HRDs call to release political prisoners held on rioting charges
Following reports about the arrest of activists of the campaign headquarters of former presidential nominee Viktar Babaryka — Liavon Khalatran, Anton Bialinski, Ihar Bialinski, Andrei Pazniak, Siarhei Mikhayenka, Yury Vaskrasenski, Artur Vaskrasenski, Ihar Yarmolau, Artsiom Moladau, Aliaksandra Moladava and Uladzislau Karenski — as suspects in a criminal case under Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (mass riots), we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, 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 democracies 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 presidential election, which was marred by numerous violations and fraud, and was not recognized by the international community as democratic, fair and free.
Meetings of citizens were peaceful and did not pose a threat to national or public security. Despite this, the demonstrators were attacked by special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs who used disproportionate violence, riot gear and non-lethal weapons.
For the first time in the history of Belarus, rubber bullets and water cannons were used against peaceful demonstrators. A particularly large amount of damage was inflicted by the use of stun grenades.
In its statement of August 10, 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 the actions covered by Art. 293 of the Criminal Code and accordingly cannot be qualified as mass riots. The protesters did not set fires, destroy property or put up armed resistance to law enforcement agencies.
Individual cases of violence against police officers by demonstrators require a separate legal qualification, taking into account the context and circumstances of the use of violence, including in the context of self-defense against knowingly disproportionate actions of police officers.
We consider the persecution of Liavon Khalatran, Anton Bialinski, Ihar Bialinski, Andrei Pazniak, Siarhei Mikhayenka, Yury Vaskrasenski, Artur Vaskrasenski, Ihar Yarmolau, Artsiom Moladau, Aliaksandra Moladava and Uladzislau Karenski who were arrested as suspects under Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (mass riots) to be politically motivated, as it is solely linked to the exercise of their freedom of peaceful assembly and expression related to the announced results of the presidential election and are calling them political prisoners.
In this regard, we call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately release political prisoners Liavon Khalatran, Anton Bialinski, Ihar Bialinski, Andrei Pazniak, Siarhei Mikhayenka, Yury Vaskrasenski, Artur Vaskrasenski, Ihar Yarmolau, Artsiom Moladau, Aliaksandra Moladava and Uladzislau Karenski and to drop the charges they are facing;
- immediately release all political prisoners, as well as citizens detained in connection with the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly in the post-election period, and end political repression against the country's citizens.
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”
Belarusian PEN Center
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities