People of Word (30)

Ten people recognized as political prisoners

Statement by the human rights community of Belarus

We, representatives of the human rights community in Belarus, note that criminal liability for‘incitement of hatred’ under 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 state bodies. Moreover, it seems unreasonable to label government officials, 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, police officers, and judges from threats related to their lawful professional duties to punish those citizens who have spoken out about the clear violation of the Constitution and law by state bodies, the involvement of government officials, prosecutors and judges in torture and in creating a climate of impunity for torture and other human rights violations, often showing signs of crimes against humanity.

A closed-door trial in these cases grossly violates the procedural rights of the accused. It reduces to a minimum the assessment of the credibility, sufficiency, and admissibility of any evidence for the prosecution.

We are aware of the conviction of:

  • Mr. Pavel Abukhovich—assigned coercive mental treatment under Part 1 of Article 130, Article 369, and Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code for his comments posted on a social network. The content of the comments is not specified in the court ruling, but it is noted that they contained criticism of law enforcement officers, insult of the former head of the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK) and Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Mr. Karpiankou, and Mr. Lukashenka. In the absence of signs of the defendant’s public danger, when he could cause harm to others and/or himself, we consider his forced placement in a psychiatric hospital to be an arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
  • Mr. Aliaksei Hrytskevich—sentenced to two years of imprisonment in a penal colony for‘insulting the President’ and ‘inciting hatred’ with his comments on social networks regarding a ‘social group’ citing Articles 368 and 130 of the Criminal Code.
  • Mr. Pavel Babchonak—sentenced to two years of imprisonment in a penal colony under Part 1 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code for ‘inciting hatred’ with a comment posted on a social network on bringing to justice those guilty of crimes against rights and freedoms in the future.
  • Mr. Uladzimir Rabchanka—sentenced to 2.5 years of imprisonment under Part 1 of Articles 130 and 369 of the Criminal Code for ‘insulting government officials’ who he believes were involved in violating citizens’ rights and freedoms and should be brought to justice in the future.
  • Mr. Uladzimir Pradkin—sentenced to three years of imprisonment for ‘inciting hatred’ and ‘suicide advocacy’ under Part 1 of Article 130 and Part 1 of Article 342-1 of the Criminal Code. The basis for the accusations was Mr. Pradkin’s photos from a film shooting in the uniform of a German army officer that he had posted on a social network; a post on a social network with the memoirs of a German general justifying Nazism; and a comment in which Mr. Pradkin offered to inform those who wished to do so of ways to commit suicide. The defendant explained the posting of the memoirs by his interest in history and excuses for the crimes of Nazism; he claimed a joke his comment on suicide.
  • Mr. Ivan Suprunchyk—sentenced to five years of imprisonment for sharing a police officer’s data with an ‘extremist’ Telegram channel. This was qualified as ‘preparing to premeditated actions aimed at inciting hatred’ (Part 1 of Article 13 and Part 3 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code) and ‘illegal collection and dissemination of information about privacy’ (Article 179 of the Criminal Code).
  • Mr. Vital Huzau—sentenced in a closed-door trial to five years of imprisonment in a penal colony for ‘insulting the President’ and ‘inciting hatred’ under Article 368 and Part 1 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code.
  • Mr. Aliaksei Paretski—sentenced in a closed-door trial to three years of imprisonment in a penal colony for ‘inciting hatred’ and ‘slandering against the President’ under Part 1 of Article 130 and Part 2 of Article 367 of the Criminal Code.
  • Mr. Robert Kuzniatsou—sentenced in a closed-door trial to five years of imprisonment in a penal colony for ‘insulting the President’,  ‘calling for a seizure of power and sanctions against Belarus’, ‘inciting hatred’, and ‘desecrating state symbols’ on the internet under Part 1 of Article 368, Part 3 of Article 361, Part 1 of Article 130, and Article 370 of the Criminal Code.
  • Mr. Aliaksei Bahdzei—sentenced to six years of imprisonment in a penal colony for ‘preparing to organize mass riots’—publishing on the internet calls for the overthrow of the government, resistance to the police, and blocking roads—under Part 1 of Article 13 and Part 1 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code.

We emphasize once again that in a number of the abovementioned cases the nature of the acts of the accused was the result of numerous and widespread human rights violations by the authorities, the lack of freedom of expression, and 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 criminal prosecution cases, we concluded 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, the representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, declare that the further imprisonment of Mr. Pavel Abukhovich, Mr. Aliaksei Hrytskevich, Mr. Pavel Babchonak, Mr. Uladzimi Rabchanka, Mr. Uladzimir Pradkin, Mr. Ivan Suprunchyk, Mr. Vital Huzau, Mr. Aliaksei Paretski, Mr. Robert Kuzniatsou, Mr. Aliaksei Bahdzei is politically motivated, and they, therefore, are recognized as political prisoners.

We demand that the Belarusian authorities:

  • review the sentences passed against 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 the amount of punishment.
  • release the mentioned political prisoners by taking other measures to ensure their appearance in court.
  • immediately release all political prisoners, review politically motivated sentences, and stop political repression against citizens.

Human Rights Center Viasna

Legal Initiative

PEN Belarus