Belarusian human rights defenders consider blogger Tsikhanouski political prisoner

On May 31, human rights centre Viasna (Spring) recognised popular blogger and might-have-been presidential candidate Syarhei Tsikhanouski as political prisoner.

Syarhei Tsikhanouski.
Photo: Vasil Malchanau / Belsat

Last Friday, during a peaceful picket in Hrodna to collect signatures in support of the presidential nomination of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the police arrested Syarhei Tsikhanouski, her husband and head of the nomination group, and at least 15 picketers. Notably, a wannabe presidential candidate does not have to get permission from the authorities for holding such a pre-election picket.

According to the human rights watchdog, the arrest took place after clearly illegal interference of police officers in people’s communication with Tsikhanouski.

On May 30, the Interior Ministry initiated criminal investigation into an alleged act of violence against police officers. At the moment, Tsikhanouski and seven other detainees are known to be kept in the detention centre in Minsk.

It is not the first time that the blogger has faced persecution, Viasna stressed.

“According to paragraph 3.1 of the Guidelines on the definition of a political prisoner, approved by the Belarusian human rights community at the 3rd Human Rights Forum, imprisonment of a person in connection with the non-violent exercise of freedoms guaranteed by international human rights law is grounds for recognizing such a person as a political person and calling for their immediate release. This allows us to state that the criminal prosecution of Syarhei Tsikhanouski is politically motivated, and Tsikhanouski himself is a political prisoner,” the statement reads.

The representatives of Belarusian human rights organisations have called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release Siarhei Tsikhanouski and stop his criminal prosecution.

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In early May, Tsikhanouski, the author of Youtube channel Страна Для Жизни ( A Country for Life) staged meetings with the subscribers in several Belarusian cities and towns. The local authorities made attempts to thwart the events; later, many participants were detained or summoned to the police.

While serving a 15-day jail term for participating in unauthorised mass events, the blogger revealed his presidential ambitions. However, the Belarusian Central Election Commission refused to register his initiative group, referring to the alleged violation of the submission procedure. As Syarhei Tsikhanouski was in custody at that moment, all the necessary documents were signed and filed by his wife Svyatlana. Although CEC officials admitted that the candidature of Tsikhanouski met the requirements of the electoral law, he was turned down. According to them, only a person who intends to campaign for the presidency must sign the documents.

On the back of the situation, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya managed to get her initiative group registered instead; it consists of 252 members. To officially become a presidential candidate, the woman will have to collect 100,000 signatures until June, 19. The names of the candidates will be announced in mid July, and the election will be held on August, 9.

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