We, representatives of the human rights community of Belarus, have observed an increase in the number of pre-trial and court rulings in politically motivated criminal cases that violate the fundamental procedural rights of defendants. In the absence of an independent, unbiased, and objective trial, such investigations and verdicts tend to be arbitrary. The measures of restraint and criminal penalties imposed in these cases go beyond those normally applied in the absence of a political motive and are excessively severe, not corresponding to the degree of public danger of the offense and the personality of convicts.
Thus, on August 4, 2020, one of the leaders of the “Honest People” initiative Illia Shapatkouskiwas arrested. The detention was reportedly related to the investigation of the Belgazprombank case. However, according to available information, he is currently detained and charged under Art. 357 of the Criminal Code (Conspiracy to seize power in an unconstitutional way). Yet, before his detention I. Shapatkouski was engaged in open and legitimate political activity: he was the head of the signature verification department for V. Babaryka’s election campaign. After Babaryka was denied registration as a presidential candidate, I. Shapatkouski participated in the “Honest People” initiative, whose goal was to encourage transparent procedures for democratic voting and vote-counting in the elections.
Criminal charges for incitement of “other social hatred or discord” (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) have 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. In particular:
Igor Kravtsov was sentenced at a closed trial to three years in a penal colony under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code for intentional acts aimed at inciting hatred, Art. 368 and 369 for insulting Lukashenka and a public official in his comments on a social network.
Ruslan Sadovnichy was sentenced to three and a half years in a penal colony under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting a government official, under Part 1 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code for inciting hatred against law enforcement officers, and under Part 1 of Art. 366 of the Criminal Code for threatening an investigator of the Investigative Committee.
Comments of the kind posted by the defendants are not a direct call to commit violent acts, but an element of discussion. In this regard, it should be recalled that any permissible limitations imposed on fundamental rights and freedoms must be “necessary in a democratic society”. Therefore, restrictions must be necessary and proportionate in a society based on democracy, the rule of law, political pluralism, and human rights. These measures must also be the least restrictive of those that could provide an appropriate protective function. Otherwise, state intervention, including in the form of criminal prosecution for violations of national law, would constitute a violation of human rights.
Siarhei Liakhnovich was taken into custody under Part 2 of Art. 350 (Modification of computer information) and Part 1 of Art. 130 of the Criminal Code for providing his personal computer for a cyber attack on the website of the Belarusian State Medical University in response to repression against students.
Uladzimir Kashko was sentenced to 3 months of restricted freedom under Article 203-1 of the Criminal Code (Illegal actions with respect to information about private life and personal data) for sending the personal data of 27 Interior Ministry employees to a Telegram channel. He started to serve his sentence.
Aleh Yermakou was taken into custody on charges of sending data of law enforcement officers to protest information resources.
We emphasize once again that in a number of the cases listed, the acts of the accused were unlawful and questionable due to the inability to express their opinions freely, were triggered by the failure to investigate crimes against peaceful protesters and other victims of abuse and torture, as well as by the frustration caused by the authorities’ inability to stop the lawlessness.
Having studied these cases of criminal prosecution, we came to the conclusion that all of them are politically motivated.
The application of domestic law in these cases, the evaluation of facts and evidence were to varying degrees arbitrary and contained obvious errors, which violated the court’s obligation to be independent and impartial. The imposition of demonstrably harsh sentences substantially aggravated the conditions of the defendants as compared to others convicted in similar cases without a political motive.
According to the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, a person deprived of liberty is to be regarded as a political prisoner, if, along with the political motivation of their case, at least one of the following criteria is observed:
- 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 detention was based on falsification of evidence of the alleged offense, or imposed in the absence of the event or elements of the offense, or imposed in connection with an offense committed by another person;
- the length of the detention or its conditions are clearly disproportionate (incommensurate) to the offense the person is suspected, accused or has been found guilty of;
- the person has been detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons.
We, the representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, declare that the persecution of Illia Shapatkouski, Igor Kravtsov, Ruslan Sadovnichy, Siarhei Liakhnovich, Uladzimir Kashko, Aleh Yermakou is politically motivated, and recognize them as political prisoners. In this regard, we, the representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, demand from the Belarusian authorities:
- to reconsider the measures taken against them and the court decisions, while respecting the right to a fair trial and eliminating the factors that influenced the sentence;
- immediately release all political prisoners and stop political repression.
Human Rights Center Viasna