In response to the beginning of the trial of Uladzislau Hulis by the court of the Frunzienski district of Minsk on charges under Part 2 of Art. 339 (hooliganism) and Part 2 of Art. 218 of the Criminal Code (intentional destruction or damage to property, committed in a socially dangerous manner or causing large-scale damage), we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights community, relying on our position on the case set out in a statement of October 29, once again note the following.
Painting the phrase “We Will Not Forget” on the pavement does not constitute hooliganism.
The content of the inscription, the place where it was made (the place of the murder of peaceful protester Aliaksandr Taraikouski), in the context of socio-political events, public debates and political protests taking place in the country in the past three months, indicate that the motive for painting the inscription was expression of opinion on these socially significant topics.
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 he is facing.
In accordance with Art. 19 of the Covenant, everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes 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 their choice. The exercise of this right may impose special duties and special responsibilities. It may, accordingly, be subject to certain restrictions, which, however, must be established by law and be necessary: for respect for the rights and reputation of others, for the protection of public safety, public order, health and morals of the public.
The defendant did not encroach on sacred or historical and cultural values, did not destroy them, and the inscription did not cause irreversible damage to the surface where it appeared. The accused did not use obscene language or hate speech on the grounds of nationality, race, religion or social origin and other grounds.
The inscription “We Will Not Forget” could not cause significant damage or destruction of the sidewalk surface, and the material damage from such an inscription was clearly symbolic.
In our opinion, the clearly overstated amount of damage led to the additional qualification of Uladzislau Hulis's actions under Part 2 of Art. 218 of the Criminal Code - intentional destruction or damage to property committed in a socially dangerous manner or causing damage on a large scale. The maximum penalty provided for this offense is 10 years' imprisonment.
In this context, we consider the imprisonment of Uladzislau Hulis to be politically motivated and Uladzislau Hulis to be a political prisoner 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 Uladzislau Hulis and drop the criminal charges he is facing;
- 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
Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”