In response to the imprisonment of Maryia Safonava and Andrei Sysun, earlier sentenced to two and three months in prison, respectively, under Art. 341 of the Criminal Code (desecration of buildings and damage to property), we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, note the following.
On November 12, 2020, the Lieninski District Court of Minsk sentenced Maryia Safonava to two months in prison under Art. 341 of the Criminal Code (desecration of buildings and damage to property).
The court found Maryia Safonava guilty of writing “Long Live Belarus” and spray-painting white-red-white flags on the door of a utility building, on trash cans, on the sidewalk and on light posts in several locations in Minsk, which allegedly reduced the aesthetic characteristics of these structures and caused the need for re-painting these elements and resurfacing the sidewalk, which resulted in property damage to a number of enterprises.
Andrei Sysun was found guilty of committing a crime under Art. 341 of the Criminal Code by the court of Viliejka district and sentenced to three months in prison. According to the court verdict, Andrei Sysun damaged the property by writing “Long Live Belarus”, “Luka, Go Away!” and “3%” on the entrance door of a residential building, on paved tiles, on the stairs and on electric cabinets inside the building, which allegedly caused property damage in the amount of 167 rubles.
In this regard, we once again stress that in the context of the recent socio-political events, including the post-election protests, the motives of the graffiti were expressing opinions on these socially important topics.
The acts cannot be viewed as desecration of buildings with cynical graffiti and accordingly cannot be qualified under Art. 341 of the Criminal Code.
We believe that this form of expression falls under the protection of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has nothing to do with the charges.
In accordance with Art. 19 of the Covenant, everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. The exercise of this right carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) for respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
The accused did not encroach on sacred or historical and cultural values, did not destroy them. The graffiti themselves do not contain obscene language or language of hostility and hatred on the grounds of nationality, race, religion or social origin and other characteristics. The defendants also testified that they did not intend to call for violence.
The graffiti could not and did not lead to the significant damage or destruction of structures, and the material damage from such inscriptions was clearly symbolic.
In this context, we consider the imprisonment of Maryia Safonava and Andrei Sysun to be politically motivated, and Maryia Safonava and Andrei Sysun are therefore political prisoners in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners.
In this regard, we, representatives of human rights organizations in Belarus, call to:
- immediately and unconditionally release Maryia Safonava and Andrei Sysun from custody and terminate their criminal prosecution;
- immediately release all political prisoners and put an end to political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Identity and Law