People of Word (32)

Nine more persons recognized as political prisoners in Belarus

Statement by the human rights community of Belarus

We, representatives of the human rights community in Belarus, note that criminal liability for incitement of “other social hatred or discord” (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) has been selectively and discriminatorily applied by both the investigators and courts in an apparent attempt to protect the institutions of power. Moreover, it seems unreasonable to label representatives of the authorities, police officers, military personnel, etc. as separate social groups falling under protection in this context.

We also insist that it is unacceptable to apply a law aimed to protect government officials, law enforcement officers, and judges from threats in connection with the lawful performance of their duties to punish those citizens who have spoken out in connection with the clear violation of the Constitution and law by state institutions, the involvement of government officials, prosecutors and judges in torture and in creating a climate of impunity for torture and other human rights violations.

Seven people were convicted. Among them:

  • Valiantsin Panasik sentenced under Part 3 of Art. 130, Art. 342, Part 1 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code to six years in prison for publications on social networks containing calls for street protests, active resistance in case of their suppression;
  • Stanislau Kazhamiakin sentenced under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code to two years and six months in prison for calling for “violence against law enforcement officers” on the social network. His comments in question were not voiced in court.

The persons mentioned above did not call for violent acts on national, ethnic, racial, or religious grounds. Their actions did not and could not entail serious consequences for the victims.

In addition, we note that imprisonment of political opponents of the regime is used by the authorities in violation of the right to a fair trial, other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and selectively in comparison with other persons. As the UN Human Rights Committee notes, “remand in custody on criminal charges must be reasonable and necessary in 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 the detention of the following persons:

  • Vadzim Nikalayeu, has been in custody for a long time on charges of inciting social hatred under Article 130 of the Criminal Code. The court’s consideration of the case has been repeatedly suspended for expert examinations. This indicates a lack of sufficient grounds for prosecution;
  • Marharyta Zotava, taken into custody on charges of inciting social hatred under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code;
  • Valeryia Hlinskaya and Ina Hlinskaya taken into custody on charges of inciting social hatred under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code for sending data of Interior Ministry officers to a Telegram channel;
  • Mikita Starazhenka, taken into custody on charges of inciting social hatred under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code for sending data of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Investigative Committee officers to a Telegram channel;
  • Dzianis Salmanovich, taken into custody on charges of aiding terrorism and participating in a terrorist organization under Article 289 of the Criminal Code for cooperating with “destructive” Telegram channels and creating graphics for them;
  • Siarhei Lisouski, taken into custody on politically motivated arbitrary charges of terrorism under Article 289 of the Criminal Code for non-violent activities. He reportedly met with The Ministry of Internal Affairs officers and persuaded them to refuse to obey criminal orders, facilitating the relocation of those who were discharged from the service and feared prosecution.

We emphasize once again that in a number of these cases, the nature of the actions of the accused were the result of numerous and widespread human rights violations by the authorities, the lack of freedom of expression, were caused by the lack of investigation of crimes against peaceful protesters and other victims of cruel treatment and torture, disappointment with the authorities’ reluctance to use the force of law to protect citizens’ violated rights in the absence of conditions for a democratic and constitutional change of government in fair elections.

Having studied these cases of criminal prosecution, we came to the conclusion that all of them are politically motivated.

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:

  • a) 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;
  • d) the person has been detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons.

We, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, consider that the persecution and detention of Valiantsin Panasik, Stanislau Kazhamiakin, Vadzim Nikalayeu, Marharyta Zotava, Valeryia Hlinskaya, Ina Hlinskaya, Mikita Starazhenka, Dzianis Salmanovich, Siarhei Lisouski is politically motivated, and recognize them as political prisoners. In this regard, we call on the Belarusian authorities to:

  • to review the sentences and measures of restraint of the mentioned political prisoners while exercising the right to a fair trial and eliminating the factors that affected the qualification of actions, the type and amount of punishment, and the measures of restraint;
  • release the mentioned political prisoners by taking other measures to ensure their appearance in court;
  • immediately release all political prisoners and stop political repression.

Human Rights Center Viasna

Legal initiative


PEN Belarus

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House

Belarusian Association of Journalists

Identity and Law