Human rights defenders have learned about recent sentences pronounced in a number of politically motivated criminal trials involving protesters and other persons accused of using violence against or violent resistance to police officers and other officials in the line of duty (Articles 363, 364, and 366 of the Criminal Code), namely:
- Mr. Aliaksei Ivanchyk—convicted of ‘violence against an employee of internal affairs bodies’and sentenced to 2.5 years of imprisonment in a penal colony under Article 364 of the Criminal Code. Mr. Ivanchyk tried to escape a police officer who was going to arrest him because of his criticism of the election commission members who failed to provide conditions for secret voting and his anti-war statements. Mr. Ivanchyk’s actions did not cause any injuries to the officer.
- Mr. Andrei Andreyeu—convicted of ‘threats of violence against a military officer’ and sentenced to two years of imprisonment under Article 364 of the Criminal Code. The incident happened during an anti-war rally. Mr. Andreyeu took a few steps toward an armored riot policeman who had appeared to be retreating. The court deemed this to be threatening behavior.
- Mr. Aliaksandr Komar—convicted of ‘threats of violence against a military officer’ and ‘participation in an extremist formation’ and sentenced to three years of imprisonment under Articles 364 and 361-3 of the Criminal Code. The court deemed an incident that happened during an anti-war rally to be a threatening behavior: Mr. Komar took a few steps toward an armored riot policeman who had appeared to be retreating. Mr. Komar’s registration for Pieramoha chatbot was considered participation in extremist formation.
In this regard, reaffirming our position set out in the Joint statement of human rights organizations of January 16, 2021, we note the following:
Citizens’ peaceful assemblies should be protected by the state, and the police should not take action to forcibly stop them, even if they take place in violation of the procedures for their organization and holding. Violent dispersal of assemblies and the use of physical force, let alone special weapons against protesters should be carried out only as an extreme measure, in cases when the behavior of assembly participants becomes violent and poses a real threat to national and public security, life, and health of citizens.
Disproportionate brutal actions of the police aimed at suppressing peaceful assemblies cannot be considered a legitimate activity for the protection and preservation of public order, and in cases of violence used by protesters who were provoked by the same police officers, these actions should be considered based on the severity of the injury and intent to cause such harm, as well as seen as justifiable or necessary defense carried out to protect oneself from clearly unlawful actions of law enforcement officers who had followed unlawful orders.
In the case of Mr. Andreyeu and Mr. Komar, we note the contradictory and controversial nature of the evidence of the guilt of the accused, which the court put into the basis of the verdict without a critical assessment.
Apart from that, we note that in politically motivated cases, the authorities apply imprisonment in violation of the right to a fair trial, as well as other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, discriminating against the defendants in comparison with defendants of other analogous cases.
According to the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, violence that was provoked by the initial disproportionate use of physical force means of restraint, and if there was no intent to cause non-symbolic material damage or harm to anyone in the actions of the accused, provides grounds to hold these individuals to be political prisoners.
In addition, monitoring of these trials has shown that the courts impose disproportionately harsh (inadequate) sentences for the offense with which the individuals are charged, compared to sentences imposed in the same categories of cases outside the political context.
The duration or conditions of imprisonment under such sentences are clearly disproportionate (inadequate) to the offenses for which the defendants were found guilty.
All these circumstances give grounds to claim that the persecution of these persons is politically motivated, and the individuals themselves are political prisoners.
Based on this and guided by para. 3.2 (a, b, c, d) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, we recognize Mr. Aliaksei Ivanchyk, Mr. Andrei Andreyeu, and Mr. Aliaksandr Komar as political prisoners.
We deem it necessary to demand an immediate review and abolition of the custodial measures and court rulings taken against these political prisoners in their exercise of the right to a fair trial, as well as their release from custody and the implication of other measures aimed at guaranteeing their appearance in court.
Human Rights Center Viasna