In response to the pre-trial detention, indictment and sentencing under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (group actions grossly violating public order) of Mikhail Firaha, Viachaslau Papou, and Vital Shytsikau and under Part 2 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (mass riots) of Valiantsin Kolb, Vadzim Chapialevich, and Ihar Harchaniuk, reaffirming the position set out in the joint statement by the 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 a democratic society 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.
The meetings 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 any of 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 assess the persecution of Mikhail Firaha, Viachaslau Papou, Vital Shytsikau, Valiantsin Kolb, Vadzim Chapialevich, and Ihar Harchaniuk as politically motivated, as it is related solely to their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and recognize them as political prisoners.
In this regard, we call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately release political prisoners Mikhail Firaha, Viachaslau Papou, Vital Shytsikau, Valiantsin Kolb, Vadzim Chapialevich, and Ihar Harchaniuk and stop their criminal prosecution;
- immediately release all political prisoners, as well as other individuals detained in connection with their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly in the post-election period, and end political repression in the country.
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Barys Zvoskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Center for Legal Transformation "Lawtrend"
Belarusian Documentation Center