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.
A closed-door trial in these 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 of:
- Mr. Illia Holtsau—convicted of ‘incitement of hatred’ under Part 1 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to two years of imprisonment in a penal colony for his comments on social networks regarding a “social group.”
- Mr. Aliaksei Reznikau—convicted of ‘incitement of hatred’ (Part 1 of Article 130), ‘rehabilitation of Nazism’ (Part 1 of Article 130-1), ‘insulting the President’ (Part 1 of Article 368), ‘insulting a government ofiicial’ (Article 369), and ‘desecration of state symbols’ (Article 370) for his posts and shares in the VKontakte social network. Mr. Reznikau was sentenced to 4.5 years of imprisonment in a penal colony. The prosecution alleges that he “deliberately posted and kept public on the VKontakte social network files with information related to the expression of a positive attitude towards the soldiers of the collaborationist formations Belarusian Regional Defense and RONA, the glorification of Nazi and neo-Nazi ideology, the formation of a positive attitude towards the German soldiers involved the fascist occupation of Belarus.” In addition, he is alleged of “posting publicly available publications to disseminate the ideas of Nazism, neo-Nazism, nationalism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism among an unspecified audience.” However, it should be noted that the content of the defendant’s social network page demonstrates his active social position and critical attitude towards the government. The mentioned shared posts—while being sometimes of an ambiguous and controversial nature— did not glorify Nazism or call for direct violence, nor did they contain clearly xenophobic or neo-Nazi ideas. The role and place of national collaborationist formations in history are not always defined, and Mr. Reznikau’s publications of open access photo and video materials left the reader with the opportunity to form their own position in relation to the information posted. Other persons were usually held only administratively liable for the same actions. In this context, the long custodial sentence is conditioned on the political nature of the case arising from the accusation of insulting Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka and another government official, and of the desecration of state symbols by posting a satirical drawing with elements of the coat of arms, and in general is an inadmissible form of restriction of expression.
- Ms. Anastasiya Lazarenka and Ms. Natallia Lashch—placed in custody for communicating law enforcement data to Telegram channels, and
- Mr. Dzmitryi Ivanchanka—placed in custody on charges of ’insulting the President’, ‘insulting a government ofﬁcial’, ‘calling for sanctions’, and ‘inciting hatred’ under Articles 368, 369, Part 3 of Article 361, and Article 130 of the Criminal Code at the beginning of March 2022. The nature of the preventive measure and the duration of its application do not correspond to the circumstances of the cases, these measures are applied selectively for political reasons.
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. Illia Holtsau, Mr. Aliaksei Reznikau, Ms. Anastasiya Lazarenka, Ms. Natallia Lashch, and Mr. Dzmitryi Ivanchanka is politically motivated, and they themselves are 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
Belarusian Association of Journalists