Belarus: Sentencing and release of Ms. Liudmila Kazak

28/09/2020
Urgent Appeal

New information
BLR 002 / 0920 / OBS 109.1
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment /
Release
Belarus
September 28, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.

New information :

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the sentencing and release of Ms. Liudmila Kazak, a human rights lawyer renowned for her work defending politically motivated cases. Ms. Kazak is notably a defence lawyer in a high profile case brought against a member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council of the Belarus opposition[1] Ms. Maryja Kaliesnikava, who is facing charges under Article 361.3 of the Criminal Code (“calls to actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus”).
According to the information received, in the evening of September 25, 2020, Ms. Kazak was released after Judge Alexander Rudenko of the Court of Oktyabrsky district of Minsk sentenced her to a fine of 675 rubles (approximately 220 euros) under Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code. The Court dropped the initial charge of “participation in an unauthorised mass event”, but found Ms. Kazak guilty of “resisting police officers” while they were arbitrary arresting her, on September 24, without introducing themselves nor explaining the reasons for her arrest (see background information).
The Observatory further calls for the immediate and unconditional release of two other lawyers involved in the Coordination Council and the protection of its members, [2] , who have been arbitrarily detained since September 8, 2020 (see background information).

Background information:

On September 24, 2020, at around 2 pm, Ms. Liudmila Kazak became unreachable on her mobile. Around 7 pm of the same day, Minsk police department spokeswoman Natalia Hanusevich reported to the media that Ms. Kazak was being detained for an administrative offense in one of the police departments of Minsk. Ms. Hanusevich did not specify which were the administrative charges brought against Ms. Kazak.

Ms. Kazak could not get access to her lawyers - Mr. Viktar Matskevich and Ms. Sviatlana Gorbatok - for more than three hours following her arrest. Mr. Viktar Matskevich later confirmed that Ms. Kazak was held at the Okrestina Preliminary Detention Center in Minsk and that two detention protocols were drawn up under Articles 23.34 and 23.4 of the Administrative Code (“participation in an unauthorised mass event” and “disobedience to a police officer”). According to the protocols, on August 30, 2020, Ms. Kazak would have attended an unauthorised mass event on the Pobediteley Avenue, while she denies this information. The witnesses’ names indicated in the protocols were changed, and Ms. Kazak was not given copies of those protocols.

The Human Rights Centre (HRC) Viasna, FIDH’s member-organisation in Belarus, believes that the administrative case against Ms. Kazak was brought by the authorities in order to impede her work on the case of Ms. Kaliesnikava, and even to deprive her of her lawyer status. [3] On September 25, at 11.00 a.m., the Minsk City Court reviewed the complaint against the decision of the Partisanski District Court of Minsk which chose the arrest as a preventive measure against Ms. Kaliesnikava. As a result of the arrest and the charges brought against Ms. Kazak, she was unable to defend her client. Mr. Aliaksandr Pylchenko, another lawyer of Ms. Kaliesnikava, was the only one attending the hearing.

On September 9, two other lawyers involved in the Coordination Council and the protection of its members, Messrs. Maksim Znak and Illia Salei, were also arrested, and subsequently charged under Article 361.3 of the Criminal Code. Both are currently held in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Minsk. Mr. Znak started a hunger strike as a protest against the charges.

The Observatory urges the Belarusian authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Liudmila Kazak, Mr. Maksim Znak and Mr. Illia Salei, and to release Mr. Maksim Znak and Mr. Illia Salei immediately and unconditionally.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Belarus to urge them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Ms. Liudmila Kazak, Mr. Maksim Znak and Mr. Illia Salei, as well as of all other Coordination Council members and human rights lawyers in Belarus;
ii. Release Messrs. Maksim Znak and Illia Salei i mmediately and unconditionally, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing them for their activities as lawyers;
iii. Guarantee the unhindered access of Mr. Maksim Znak and Mr. Illia Salei to lawyers of their choice and their family members;
iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Ms. Liudmila Kazak, Mr. Maksim Znak and Mr. Illia Salei and all other human rights lawyers and human rights defenders in Belarus, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
v. Conform in all circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1, 6 and 12.2;
vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Belarus.

Addresses:

· Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, Email: contact@president.gov.by ;
· Mr. Andrey Shved, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: info@prokuratura.gov.by ;
· Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: kanc@minjust.by ;
· Mr. Vasily Gerasimov, Acting Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: kgk@mail.belpak.by ;
· Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: mission.belarus@ties.itu.int ;
· H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: belgium@mfa.gov.by

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.

***

Geneva-Paris, September 28, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of Pr otectDefenders.eu , the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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[1] The Coordination Council is an alternative political organ created by the Belarus opposition after the widely contested elections in August 2020. For more information, see Joint Letter of OMCT, FIDH, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and Viasna to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture , August 24, 2020, as well as OMCT statement, Belarus: UN Human Rights Council must act to prevent torture , September 18, 2020.
[2] Mr. Maksim Znak is a member of the presidium of the Coordination Council. Mr. Illia Salei is another lawyer defending Ms. Maryja Kaliesnikava.
[3] Local human rights groups point out that in some cases Administrative charges brought against lawyers might be inconsistent with the lawyers’ ethics which could serve a basis for the lawyer’s licence withdrawal.

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