Number of political prisoners in Belarus reaches 270

Another eight names have been added to the list being updated by Belarusian human rights defenders since the summer of 2020.

On Wednesday, nine human rights watchdogs issued a joint statement on the back of the detention and charges of ‘group actions which grossly violate public order’ (Article 342-1 of the Criminal Code) brought against Viktoryia Kulsha and the sentencing and detention of Syarhei Mirayeuski, Ryhor Davydau, Alyaksei Berazinski, Uladzimir Rubasheuski, Syarhei Salokha, Marek Siradze, and Vitaliya Bandarenka under Article 293-2 of the Criminal Code (‘rioting’).

They assessed the persecution of the citizens mentioned above as politically motivated, as it is solely connected with the exercise of their freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and recognised them as political prisoners.

“The meetings were peaceful and did not pose a threat to national or public security. Despite this, the demonstrators were attacked by special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs who used disproportionate violence, riot gear and non-lethal weapons,” the statement reads.

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According to its authors, as the demonstrators did not commit any of the actions covered by Art. 293 of the Criminal Code, i.e. setting fires, destroying property or put up armed resistance, they cannot be qualified as mass riots.

“Individual cases of violence against police officers by demonstrators require a separate legal qualification, taking into account the context and circumstances of the use of violence, including in the context of self-defence against knowingly disproportionate actions of police officers,” human rights activists stressed.

The country’s human rights community calls on the authorities to immediately release all the political prisoners and stop their criminal prosecution. As of 4 March, 270 persons have been recognised as prisoners of conscience in Belarus.

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