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Joint Statement of Belarusian Political Parties Against Politically Motivated Criminal Prosecution on the Ground of Party Membership

23.01.2021

Six Belarusian political parties made a joint statement on usage of a party membership card as prosecution evidence in the criminal case of Vitold Ashurak, the BPF Party National Board member.

On January 18, 2021, the Lida District Court found Vitold Ashurak, the BPF Party National Board member, guilty and sentenced him to 5 years of imprisonment for participation in protest actions against rigged presidential elections in August 2020.

Vitold Ashurak’s case has become continuation of a large-scale repression campaign against political opponents of authoritarian rule, dissidents and civil society activists. Together with journalists, human rights defenders, bloggers and participants of peaceful protests, political parties’ activists have been targeted with repressions from the very beginning of the last year’s election campaign. Leaders and activists of a range of political parties of various ideologies are behind bars under politically motivated sentences. We call to immediately release all political prisoners and stop political repressions.

At the same time, there was a circumstance in Vitold Ashurak’s case which could indicate the onset of a new, even more outrageous and unacceptable repressive practice. Within the framework of judicial examination, a party membership card, issued to Vitold Ashurak as the BPF Party member in accordance with Part 10 Article 13 of the Law on Political Parties, was mentioned as a piece of evidence of his guilt. The above-mentioned party membership card was also mentioned in the sentence as physical evidence. The court has ruled that Vitold Ashurak’s party membership card must be destroyed.

The trial on Vitold Ashurak’s case was closed, although there were no legal grounds for that. Therefore, the public cannot fully assess how and for which purpose the prosecution presented a party membership card for judicial examination, which circumstances the prosecution proved with this document, how the court assessed it in terms of relevance, admissibility, sufficiency of such evidence and whether it had been legally obtained.

According to Article 3 of the Law on Political Parties, citizens’ affiliation or non-affiliation with a political party cannot serve as a ground for restrictions of their rights and freedoms.

Inclusion of a party membership card of the accused into evidence in the case is another evidence of political orientation of this criminal case and may indicate emergence of a new form of political repressions, when a person’s affiliation with a legal political party may serve as a ground for criminal prosecution, charges of political crimes or confirmation of aggravating circumstances.

This sentence is of particular concern due to the fact that justice agencies are now carrying out a large-scale inspection of Belarusian political parties, having requested personal lists of party members.

Taking into account the above-mentioned, we, representatives of Belarusian political parties:

-         claim that use of membership in a political party fact within a criminal case, examination of a party membership card as prosecution evidence in a court case and a court ruling to destroy a party membership card contradict requirements of the Law on Political Parties and norms of Articles 98 and 105 of the Criminal Procedure Code;

-         warn the authorities against expansion of the new form of political repressions with regard to people’s membership in political parties and public associations, as well as against misuse of formal legislative requirements regarding obligatory registered membership in associations and the procedure for record of members of political parties and movements.

Freedom to Vitold Ashurak! Freedom to all political prisoners!

Signed by

Ihar Barysau, Chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada)

Mikalai Kazlou, Chairman of the United Civic Party

Siarhei Kaliakin, Chairman of the Belarusian Party of the Left Fair World

Ryhor Kastusiou, Chairman of the BPF Party

Zmicier Kuchuk, Chairman of the Belarusian Green Party

Siarhei Cherachen, Chairman of the Central Board of the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly

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