In response to an increase in the number of cases of conviction and imprisonment of individuals under a number of defamatory articles of the Criminal Code, as well as for insulting state symbols of the Republic of Belarus, and other actions aimed at the lawful exercising of freedom of expression we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community demand to put the end to the persecution for legitimate expression of views and, reaffirming our repeated calls to decriminalize defamation and to refrain from imposing terms of imprisonment for insulting officials, the state, government agencies, and symbols (as mentioned in the Joint statement of December 22, 2020), note the following:
At the moment we know about the following persons imprisoned for insulting the president, police officers, judges, as well as insulting state symbols:
- Aliaksandr Hulida, sentenced to 24 months of imprisonment in a penal colony under Article 367 and 368 of the Criminal Code for slandering A. Lukashenka and insulting A. Lukashenka;
- Vladimir Silvanovich, convicted under Part 3 of Article 203 of the Criminal Code for dissemination of personal data of an employee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Article 370 of the Criminal Code for desecration of state symbols, Article 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting a government official, and Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting A. Lukashenka to two years and 6 months of imprisonment in a penal colony;
- Konstantin Prusov, sentenced to three years and 6 months of imprisonment in a penal colony under Article 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting a government official, Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting A. Lukashenka, Article 367 of the Criminal Code for slandering A. Lukashenka;
- Yauhen Bantsevich, sentenced to 2 years and 6 months of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Article 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting A. Lukashenka; sent to serve his sentence;
- Uladzimir Matveichyk, sentenced to 2 years and 6 months of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Article 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting a government official and sent to serve his sentence;
- Yauhen Vislavukh, taken into custody on charges under Article 130 of the Criminal Code for inciting hatred with his comment on the social network regarding the “Zeltser case”.
- Aliaksandr Bazarau, sentenced to two years and 6 months in a penal colony under Part 1 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code for a comment, which, according to the examination, contained “indirect incitement to violence against police officers”.
In this regard, we consider the persecution and imprisonment of the persons listed above as politically motivated in connection with the peaceful exercise of their views, and the convicts as political prisoners in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners. We, therefore, call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- Immediately release political prisoners Aliaksandr Hulida, Vladimir Silvanovich, Konstantin Prusov, Yauhen Bantsevich, Uladzimir Matveichyk, Yauhen Vislavukh, Aliaksandr Bazarau and stop the criminal prosecution against them.
- decriminalize defamation offenses and abolish articles of the Criminal Code that provide for liability for insulting the state and state symbols, namely Articles 188, 189, 367, 368, 369, 369-1, 370, and 391 of the Criminal Code, and stop all ongoing criminal cases under these articles;
- immediately release all political prisoners and stop political repression.
Human Rights Center Viasna
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Belarusian Association of Journalists