+++187 WOMEN political prisoners in Belarus in custody + 504 WOMEN under partial house arrest+++ 6 MINORS in custody! +++in TOTAL: 1614 political prisoners in custody+++ per 18.02.24

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BWF joined "Joint statement of the belarusian civil society on the political emergency in Belarus and the full number of political prisoners"

Published&Updates: Dissidentby

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 criteria 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.

Declaration principles:

  1. provide visibility and public support to all victims who were deprived of it on the basis of the absence of "political prisoner" status;
  2. with the help of the status of political prisoners, give access to assistance, public protection and subsequent rehabilitation;
  3. the current criteria for recognizing political prisoners were developed in different conditions and do not correspond to the situation of widespread violation of the law in Belarus and the impossibility of a fair trial;
  4. we are not developing new criteria. We suggest taking a different approach for the current unprecedented situation.

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.

To sign the application, send the full name of your initiative/organization and its logo to e-mail: imdissidentby@gmail.com

A detailed justification for the theses of the application is in the appendix.

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:

  • actions of the Interior Ministry officers are often provocative and violent,
  • security officials frequently arrest while wearing balaclavas and clothes without identification marks, as well as without presenting documents confirming their identity and lawfulness of their actions,
  • a citizen does not have a legal opportunity to protect their rights, including the right to self-defense and necessary defense; they do not have a chance to act in the interests of other people subjected to violence either.

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,

  • the judicial branch of power in Belarus is directly subordinate to the regime, which makes it impossible to have a fair trial that would protect rights, freedoms, and would consider such cases without bias,
  • monitoring of trials is difficult, juridical procedures are often closed without a legal reason for that,
  • defendants and relatives do not always have access to the materials of cases; lawyers are being pressured and deprived of their licenses for defending their charges,
  • frequently anonymous persons in balaclavas act as witnesses for the prosecution,
  • criminal cases are widely initiated under articles not related to protest activities in order to hide the political nature of the case (economic articles, financing of extremist activities, hooliganism).

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:

  • 783 - people in custody (in temporary detention facilities, pre-trial detention centers, remand prisons) as suspects or accused under criminal articles in connection with protests; people serving sentences in colonies and prisons;
  • 231 - people sentenced to restriction of freedom with a referral to a correctional institution (probation, ‘chemistry’ in Russian),
  • 7 - house arrest.

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:

  • 187 - people sentenced to restraint of freedom without being sent to a correctional institution (home on probation, ‘house chemistry’ in Russian), including pardoned prisoners, whose sentence was softened by the measure of restraint of freedom without being sent to a correctional institution,
  • 15 - people with recognizance not to leave,
  • 5 - correctional labor / fine,
  • 15 - there is no information about the name or location, but there is information about the articles of the charge and the verdict,
  • 1 - people convicted with a suspended sentence,

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:

  • 38 - released after serving the sentence, as well as released after the investigation due to the closure of the criminal case,
  • 9 - pardoned,
  • 17 - convicts in forced emigration (people who had already been convicted but left the territory of Belarus before or during the serving of their sentence).

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:

  • have the status of a political prisoner at the moment,
  • had the status of a political prisoner, and now the person is not imprisoned anymore (pardoned, released after the investigation due to a closed criminal case, convicts in forced emigration), but was not rehabilitated,
  • people who are not imprisoned, but their freedom is limited by another or unknown measure of punishment.

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:

  • the detention has been imposed in violation of one of the fundamental guarantees set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols (ECHR), in particular freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and association,
  • the detention has been imposed for purely political reasons without connection to any offence,
  • for political motives, the length of the detention or its conditions are clearly out of proportion to the offence the person has been found guilty of or is suspected of,
  • for political motives, he or she is detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other people,
  • the detention is the result of proceedings which were clearly unfair, and this appears to be connected with political motives of the authorities.”

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?

  1. The status of a political prisoner affects how the international human rights and political community perceives prisoners, who were imprisoned for their protest activity. Few foreign politicians and organizations know all the nuances of the political situation in Belarus. Many of them are unaware of the illegal and violent detentions of the civilians. Such detentions force people to defend themselves and save their lives. In the minds of foreign politicians and organizations, the status of a political prisoner significantly distinguishes, for example, an unjustly convicted prisoner who used self-defense in conditions of legal default, from a prisoner’s case with no political component. Thus, the status of a political prisoner gives credibility to detainees and the opportunity to be the object of advocacy and humanitarian assistance.
  2. Belarusian human rights organizations call on the international community to demand the release of political prisoners, and before that, at least, to satisfy their right to receive timely and full medical assistance. All politically persecuted Belarusians and citizens of other countries who are in places of detention should receive liberation and medical care. But if they are currently not recognized as political prisoners, they are excluded from the chance to be released and to get medical care.
  3. Recognition as a political prisoner removes the stigma of a “criminal” from the prisoner, returns the person their good name and solidarity of the world democratic community. This becomes a base for campaigns of solidarity with the prisoner, writing letters to places of detention, supporting their families and loved ones. Such actions preserve the psychological health of a person, support their spirit.
  4. The deliberate attention of the world community to political prisoners signals the regime that its actions are being watched and all illegal actions will be recorded in order to bring the perpetrators to justice. This protects the political prisoner from outrageous acts of cruelty and violence of repressive structures.
  5. Recognition of a person as a political prisoner influences the process of the person's rehabilitation after imprisonment. An ordinary criminal article significantly complicates the subsequent socialization of a person. This is an additional burden for a person who has already suffered for their views or the struggle for democratic freedoms. The status of a political prisoner is not reprehensible in the process of returning to a normal life.
  6. The current quantitative indicator of political prisoners is an indicator of the scale of repression and thus is a powerful argument for the world community and democratic political forces. Therefore, it is imperative to register each and every person who is imprisoned or seriously affected by the persecution of the authorities.

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 criteria 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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