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(Washington, D.C.) – Amnesty International today urged Belarusian authorities to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of the prisoners of conscience within the country. The human rights organization wrote to the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Belarus, calling on him to investigate the legality of their sentences and health concerns amidst reports of prisoner harassment.
One year ago on August 4, prominent human rights defender Ales Bialiatski was arrested in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. He was sentenced to four and a half years for tax evasion charges. Amnesty International considers the sentence to be politically motivated and has declared him a prisoner of conscience.
There are a number of individuals in the country, who have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for their political views or human rights activities, though it is a direct violation of their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
Besides Ales Bialiatski, four other prisoners of conscience are in detention in connection with their peaceful participation in a 2010 demonstration, with sentences of two to six years in prison. All citizens must be able to engage freely in legitimate civil society activity without the threat of intimidation, arrest or detention.
Additionally, prisoners often face harassment and intimidation—tactics used to force them to confess or to apply for pardons. Those who refuse to do so are often subjected to even harsher treatment and may face additional criminal charges. These individuals are repeatedly placed in ‘punishment cells’ and fellow inmates are reportedly advised not to communicate with them.
Amnesty International calls on the Belarusian authorities to ensure the physical and psychological well-being of those in custody is protected and adequate medical treatment is provided to all prisoners in accordance with national legislation and the international human rights obligations of Belarus.
Three prisoners of conscience, Zmitser Dashkevich, Syarhei Kavalenka and Eduard Lobau, have been labeled ‘malignant violators’ of the prisoner rules, an offense that results in the loss of privileges such as the reduction of the number and duration of family visits and the delivery of fewer parcels, pieces of mail and money transfers. Prisoners of conscience must never be pressured into signing confessions or seeking pardons.
The human rights organization reminds the Belarusian authorities that under international law members of the civil society, including members of the opposition, should be allowed to gather peacefully and express their views openly, without the threat or fear of arbitrary arrest or ill-treatment. All prisoners of conscience must be released immediately and unconditionally.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.