Amnesty International condemns new charges against Siarhei Tsikhanouski
As the presidential election on 9 August approaches in Belarus, the authorities are stepping up their crackdown on all dissent without pause. On 30 July, they announced a new criminal investigation against prominent video blogger and opposition politician Siarhei Tsikhanouski.
He is accused of “incitement of racial, ethnic, religious or other social hatred, committed by a group or causing death or other severe consequences” under Article 130(3) of the Criminal
Code of the Republic of Belarus. If found guilty, he faces between five and twelve years of imprisonment. Details of the accusations are secret, but information available to Amnesty International indicates that these charges are fabricated with the sole purpose of stopping Tsikhanouski’s and his wife Svyatlana’s legitimate political activities.
This case is a part of a larger campaign targeting the activist, his supporters, bloggers, and government critics.
The first case in this campaign was opened under Article 342(1) of the Criminal Code: “organization of group actions that gravely breached public order and involved obvious disobedience to lawful demands of authorities or disrupted work of transportation, businesses, institutions or organizations, or active participation in these”. It is increasingly apparent that Tsikhanouski’s case has been fabricated by the authorities to ensure that their most prominent critics and opponents are locked up, together with their supporters. On the other hand, the nature of the overly broad and vague charges used in these cases allows the authorities potentially to press charges against any political opponent, and the list of alleged suspects who have been remanded is growing.
When Amnesty International first commented on the case in its statement “Belarus: Growing Crackdown on Human Rights Ahead of Presidential Election”, ten individuals had been named as criminal suspects, and placed under arrest. Currently, the list includes at least 15 prisoners of conscience—that is, persons who have been deprived of their liberty solely for attempting to peacefully exercise their human rights. They are: Aliaksandr Aranovich, Dzmitry Furmanau, Aliaksandr Kabanau, Dzmitry Kazlou, Uladzimir Kniha, Ihar Losik, Andrey Novikov, Uladzimir Niaronski, Siarhei Piatrukhin, Yauhen Raznichenka, Artsiom Sakau, Siarhei Sparysh, Mikalai Statkevich, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, and Uladzimir Tsyhanovich. Three more activists, Vasil Babrouski, Uladzimir Navumik, and Viarhili Ushak, have been released, but charges against them have not been dropped.
Any other individual who may be arrested as another suspect in the case, and similarly without having committed any internationally recognizable criminal offence, will be regarded by Amnesty International a prisoner of conscience.