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Kalesnikava, Znak and Salei are new political prisoners

(September 10, 2020)


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On September 9, the authorities arrested Maryia Kalesnikava, a member of the presidium of the Coordination Council for Resolving the Political Crisis, lawyer Maksim Znak and lawyer Illia Salei. Their apartments were searched and the detainees were taken to the Investigative Committee for questioning.

On September 7, Maryia Kalesnikava was abducted by unknown persons in central Minsk.

According to later reports, she, along with two other members of the Coordinating Council, Anton Radniankou and Ivan Krautsou, was forcibly brought to the Ukrainian border to be expelled from the country.

However, by tearing her passport and jumping out of the car, Kalesnikava foiled an operation organized by the Belarusian security services aimed at expelling disloyal citizens abroad. After that, for about 14 hours, nothing was known about Kalesnikava whereabouts.

On September 9, the Investigative Committee officially announced that “the Main Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee is continuing the investigation of the criminal case initiated by the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Belarus under Part 3 of Art. 361 of the Criminal Code (appeals to actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus). With regard to the suspects, a measure of restraint in the form of detention was chosen for Maryia Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak. Illia Salei was also detained on suspicion of committing the crime (Part 3 of Article 361 of the Criminal Code).”

We strongly disagree with this legal qualification of the actions of Kalesnikava, Znak and Salei, and all members of the Coordination Council as a whole, as we consider it artificial, biased, essentially inconsistent with the nature and objectives of the Council and clearly politically motivated.

The Coordination Council was established on the initiative of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya with an aim of overcoming the political crisis and ensuring harmony in society, as well as to protect the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Belarus. Members of the Coordination Council and its presidium, in particular, have repeatedly stated publicly that the purpose of the Council is to participate in the negotiation process between the people and the government to resolve the political crisis in the country after the non-transparent and unfree presidential elections.

It was the presidential elections, which were marred by numerous violations of electoral law and international standards for free and democratic elections, that caused outrage among the public and led to a complete devaluation of power and loss of legitimacy of Lukashenka as the legitimately elected President in the eyes of the majority of society.

Numerous peaceful protests that took place after the elections in Minsk and other cities and towns across the country were attacked by members of the Interior Ministry’s special forces with disproportionate use of physical force, riot gear and weapons. As a result, for the first time in the history of independent Belarus, hundreds of citizens were injured and at least three demonstrators were killed by direct police action.

A particular outrage in the society was caused by the numerous cases of police-related torture of citizens detained during the demonstrations.

All this further strengthened the distrust and negative attitude of the society to the authorities in general and to Lukashenka in particular.

In these circumstances, in order to de-escalate the situation and negotiate a way out of the obvious political crisis, the Coordination Council was created, which included more than 700 representatives of various circles of Belarusian society: cultural figures, businessmen, politicians, etc.

They did not take any measures, including public appeals to seize state power, let alone forcible change of the constitutional order of the Republic of Belarus or committing terrorist acts, sabotage and other actions that could harm the country’s national security.

Expressing one’s opinion and demanding a dialogue between society and the authorities cannot be a crime in a democratic society.

It should be noted that from the very beginning of its establishment, the Coordination Council has been negatively perceived by the country’s leadership and personally by Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who on August 18 said that its activities were illegal, as the Council allegedly “attempted to seize power”. Two days after the statement, on August 20, the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Belarus opened a criminal case under Art. 361 of the Criminal Code.

We are convinced that the criminal prosecution of Maryia Kalesnikava, Maksim Znak and Illia Salei is politically motivated, as it is only aimed at affecting or stopping their legal activities.

In addition, the absolutely illegal approaches demonstrated by the Belarusian secret services (kidnapping and attempted forcible deportation of Kalesnikava in continuation of the same illegal practices earlier applied to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Volha Kavalkova), as well as threats of physical violence, which were expressed in relation to Kalesnikava in the Minsk office of the Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption, further emphasize the political and illegal nature of this persecution.

Based on this and, guided by paragraphs 2.1, 3.1 a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, adopted at the 3rd Belarusian Human Rights Forum, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, consider Maryia Kalesnikava, Maksim Znak and Illia Salei political prisoners and insist on:

  • the immediate release of Maryia Kalesnikava, Maksim Znak and Illia Salei from custody;
  • the immediate cessation of repression against citizens, as well as the release of all political prisoners;.

Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Belarusian Helsinki Committee

Belarusian PEN Center

Initiative Group “Identity and Law”

Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”

Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House

Belarusian Association of Journalists

FORB Initiative

Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Belarusian Documentation Center

Legal Initiative

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