Human rights defenders call to release five more political prisoners

In response to the new cases of conviction and imprisonment on defamatory charges and on charges of insulting the state symbols of Belarus, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, once again reaffirming our repeated demands to decriminalize defamation and refrain from imprisoning individuals for insulting officials, the state, government agencies and symbols (joint statement of December 22, 2020), note the following. We received information about the following persons imprisoned for insulting the president and government officials (police officers): Herman Bykhau – in custody in a pre-trial detention center on charges under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred against another social group, police officers); Siarhei Bobashau – sentenced to two years of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a government official); sent to serve the sentence; Aliaksandr Ahraitsovich – sentenced by the Zavodski District Court of Minsk to two years of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility under Art. 188 of the Criminal Code (defamation); sent to serve the sentence; Dzmitry Babok – sentenced by the Babrujsk District Court to one year in prison under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting the president); Yury Biruk – sentenced by the Maladziečna District Court to one and a half years in prison under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting the president). In this regard, we consider their persecution and imprisonment to be politically motivated, as they are related to the peaceful exercise of freedom expression. The convicts and detainees are therefore political prisoners, in accordance with paragraph 3.1 (a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners. We call on the Belarusian authorities to: immediately release political prisoners Herman Bykhau, Siarhei Bobashau, Aliaksandr Ahraitsovich, Dzmitry Babok, and Yury Biruk and stop the criminal prosecution against them; take measures aimed at decriminalizing defamation offenses and repealing articles of the Criminal Code that provide for liability for insulting the state, state symbols and officials, namely Art. 188, 189, 367, 368, 369, 369-1, 370, 391 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, and to terminate all previously initiated criminal cases under these articles; immediately release all political prisoners and end political repression against the country’s citizens. Human Rights Center "Viasna" Legal Initiative Belarusian Documentation Center Human Constanta Center for Legal Transformation "Lawtrend" Belarusian Helsinki Committee FORB Initiative PEN Belarus

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