PEN International would like to thank everyone who sent appeals following the June 26 Amnesty International Urgent Action alert in support of Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut. He was released on bail on June 30. However, he still faces a prison sentence of almost eight years on charges of “libelling the President.” We are circulating Amnesty International’s update on the previous alert issued on July 3 and encourage PEN members to carry on sending appeals to the Belarusian authorities.

Background Information

The following is from Amnesty International's Urgent Action:

Journalist Andrzej Poczobut was released on 30 June under bail conditions which state that he cannot leave Grodno, western Belarus, where he lives with his family, and must appear for interrogation when asked by investigators and register with the police three times a month. He is officially charged with “libelling the President” under Article 367 (2) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus for 12 articles that were published in Belarusian independent media. Andrzej Poczobut believes that his arrest is an attempt to intimidate him and prevent him from carrying out his journalistic activities. He has refused to give testimony or cooperate with the investigation.

Andrzej Poczobut has written about prisoners of conscience in Belarus, criticizing the authorities’ response to a wave of “silent protests” in the country. He also criticized the process and decision made in the criminal case of Uladzislau Kavalyou and Dzmitry Kanavalau, who were both executed in March 2012 in connection with a series of bomb attacks in Belarus.

In March 2011, Andrzej Poczobut was charged with “insulting the President” and “libelling the President” for articles that he had written for the Gazeta Wyborcza. On 5 July 2011, he received a three-year suspended prison sentence. Together with this sentence and new charges he could face imprisonment of up to seven years and nine months.

Andrzej Poczobut was arrested on 21 June 2012 in his apartment in Grodno. His apartment and office were searched and his computer and documents were confiscated. His computer has been sent for expert examination.

Amnesty International believes that Andrzej Poczobut’s arrest and his subsequent release on bail are part of a longstanding pattern of harassment of civil society activists and journalists by the Belarusian authorities. Following the Presidential elections in December 2010, there has been an unprecedented deterioration in the human rights situation in the country. Key opposition figures have been detained, ill-treated and convicted in unfair trials. Critical NGOs, civil society activists and journalists face continuing harassment.

The right to freedom of expression in Belarus is guaranteed in Article 33 of the Belarusian Constitution, and international treaties Belarus has ratified and therefore is legally bound to observe. Amnesty International considers that the use of the Belarusian Criminal Code to curb the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression violates the government’s international human rights obligations, particularly under Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. Amnesty International recognizes that Article 19 of the ICCPR specifies that certain restrictions on the right to freedom of expression may be imposed if they are necessary to respect the rights or reputations of others, or for the protection of national security or public order. However, Article 19 also recognizes wide latitude for robust criticism of government and other public officials. Criminal law should therefore not be used in such a way as to stifle criticism of state authorities’ policies or measures or to intimidate those who voice legitimate concerns about the actions of state authorities.

A number of Articles of the Belarusian Criminal Code are being used by the Belarusian authorities for these very purposes. For example, Belarus retains criminal defamation provisions in its Criminal Code in Article 188 (libel), Article 189 (insult), Article 367 (libel in relation to the President), Article 368 (insult of the President) and Article 369 (insult of a government official). Libel and insult contained in media sources can be prosecuted under Articles 188 and 189, which carry a sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment. Libelling the President (Article 367) can result in up to five years in prison.

Write A Letter

  • Calling on the authorities to drop the charges against Andrzej Poczobut immediately;
  • Urging them to guarantee the right to freedom of expression in line with their international human rights obligations, including Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

Send Your Letter To

President
Alexander Lukashenko
Administratsia Prezidenta Respubliki Belarus
ul. Karla Marksa, 38
220016 Minsk
Belarus
Fax: +375 17 226 06 10/ +375 17 222 38 72
Email: contact@president.gov.by
 
General Prosecutor
Alyaksandr Koniuk
Internatsionalnaya str. 22
220050 Minsk
Belarus
Fax: +375 17 226 42 52 (Please say "fax" clearly if someone answers)
Email: info@prokuratura.gov.by

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Belarus in your country if possible.

Please send appeals before August 14, 2012.