Following reports about criminal charges brought against Siarhei Kryuchenia, Artsiom Miadzvedski, Yauhen Kurhanau, and Dzmitry Zheburtovich under Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (mass riots), as well as against Mikalai Dziadok, Aliaksei Samusenka, Kim Samusenka, and Pavel Drozd under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (group actions that grossly breach public order), reaffirming our position set out in the joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community of August 10, 2020, we 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 also note that the qualification of the actions of Kim Samusenka and Pavel Drozd under Art. 349 of the Criminal Code (unauthorized access to computer information), according to current legislation, can not be grounds for pre-trial detention.
We assess the persecution of Siarhei Kryuchenia, Artsiom Miadzvedski, Yauhen Kurhanau, Dzmitry Zheburtovich, Mikalai Dziadok, Aliaksei Samusenka, Kim Samusenka, and Pavel Drozd, who were charged under Art. 293 ("mass riots") and Art. 342 of the Criminal Code ("group actions grossly violating public order"), as politically motivated persecution in connection with their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression related to the official results of the presidential election and recognize them as political prisoners.
In this regard, we call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately release political prisoners Siarhei Kryuchenia, Artsiom Miadzvedski, Yauhen Kurhanau, Dzmitry Zheburtovich, Mikalai Dziadok, Aliaksei Samusenka, Kim Samusenka, and Pavel Drozd and drop the charges they are facing;
- immediately release all political prisoners, as well as all individuals 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 Documentation Center
Initiative Group “Identity and Law”
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Helsinki Committee