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Thursday, June 16, 2005


Amnesty statement on Belarus arrests

From Amnesty International:

The clampdown on all forms of opposition to the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus continues. In a blatant violation of their right to freedom of expression three more opposition politicians have been imprisoned to punish them for organizing peaceful protests over the past two weeks.
Andrei Klimov, Nikolai Statkevich and Pavel Severinets have all been sentenced under Article 342 of the criminal code which outlaws the organizing or participation in public actions that disrupt public order.

On 10 June Andrei Klimov was sentenced to a year and a half of "restricted Freedom" under Article 342 of the criminal code for organizing mass protests in Minsk on 25 March 2005. Andrei Klimov will live in an area outside Minsk under special police surveillance and will perform "community service". Andrei Klimov was released in the courtroom pending his appeal. Investigations are still ongoing under another charge against Andrei Klimov for libel against the president. The date of the court hearing for that charge has yet to be announced.

On 31 May Nikolai Statkevich and Pavel Severinets were sentenced by Minsk Central Distict Court to three years of corrective labour under Article 342 for organizing protests in Minsk after the referendum and elections in October 2004. As a result of an amnesty declared in connection with the 60th anniversary of the Second World War their sentences were automatically reduced to two years. Nikolai Statkevich is already in detention where he is being held for contempt of court, because of his refusal to stand up during the trial, and Pavel Severinets remains at liberty pending an appeal. Nikolai Statkevich has refused to appeal in protest at the injustice of the legal process. Both men have been under constant pressure from the authorities for their opposition activities. Nikolai Statkevich, is chair of the social-democratic opposition party, and Pavel Severinets, is head of the Popular Front youth movement. Amnesty International is concerned over the increased risks citizens face for criticizing the government of Belarus and it is particularly alarming that the authorities have chosen to prosecute these three men under the criminal code as opposed to under the administrative code which carries much lighter sentences. It demonstrates the increasing intolerance towards any form of criticism or dissent by President Lukashenka.

Amnesty International considers Nikolai Statkevich to be a prisoner of conscience and demands his immediate and unconditional release, and asks for the charges against Andrei Klimov and Pavel Severinets to be dropped. Amnesty International will consider all three men to be prisoners of conscience if they are imprisoned or if their freedom is restricted under police surveillance.

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