FIDH and Viasna Joint Statement on the political persecution of Siarhei Kavalenka
On 24 February 2012, the Pervomaisk District Court in Vitebsk sentenced opposition activist Siarhei Kavalenka to two years and one month imprisonment for breaking parole.
On 14 May 2010, the Oktyabrsky District Court in Vitebsk sentenced Mr. Kavalenka to three years „restricted liberty”. Criminal proceedings were launched against the activist after he hung a Belarusian white-red-white flag, an alternative to the official flag, on top of the main New Year’s tree in Vitebsk on 7 January 2010. During his arrest, Mr. Kavalenka was severely beaten by militia officers. He was later charged under Article 339.1 of the Criminal Code (deliberate acts violating public order) and Article 363.2 (violence or threats of violence against law enforcement officials on duty).
Mr. Kavalenka’s public demonstration and hanging of the flag cannot in any way be classified as disturbing public order. This socio-political action neither demonstrated nor was aimed at displaying “special cynicism or blatant contempt for society”. Prosecuting Mr. Kavalenka again, this time for an alleged parole violation, is a flagrant attempt to continue the political persecution of this opposition activist and to further isolate him.
When arrested, Mr. Kavalenka went on a hunger strike, which he has been continuing with breaks since 19 December 2011. FIDH and the Human Rights Center Viasna are particularly concerned that Mr. Kavalenka has been receiving medical assistance in the poor conditions of the penitentiary. On 26 March 2012, Mr. Kavalenka was moved to the psychiatric ward on the territory of the Vitba-3 penal colony. Under these conditions, FIDH and the Viasna Human Rights Centre express fear for his life and have grave concern that he could be subjected to forced psychiatric treatment.
FIDH and Viasna call upon the Belarusian government to release Mr. Kavalenka immediately and unconditionally, cease its political persecution of him, and provide him with medical care in an open-type medical institution.
Responsibility for Mr. Kavalenka’s life and health lies squarely with senior officials at the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs, whose care he is currently under.