaceful assemblies cannot be considered as a legitimate activity for the protection and preservation of public order, and in cases of violence used by protesters in reverse provoked by the same police officers, these actions should be considered based on the severity of the injury and intent to cause such harm, and as protection from clearly unlawful actions of law enforcement officers, who followed unlawful orders.
According to the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, violence that was provoked by the initial disproportionate use of physical force, means of restraint, and if there was no intent to cause non-symbolic material damage or harm to anyone in the actions of the accused, provides grounds to hold these individuals to be political prisoners.
In addition, monitoring of these trials has shown that the courts impose disproportionately harsh (inadequate) sentences for the offense with which the individuals are charged, compared to sentences imposed in the same categories of cases outside the political context.
The length or conditions of imprisonment imposed on participants in protest assemblies were clearly disproportionate (inadequate) to the offense for which the individuals were found guilty.
In many cases, court hearings were held behind closed doors: members of the public, human rights defenders, and members of the media were not admitted. Court decisions to hold closed sessions were not based on the need to protect state secrets or the personal information of trial participants, which is undesirable for public dissemination.
All of these circumstances give reason to believe that the prosecution of these individuals is politically motivated and that the individuals themselves are political prisoners.
On this basis, and guided by para. 3.2 (a, b, c, d) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, we recognize Mikhail Khavanski, Henadz Smirnou and Halina Haratskevich as political prisoners:
We deem it necessary to demand the immediate review of the measures taken against them and the court decisions in the execution of the right to a fair trial and elimination of the said factors, as well as their release from custody employing other measures ensuring their appearance in court.
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House