With this statement, we draw public attention to the full number of political prisoners and politically persecuted Belarusians who participated in the protests related to the presidential elections in the Republic of Belarus in 2020; and also, we highlight the conflict in the mechanism of recognition of "political prisoners", which is currently used.
Hundreds of Belarusians who are currently in custody or arrested because of their political position have not been recognized as political prisoners on the basis of charges of violence / crime against individuals (often against law enforcement officials) or property. However, in connection with the existing repressive political situation in Belarus, we insist on the need to change the approach to the recognition of political prisoners. The approach for the criterias that are currently used were not designed to function in a situation of forcible retention of power and law in default. Whereas, people who have suffered for trying to defend themselves, prevent violence or forcible retention of power, suffered from illegal actions of power structures and the impossibility of a fair trial (de facto ban of access to justice by the regime) should be recognized as political prisoners in order to ensure them and their families with the necessary human rights and humanitarian support as well as subsequent rehabilitation.
Given the above circumstances, we insist on the use of the principle of the presumption of innocence in matters of recognition as a political prisoner. In accordance with this principle, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty of a crime committed in the manner prescribed by law, in a judicial power and judicial proceeding that function independently in a democratic state.
We declare that at the time of this writing, there are more than 1021 political prisoners in the Republic of Belarus (the number is indicated for October 22, 2021). This number is not finite and requires constant updating, given the ongoing repression. The starting point for determining the status of “political prisoner” or “political prisoner” is a criminal case initiated in connection with protest activities and leading to imprisonment or restriction of liberty with sentence to a correctional institution. In addition, with regard to 287 people more, we propose to use the status of “subjected to politically motivated persecution”.
Our goal is to make visible to the public every political prisoner and victim of politically motivated persecution, and to provide them with the necessary assistance.
We invite the media and other specialized organizations to use the full number of political prisoners in their publications and reports.
We invite other human rights organizations to join this statement.
A detailed justification for the theses of the application is in the appendix.
Delegates of the SHOD: Elena Alexandrovna Badyulya (Minsk, Frunzenskii-Geroiski), Rakhmetolla Rakhimzhanovich Baytasov (Minsk, Sevastopolski), Alexander Blazhevich (Svetlahirski Raionny), Sergey Alexandrovich Borodich (Minsk, Frunzenskii-Kuntsevski), Sergey Vitalyevich Dubina (Lyakhavitski), Alexander Yeremin (Borisovski Central), Isidovich Elena (Minsk Rogowski), Kalbun Denis Kazimirovich (Zavodsky-Angarsky), Kravchenko Anna (Minsk Moscow Sapegovsky), Lozovik Dmitry Anatolyevich (Minsk-Moscow Petrovschinsky), Masiuk Natalia Nikolaevna (Slutsky Stationary), Mikhalap Vladimir Vladimirovich (Bobruisk Furniture Factory)
Appendix to the statement No. 1: Political situation in the Republic of Belarus and theses of the statement
Throughout the entire period of its rule, the Belarusian regime used the instrument of political persecution in order to forcibly retain power. Active political opponents of Alexander Lukashenko were killed or disappeared, among them Yuri Zakharenko, Viktor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky. Many activists, human rights defenders and independent journalists were tortured, prosecuted and imprisoned on fabricated criminal charges. Therefore, political prisoners have always been there in Belarus as a result of political purges.
Then, using manipulation and the forced release of political prisoners in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions, the regime managed to maintain relations with the democratic world. However, the events associated with the presidential elections in Belarus in 2020, and the subsequent blatant violence and extermination of civil society, created an unprecedented political, legal and social environment in the country.
The open illegal actions of the regime, such as detentions of presidential candidates on trumped-up criminal cases, massive administrative arrests, numerous violations at polling stations - have led to the collapse of law in the country. As a result, by executing the illegal orders, the courts, law enforcement agencies, the presidential security service, the KGB, security forces, even such structures as communal services and the Ministry of Emergency Situations and housing became a means of mass political repression for elimination of protest activity.
From August 2020 on, an overuse of violence, weapons, and torture against citizens has been recorded. Despite Belarus has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the regime does not fulfill its international obligations, moreover, it openly violates them.
At least 4 people (Alexander Taraikovsky, Gennady Shutov, Roman Bondarenko, Dmitry Stakhovsky) are confirmed to die as a result of the use of physical, psychological violence or weapons by the security forces. 5 more deaths at a minimum are associated with the actions or inaction of the security forces.
As a result of the incessant repression, tens of thousands of citizens fled Belarus. Tens of thousands have suffered and continue to become victims of illegal detentions and arrests, extrajudicial crackdown, criminal sentences with disproportionately severe penalties. According to the Investigative Committee, more than 4,600 cases have been opened related to protest activity, of which only about 30% of them are known to the public.
Based on the above and considering the political and legal context of Belarus, we as human rights defenders, independent humanitarian initiatives and activists, journalists and representatives of civil society, declare the need to introduce a new approach to the recognition of political prisoners.
Taking into account that the main controversial point in the recognition of political prisoners is the issue of the use of violence, we insist that in the context of the current political situation in Belarus it is necessary to consider and proceed from the fact that:
The right to life, personal liberty and security, along with other rights, are defined by the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Still,
Trials in politically motivated cases do not comply with either the norms of international law established by the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, nor national legislation. These cases are clearly discriminatory in nature, associated with the political persecution of a person because of his / her beliefs, views and attempts to express disagreement with the regime. Thus, the trial is declarative, fictitious, and does not aim at a fair, impartial and objective consideration of the case.
Considering the above, we insist on the use of the presumption of innocence principle while recognizing a person as a political prisoner. In accordance with this principle, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty of a crime committed in the manner prescribed by law. Recognizing the direct dependence of the judiciary on the regime and the use of violence to put pressure on prisoners, we argue that judicial proceedings in politically motivated cases are not legitimate. Namely, that the cases of the defendants are not considered impartially and independently within the law. The report of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus dated July 30, 2021 about 4,691 criminal cases opened during the period of protest activity confirms their political nature and, as a result, bias in investigations.
In fact, striving to retain power illegally, the regime has been using violence against the people of Belarus, and grossly violating human rights. But basing on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, namely
"Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, "
we believe that political prisoners are also the people who have resisted, defending their rights and democratic values, while opposing a more serious crime, (in accordance with the doctrine of "lesser evil").
We declare that at the time of publication of this text there are more than 1021 political prisoners in the Republic of Belarus (the number is indicated for October 22, 2021). The starting point for the “political prisoner” status determination is a criminal case initiated in connection with protest activities and leading to imprisonment or restriction of liberty with the referral to a correctional facility.
This number is not final in view of the above-mentioned message of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus dated July 30, 2021, as well as the ongoing repressions. In addition, the number of political prisoners requires constant updating.
Currently, among these 1021 political prisoners are:
In addition, for another 287 people, we propose to use the status of “subjected to politically motivated persecution”. All of them are now or were under criminal circumstances in connection with protest activities. Their cases must be reviewed within the framework of the law and a fair trial, and in the future, these people must be rehabilitated. This number includes people who are not imprisoned, but their freedom is limited by another or unknown measure of punishment:
either people who were prosecuted in connection with protest activities, and they were "conditionally released" (their lives are under the supervision of the regime) or escaped serving their sentences, but continue to be under political persecution:
In total, the number of 1308 (1021+287) people includes all people who have been prosecuted by the state and who we are aware of. The categories are:
Data about these people was obtained through their relatives, friends, journalists, media, initiatives and organizations that are involved in helping victims after the events related to the presidential elections in Belarus.
In our vision of the situation, we rely on the definition of a political prisoner by PACE, namely “A person deprived of his or her personal liberty is to be regarded as a 'political prisoner' if:
In our opinion, the decision on recognition as a political prisoner, as well as a subjected to politically motivated persecution, should be made based on the presumption of consent, when the case meets the criteria above. This decision is made in order to ensure the safety of prisoners who may be pressured if the decision and subsequent actions in their protection and support depend on them or their relatives.
Why is the status of a political prisoner important?
Thus, the status of a “political prisoner”, as well as the recognition of politically motivated prosecution in a criminal case, will provide the necessary support to the victims, as well as strengthen the human rights and humanitarian work of civil society in the existing political crisis in Belarus.
Appendix to the statement No. 2: On the criteria for the status of “political prisoner” set out in the “Guidelines for the definition of the term“ political prisoner”
We declare that the approach for the criterias of the Guidelines on Definition of “Political Prisoner”, which were developed by a working group of human rights defenders from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Ukraine, are not being used adequately in the present situation. Based on part 1. paragraph 3.3.a, according to which the prisoners are currently granted the status of “political”, such as:
“3.3. A person is not to be regarded as a political prisoner, if, under the above circumstances, the person has committed:
a violent offence against persons, except in cases of self-defense or extreme necessity”.
And further part 2. paragraph 3.3a:
“It is important whether their guilt was established in court in compliance with standards for the right to a fair trial,”
we declare the following: if we recognize that in the conditions of real repression and the subordination of the judiciary to the regime, a fair trial does not take place, and in order to confirm this thesis, we rely on all judicial proceedings and disproportionate penalties associated with the presidential elections in the Republic of Belarus in 2020; as well as on recognition by the Investigative Committee that 4,691 criminal cases were opened during the period of protest activity; as well as the evidence for violent and unlawful detentions (in balaclavas without identification marks and certificates), which is defined as “public authorities may deliberately ignore the circumstances that justify the necessary self-defense or extreme necessity”. Then, we declare that it is necessary to recognize the presence of political motives of the authorities in all cases related to protest activities and, as a result, to reconsider some of them in order to give the accused and convicted persons the status of a “political prisoner”.
And further, quoting part 2. paragraph 3.3a:
“Justifiable self-defense is the legitimate protection of the human person and rights of the defendant and others, as well as of the legally protected interests of society and the state, from a socially dangerous assault by inflicting harm on the attacker. The main distinguishing feature of self-defense, differentiating it from other circumstances precluding criminality, is that the harm is inflicted on the attacker not on others. For example, such defense can be seen in situations where law enforcement officers use clearly unlawful actions, operating, inter alia, in accordance with an illegal order.”
If we take into account the forcible retention of power by the regime, as well as legal default; the brutal violence of the security forces against peaceful demonstrators; as well as disproportionate violence by law enforcement officers against demonstrators who responded to violations of their rights by using violence against representatives of people who forcibly hold power after the presidential elections; and the ongoing political harassment of protesters - such actions are illegal and obviously politically motivated.
These circumstances transform all criminal cases with the use of necessary defense and violence, happened in connection with the presidential elections of the Republic of Belarus in 2020, in cases of extreme necessity or, at least, of politically motivated, and cases involving imprisonment have grounds to be considered in terms of status "political prisoners".
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