View Adopted: 2021.10.26
The author is a national of Belarus who claims that her husband, also a national of Belarus, is a victim of violation by the State party of his rights under articles 2, 7, 9, 10, 14 (1), (2), (3) (b), (d), (e) and (g) and (5), 17, 19 (1) and (2), 21, 22 and 25 of the Covenant. The victim, Mikalai Statkevich, is the Chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, a former presidential candidate in Belarus and the founder of the Belarusian Union of Military Officers. Mr. Statkevich’s daughter filed a petition with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which concluded that Belarus had breached Mr. Statkevich’s rights, but the State party did not release him.
Mr. Statkevich was the candidate for the Social Democratic Party’s opposition party in the 2010 presidential election. Throughout his campaign, he was harassed by the security forces, which seized his campaign materials and recorded his telephone conversations. On the day of the elections, supporters of the opposition gathered in Minsk to denounce massive irregularities. Towards the end of the demonstration, a small group of protesters started breaking the windows of the House of Government and law enforcement agents attacked the peaceful demonstrators. Mr. Statkevich was apprehended and beaten by unknown persons and transferred to an unknown location. He was not informed of the charges against him, and neither was his case brought before a judge to assess whether he should remain in custody. During his pretrial detention, Mr. Statkevich was subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In 2011, during Mr. Statkevich’s trial in Minsk, he and his co-defendants were kept handcuffed in a cage at all times. The evidence he presented was disregarded and the credibility of his arguments and explanations was consistently questioned and rejected by the court. The court found Mr. Statkevich guilty of having organized a mass riot involving violence and destruction of property and sentenced him to six years of imprisonment. Mr. Statkevich appealed his conviction in cassation proceedings, through the supervisory review procedure, and to the penitentiary authorities, but all were rejected.
The State party challenged the admissibility of the communication, claiming that there was no power of attorney for the author, the wife of Mr. Statkevich, given that at the time of submission nothing prevented the victim from communicating with the Committee himself and that the American-based organization and law firm that represented the victim were not under the jurisdiction of Belarus. The Committee noted that it has been the long-standing practice of the Committee to allow relatives to bring proceedings for alleged victims who have died, disappeared or been prevented from bringing a communication or designating a representative. It also notes that the alleged victim was detained at the time of submission of the communication, and considers that the author is justified by reason of close family connection in acting on behalf of Mr. Statkevich. The Committee also states that none of the provisions of the Optional Protocol or the rules of procedure prohibit representation by a foreign legal entity. Thus, the Committee considers that the author has sufficiently substantiated the remaining claims under articles 7, 9, 10, 14 (1), (2) and (3) (b), (d), (e) and (g), 17, 19 (1) and (2), 21 and 25 of the Covenant for the purposes of admissibility, but concluded that the part of the communication regarding article 2, 14(5), and 22 of the Covenant was inadmissible under article 2 of the Optional Protocol.
The Committee considered that the author provided a detailed description of the methods of torture used, such as emotional and physical abuse using harassment and threats, and found a violation of article 7. Moreover, the Committee notes that the State party has not demonstrated that Mr. Statkevich’s arrest was reasonable and necessary and that his pretrial detention was unlawful as it was not justified, so it concludes that there has been a violation of article 9 (1). Also, the Committee is not satisfied that the prosecutor in question could be regarded as having the institutional objectivity and impartiality necessary to be considered an officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power within the meaning of article 9 (3), and therefore concludes that there has been a violation of that provision. Regarding the author’s claims that Mr. Statkevich was denied a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal and that the State party’s courts did not offer him the minimum guarantees, the Committee found a violation of article 14 (1), (2), (3) (b), (d), (e) and (g). Additionally, the State party violated article 17 as its authorities unlawfully tapped Mr. Statkevich’s telephone, recording calls he made during the presidential campaign in 2010 and thereafter publishing the transcripts.
The Committee considered that the restrictions imposed by the State party on the exercise of those rights were not provided by law and were not necessary for the protection of national security or of public order or of public health, and so found a violation of Mr. Statkevich’s rights to hold opinions without interference and to freedom of expression enshrined in article 19 (2). The Committee also found that the State party disproportionately interfered in the exercise of the author's right of peaceful assembly under article 21 by sentencing him to six years' imprisonment for organizing an unauthorized but public gathering. The Committee did not consider it necessary to examine separately the author’s claims under article 10 and 25 of the Convention.
The State party is under an obligation to provide the author with an effective remedy. This requires it to make full reparation to individuals whose Covenant rights have been violated. Accordingly, the State party is obligated, inter alia, to provide Mikalai Statkevich with adequate compensation, expunge his conviction from his criminal record and carry out a prompt, impartial, effective and thorough investigation into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment and initiate criminal proceedings against those responsible. The State party is also under an obligation to take all steps necessary to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future.
26 March 2022