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 an 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 Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, police officers, and judges, as well as insulting state symbols:
- Mr. Aleh Siniakou, taken into custody under Article 130 of the Criminal Code under the ‘Zeltser case’;
- Ms. Hanna Kandratsenka, convicted under Part 1 of Article 368, 369, 391 of the Criminal Code of insulting Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, a government official and a judge and sentenced to 3 years of imprisonment in a penal colony;
- Mr. Aliaksandr Zhedzik, sentenced to 24 months of imprisonment in a penal colony under part 1 of article 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka;
- Ms. Halina Kavaliova, convicted under Part 2 of Article 367 of the Criminal Code for slandering Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka and sentenced to 2.5 years of imprisonment in a penal colony;
- Mr. Dzianis Shustau, sentenced to 18 months of restricted freedom in a penal colony under Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code for insulting Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka;
- Mr. Dzmitryi Prokharau, sentenced to 2.5 years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Article 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting a police officer; sent to serve his sentence;
- Mr. Aliaksandr Katsenka, sentenced to 18 months of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Article 369 of the Criminal Code for insulting a police officer; sent to serve his sentence;
- Mr. Yauhen Turavets, sentenced to 2.5 years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary under Article 364 of the Criminal Code for a comment on social networks that contained a threat against a government official that was impossible to carry out; sent to serve his sentence.
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 the political prisoners Mr. Aleh Siniakou, Ms. Hanna Kandratsenka, Mr. Aliaksandr Zhedzik, Ms. Halina Kavaliova, and Mr. Dzianis Shustau, Mr. Dzmitryi Prokharau, Mr. Aliaksandr Katsenka, Mr. Yauhen Turavets 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 Association of Journalists
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House