In response to the new cases of conviction and imprisonment on defamatory charges, 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, government officials (police officers), judges and insulting state symbols:
Aliaksandr Tsialeha – detained and charged under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a government official), taken into custody in a pre-trial detention center;
Uladzislau Shynkovich – sentenced by the Navahrudak District Court to one and a half years of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility under Art. 391 of the Criminal Code (insulting a judge); the convict was sent to serve his sentence;
Siarhei Khavanski – sentenced by the Lieninski District Court of Hrodna to two years of restricted freedom in an open correctional facility under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting the president); the convict was sent to serve his sentence;
Artsiom Kasach – sentenced by the Viciebsk Regional Court (as a result of an appeal against the initial verdict and commutation of the sentence) to one and a half years of restricted freedom in an open institution under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a government official); the convict was sent to serve his sentence;
Yauhen Liutski – sentenced to five years in prison in a closed court session by the Viciebsk Regional Court under Part 1 of Art. 130 of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred on the basis of other social affiliation, i.e. police officers), Part 1 of Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting the president) and Part 1 of Art. 366 (threats of violence against the president aimed at impeding his lawful activities).
In this regard, we consider the persecution and imprisonment of Aliaksandr Tsialeha, Uladzislau Shynkovich, Siarhei Khavanski, Artsiom Kasach and Yauhen Liutski to be politically motivated, as they are related to the peaceful exercise of freedom expression. The convicts 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 Aliaksandr Tsialeha, Uladzislau Shynkovich, Siarhei Khavanski, Artsiom Kasach and Yauhen Liutski 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"
Center for Legal Transformation (Lawtrend)
Belarusian Documentation Center
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Belarusian Association of Journalists