We, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, reiterate that imprisonment and criminal liability for protest actions are used by the authorities to suppress public and political activism, dissent, and anti-war protests.
Criminal legislation has been substantially tightened and extended with new corpus delicti, which are used by the authorities solely for the purpose of political repression.
Out of court, the Interior Ministry and the KGB arbitrarily recognize as extremist citizens’ groups brought together by public or political interests, criticizing the actions of the authorities and demanding reforms in the state and its policies. This in turn paves the way for the arbitrary prosecution and imprisonment of such groups’ members as a disproportionate measure restricting the right to association and freedom of expression. Thereby:
- Hanna Pyshnik was taken into custody and placed in pre-trial detention center on charges of promoting extremist activity under Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code for she “shot a video of helicopters moving for a biased destructive resource”;
- Andrei Utkin was taken into custody and placed in pre-trial detention center for taking a photo of a convoy of Russian military equipment and sending it to the Bielaruski hajun Telegram channel, recognized as extremist. He was charged under Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code for participation in an extremist formation and under Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code for promoting extremist activities;
- Viktar Kulinka was taken into custody under Articles 361-4 and 361-1 of the Criminal Codefor filming the Russian military vehicles’ movement towards Homieĺ and transferring the photos and videos to the Bielaruski hajun Telegram channel. Additionally, the registration in the “Peramoha” plan was detected by law enforcement officers in his smartphone;
- Iryna Abdukeryna was taken into custody under Articles 361-4 and 361-1 of the Criminal Code for recording the movement of a Russian military convoy toward Homieĺ and sharing the video with a Telegram channel;
- Aleh Baradzin was taken into custody under Articles 361-4 and 361-1 of the Criminal Codefor filming Russian military equipment in Homieĺ and sending it to a Telegram channel.
- Ivan Yasnikau was taken into custody under Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code for his photos of Russian military equipment, which he transferred to the Kalinkavičy dlia žyccia (Kalinkavičy for life) Telegram channel;
- Mikita Slepianok was taken into custody under Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code for creating the cultural and historical Telegram channel Rezystans, recognized by the Interior Ministry as an extremist group;
- Victor Bedriy was found guilty under Part 1 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code for leading an extremist formation, namely a regional Telegram channel. He was sentenced to 3 years of imprisonment in a penal colony;
In the context of the socio-political events of recent weeks, the main event of which was the military invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, which caused a public outcry and resulted in the acts of solidarity with the people of Ukraine, we conclude that in the abovementioned cases the citizens are persecuted for their political opinions and the non-violent exercise of their freedom of expression and association.
Therefore, we recognize the aforementioned individuals as political prisoners in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of “Political Prisoner”, and demand that the Belarusian authorities:
- immediately release political prisoners Irina Iryna Abdukeryna, Aleh Baradzin, Victor Bedriy, Viktar Kulinka, Hanna Pyshnik, Ivan Yasnikau, Mikita Slepianok, Andrei Utkin;
- immediately release all political prisoners and stop political repression.
Human Rights Center Viasna
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House