Convicted protesters in Maladziečna are political prisoners
Minsk – September 30, 2020
On September 29, the Maladziečna District Court sentenced Uladzislau Yeustsihneyeu and Pavel Piaskou to 36 and 39 months in prison, respectively, finding them guilty under Part 2 of Art. 363 of the Criminal Code for resisting riot police officers with violence during the detention of peaceful protesters at a rally on June 19.
On June 19, Piaskou and Yeustsihneyeu were near several dozen local residents who had gathered for a peaceful assembly in Maladziečna. Police arbitrarily detained one of the protesters, using disproportionate violence, claiming that he had actively participated in an unauthorized event, thereby impeding his exercise of his constitutional and internationally recognized rights - the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, which includes seeking, receiving and disseminating all kinds of information and ideas.
The detained protester, Mikalai Aleinik, later claimed that he was beaten in a riot police bus.
Thus, the use of physical force in response to arbitrary and disproportionate violence against a peaceful protester does not change the nature of the actions of Piaskou and Yeustsihneyeu from peaceful to violent. It should be noted that the actions of the accused were not accompanied by beating, and they did not aim to damage the police officers, as evidenced by the minor nature of the injuries, which was only caused by the falling of the participants in the incident.
Judge Viktoryia Paliashchuk’s consideration of the criminal case was accompanied by procedural deviations from the principles of a fair trial. In particular, citing classified results of investigative activities alleging Pavel Piaskou’s intention to leave Belarus, the judge ordered to detain the defendant after the start of the trial and he was later taken to the courtroom in handcuffs. In addition, the defense and the prosecution enjoyed unequal conditions for the provision and examination of evidence.
The sentences imposed on both defendants go beyond the usual practice of sentencing in such cases, being excessively harsh in form and length, even given the questionable qualifications proposed by the prosecution and upheld by the court: both defendants have not been convicted before, did not deny committing the actions, while Part 2 of Art. 363 of the Criminal Code allows for the application of non-custodial sentences.
We are convinced that the unacceptable motives of the authorities’ actions in a democratic society in this case are the strengthening or retention of power by the subjects of power. Imprisonment was applied to the defendants solely because of their political convictions, in the context of instilling in government institutions a policy of discord and fear.
Emphasizing our commitment to purely peaceful means of protesting, we note, however, that the use of violence in response to the disproportionate use of physical force, riot gear or weapons by the authorities, given that the defendants did not intend to inflict unsymbolic material or bodily damage, cannot be considered as an abuse of the right. The crisis of the legal system in the post-election period, the openly selective nature of investigation and justice, with all efforts of government institutions aimed solely at suppressing political and civil rights and freedoms, rather than restoring the violated rights of victims of torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment, forces us to to focus as much as possible on the state's observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Given the above circumstances, we believe that in conditions of imprisonment, the lives and healths of the convicts may be in danger. Therefore, due to the fact that the imprisonment of Uladzislau Yeustsihneyeu and Pavel Piaskou was used in violation of the right to a fair trial; the duration and conditions of imprisonment are clearly disproportionate (inadequate) to the offense of which the said persons were found guilty; the convicts were imprisoned selectively in comparison with other persons, pursuant to paragraphs 2.1, 3.2 a) c) d) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, adopted at the 3rd Belarusian Human Rights Forum, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, consider Uladzislau Yeustsihneyeu and Pavel Piaskou political prisoners and urge the authorities to:
- immediately release them from custody;
- review measures and court decisions taken against them, while respecting the right to a fair trial and eliminating the factors that influenced the sentence.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Documentation Center
Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Belarusian Helsinki Committee