In response to the new cases of conviction and imprisonment of individuals on defamation charges, as well as on charges of desecration of the state symbols of Belarus, 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), note the following.
We have received information about the following persons imprisoned for insulting the president, government officials (police officers), judges and state symbols:
- Andrei Taranovich, sentenced by the Hancavičy District Court of the Brest region to 1 year of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Art. 370 of the Criminal Code for desecrating a state symbol (tearing the flag); sent to serve his sentence;
- Ruslan Shyla, sentenced by the Ivacevičy District Court of the Brest region to 1 year of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Art. 370 of the Criminal Code for desecrating a state symbol (cutting several flags); sent to serve his sentence;
- Siarhei Dubik, taken into custody on charges of insulting a government official and slandering Aliaksandr Lukashenka under Articles 367 and 369 of the Criminal Code;
- Alina Zabashtanskaya, taken into custody on charges of commenting in social networks the shooting, during which A. Zeltser and a KGB officer were killed, under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code;
- Vital Boyka, sentenced by the Žabinka District Court of the Brest Region to two years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code (Insult of a government official) and Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (Insult of the President); sent to serve his sentence;
- Aliaksandr Sialitski, sentenced to two years and three months in prison under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting a government official;
- Aliaksandr Pachkouski, sentenced by the Svetlahorsk District Court of the Homieĺ region to 1 year in prison under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting Aliaksandr Lukashenka;
- Yauhen Pak taken into custody on charges of insulting Aliaksandr Lukashenka under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code;
- Aliaksandr Kasianchuk, sentenced by the Lida District Court of the Hrodna region to two years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (Insult of the President); sent to serve his sentence;
- Aliaksei Loi, sentenced by the Vaŭkavysk District Court of the Hrodna region to 6 months of restricted freedom under home confinement (“domashnyaya khimiya”) for insulting the flag (Article 370 of the Criminal Code); on prosecutor’s appeal, the sentence was changed to one year of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary; sent to serve his sentence.
In this regard, we consider their persecution and imprisonment to be politically motivated, as they are related to the peaceful exercise of freedom 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 Andrei Taranovich, Ruslan Shyla, Siarhei Dubik, Alina Zabashtanskaya, Vital Boyka, Aliaksandr Sialitski, Aliaksandr Pachkouski, Yauhen Pak, Aliaksandr Kasianchuk and Aliaksei Loi 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 Belarus, and terminate all previously initiated criminal cases under these articles;
- release all political prisoners immediately and stop political repression.
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House