We, representatives of the human rights community in Belarus, note that the authorities are abusing the possibilities of the criminal law and applying excessively harsh penalties to protesters, including long-term imprisonment for acts that did not entail serious consequences. In particular, the qualification of the protesters’ actions as terrorism clearly does not correspond to how international organizations believe this term should be understood.
According to Security Council resolution 1566 (2004) 2004, criminal acts that under no circumstances are justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious, or other similar nature, have three distinctive features:
- are committed, including against civilians, with the
intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages;
- are committed with the purpose of provoking a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act,
- constitute offenses within the scope of and as defined in the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism.
We are convinced that criminal acts that lack these characteristics are not terrorist in nature and must be qualified as crimes against property, and punished correspondingly to the gravity and public danger of the offense.
A closed trial in politically motivated cases grossly violates the procedural rights of the accused and reduces to a minimum the assessment of the credibility, sufficiency, and admissibility of any evidence for the prosecution.
We are aware of the conviction in a closed-door court of:
- Mr. Kanstantsin Yermalovich—sentenced to 16 years of imprisonment in a penal colony;
- Mr. Vital Minkevich—sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment in a penal colony;
- Mr. Ihar Kazlou—sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment in a penal colony for ‘creating a terrorist organization or participating in it’ (Part 2 of Article 290-4 of the Criminal Code), ‘an act of terrorism’ (Part 2 of Article 289 of the Criminal Code), ‘threatening to commit an act of terrorism’ (Part 2, Article 290 of the Criminal Code), ‘insulting the President’ (Part 1, Article 368 of the Criminal Code). It is known that setting fire to a wooden canopy at the military firing range was meant by an act of terrorism and placing dummy mines on the railroad tracks and near the Tabakerka kiosk was meant by a threat to commit an act of terrorism.
We are also aware of the conviction of:
- Mr. Pavel Nikitsenka—sentenced in a closed-door court to 4.5 years of imprisonment in a penal colony under six articles of the Criminal Code: ‘violation of confidentiality of correspondence, telephone conversations, telegraphic or other messages’ (Part 3 of Article 203-1); ‘training or other preparation of persons for participation in mass riots’ (Part 3 of Article 293); ‘actively participating in actions that grossly violate public order’ (Article 342); ‘leading an extremist formation’ (Part 1 of Article 361-1); ‘insulting the President’ (Article 368); and ‘insulting a government official’ (Article 369).
- Mr. Siarhei Kirykovich—sentenced to 4.5 years of imprisonment for insults and threats against Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka and comments against the Russian military. Mr. Kirykovich was charged under three articles of the Criminal Code: Part 2 of Article 366 (violence or threat against an official performing official duties or another person performing a public duty), Part 1 of Article 368 (insult of the President), and Part 1 of Article (inciting hatred).
Having studied these criminal prosecution cases, we concluded that all of them are politically motivated. The court decisions were made for political reasons in violation of the fundamental principles of fair justice.
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.
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:
- 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 Mr. Kanstantsin Yermalovich, Mr. Vital Minkevich, Mr. Ihar Kazlou, Mr. Pavel Nikitsenka, and Mr. Siarhei Kirykovich 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 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 end political repression against citizens.
Human Rights Center Viasna