In connection with the information on the detention and sentencing for ‘group actions that grossly violate public order’ under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Mr. Siarhei Borshch, Mr. Siarhei Dziabolski, Mr. Yuryi Dzhenzhera, Mr. Siarhei Hanichau, Mr. Yauhen Hrytsok, Ms. Anastasiya Hunko, Mr. Artsiom Zabeliankou, Ms. Natallia Karneyeva, Mr. Siarhei Ksendzikau, Mr. Dzmitryi Liaukovich, Ms. Alena Latushka, Ms. Alena Malkevich, Mr. Ihar Pastukhou, Ms. Sviatlana Sakovich, Mr. Siarhei Franchuk, Mr. Leanid Chyrykau, and Mr. Mikita Saidau, and transfer to a penal colony for serving a custodial sentence under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Mr. Vitalii Fesik, we reiterate the position set out in the joint statement of the human rights community of August 10, 2020, and would like to note the following:
Freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This freedom is not subject to any restrictions other than those established by law and necessary in a democratic society for the purposes of national and public security, public order, public health, and morals, or the protection of the rights, and freedoms of others.
The post-election protests were spontaneous, self-organized, and were caused by distrust of the results of the August 9, 2020, presidential election, which was marred by numerous violations and fraud and was not recognized by the international community as democratic, fair, and free.
Citizens assembled peacefully and posed no threat to national or public security. However, the demonstrators were attacked by special units of the Interior Ministry with disproportionate use of physical force, special equipment, and weapons.
For the first time in the history of Belarus, rubber bullets and water cannons were used against peaceful demonstrators. A considerable amount of damage was inflicted by the use of stun grenades.
In our statement of August 10, 2020, the Belarusian human rights community condemned the actions of law enforcement agencies and placed all responsibility for what happened on August 9 and 10 on the authorities of Belarus.
We also consider it necessary to note that the demonstrators did not commit any of the actions covered by Art. 293 of the Criminal Code and cannot be qualified as mass riots, accordingly. The protesters did not set fires, destroy property or put up armed resistance to law enforcement agencies.
Individual cases of violence performed by demonstrators against police officers require a separate legal qualification, taking into account the context and circumstances of the use of violence, including self-defense against actions of police officers known to be disproportionate.
We assess the persecution of the above-mentioned individuals as politically motivated, as it is related solely to their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression in the post-election period and recognize them as political prisoners.
We demand that the Belarusian authorities:
- Immediately release the political prisoners Mr. Siarhei Borshch, Mr. Siarhei Dziabolski, Mr. Yuryi Dzhenzhera, Mr. Siarhei Hanichau, Mr. Yauhen Hrytsok, Ms. Anastasiya Hunko, Mr. Artsiom Zabeliankou, Ms. Natallia Karneyeva, Mr. Siarhei Ksendzikau, Mr. Dzmitryi Liaukovich, Ms. Alena Latushka, Ms. Alena Malkevich, Mr. Ihar Pastukhou, Ms. Sviatlana Sakovich, Mr. Siarhei Franchuk, Mr. Leanid Chyrykau, Mr. Mikita Saidau, and Mr. Vitalii Fesik, and stop the criminal prosecution against them.
- Immediately release all political prisoners, and other individuals detained in connection with their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly in the post-election period, and stop political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center Viasna
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House