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  • Journalists Padabed and Lazarau recognised as political prisoners

    Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community

    On Jan­u­ary 20, 2023, jour­nal­ist Pavel Pad­abed was arrest­ed. On the same day, his house was searched and his com­put­er and oth­er media were con­fis­cat­ed. The jour­nal­ist was then sen­tenced to 15 days of admin­is­tra­tive impris­on­ment under Arti­cle 19.11 of the Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es (“Dis­trib­ut­ing extrem­ist mate­ri­als”), which he served in the pre-tri­al deten­tion cen­ter of the Min­sk dis­trict. On Feb­ru­ary 4, 2023, the day he com­plet­ed his sen­tence, Mr. Podobed was not released and was trans­ferred to the Min­sk pre-tri­al deten­tion cen­ter No. 1. Sub­se­quent­ly, a crim­i­nal case was opened under Arti­cle 361–4 of the Crim­i­nal Code (“Pro­mot­ing extrem­ist activ­i­ties”).

    Mr. Padobed is a cam­era­man who worked with inde­pen­dent media. Pre­vi­ous­ly, the jour­nal­ist had been detained sev­er­al times while cov­er­ing polit­i­cal protests in Belarus, includ­ing after 2020.

    On the evening of Feb­ru­ary 9, 2023, the police in Vicieb­sk arrest­ed the jour­nal­ist Viachaslau Laza­rau fol­low­ing a search of his home, dur­ing which cell phones and a video cam­era were con­fis­cat­ed. 

    On the same day, Mr. Laza­rau’s wife’s reg­is­tered res­i­dence was also searched. Mr. Laza­rau was tak­en to the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee and for almost a day his rel­a­tives did not receive any infor­ma­tion about him. On Feb­ru­ary 11, 2023, his rel­a­tives learned that the jour­nal­ist had been kept in the deten­tion cen­ter in Vicieb­sk. Lat­er it became known that Mr. Laza­rau was charged under Part 1 of Arti­cle 364–1 of the Crim­i­nal Code (“Pro­mot­ing extrem­ist activ­i­ties”).

    Mr. Laza­rau is a free­lance jour­nal­ist. He was pre­vi­ous­ly arrest­ed in 2020 while cov­er­ing protests.

    The over­ly broad and vague def­i­n­i­tion of “extrem­ist activ­i­ty” in Belaru­sian leg­is­la­tion allows the author­i­ties to manip­u­late the word­ing to unlaw­ful­ly restrict the right to infor­ma­tion, free­dom of speech, and free­dom of asso­ci­a­tion. Since 2021, the pub­li­ca­tions of inde­pen­dent media have been arbi­trar­i­ly rec­og­nized as “extrem­ist mate­ri­als” and the media them­selves have been declared “extrem­ist for­ma­tions”. One of the most egre­gious forms of harass­ment is the crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists for “belong­ing to an extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion or pro­mot­ing extrem­ist activ­i­ties”.

    We, the under­signed orga­ni­za­tions, con­sid­er the actions tak­en against Mr. Pavel Pad­abed and Mr. Viachaslau Laza­rau as a con­tin­u­a­tion of the tar­get­ed pol­i­cy of the author­i­ties to lim­it the dis­sem­i­na­tion of uncen­sored infor­ma­tion in the coun­try and a con­tin­u­a­tion of the attack on free­dom of speech. In the wake of the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, dozens of NGO and media web­sites in Belarus have been blocked, a num­ber of print media have been closed, and jour­nal­ists and employ­ees of the Belaru­sian media sec­tor have been impris­oned.

    Under these cir­cum­stances, we believe that the crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of Mr. Pad­abed and Mr. Laza­rau is polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed and aimed at stop­ping or chang­ing the nature of his legit­i­mate pub­lic activ­i­ties in the sphere of non-vio­lent exer­cise of free­dom of expres­sion and dis­sem­i­na­tion of infor­ma­tion. Based on the above and guid­ed by para­graphs 2.1 and 3.1 of the Guide­lines on the Def­i­n­i­tion of Polit­i­cal Pris­on­ers adopt­ed at the III Belaru­sian Human Rights Forum, we, human rights defend­ers, rec­og­nize Mr. Pad­abed and Mr. Laza­rau as polit­i­cal pris­on­ers and demand:

    • imme­di­ate release of Mr. Pad­abed and Mr. Laza­rau and ter­mi­na­tion of their crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion;

    • refrain­ing from using crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion as an instru­ment of pres­sure on free­dom of expres­sion, or oth­er rights and free­doms;

    • imme­di­ate­ly release of all polit­i­cal pris­on­ers, as well as oth­er indi­vid­u­als detained in con­nec­tion with their exer­cise of free­dom of peace­ful assem­bly in the post-elec­tion peri­od, and ter­mi­na­tion of polit­i­cal repres­sion in the coun­try.

    Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists

    Belaru­sian Helsin­ki Com­mit­tee


    Human Rights Cen­ter Vias­na

    Barys Zvozskau Belaru­sian Human Rights House

    Legal Ini­tia­tive

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