Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community
Mr. Dzmitryi Semchanka is a journalist and broadcaster. As a journalist for All-National Television, a state-owned television station, he was a member of Lukashenka's press corps.
Mr. Semchanka resigned from the television in protest of the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrations in August 2020. In September 2020, he was sentenced to 15 days of administrative imprisonment for participating in a protest rally.
After leaving state television, Mr. Semchanka worked in public relations and was an employee of Belagro company.
On September 15, 2022, Mr. Dzmitryi Semchanka and his wife were arrested. He was convicted of ‘petty hooliganism’ under Article 19.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) and sentenced to 15 days of administrative imprisonment. At the end of that term, Mr. Semchanka was not released. Instead, he was sentenced to another 13 days of imprisonment under Article 19.11 of the CAO for ‘disseminating extremist materials’ in his social networks.
On October 13, 2022, he was not released again—it became known that a criminal case under part 1 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code (‘incitement of social hatred’) was brought against him. This article provides for up to five years of imprisonment as a maximum penalty.
We emphasize once again that the nature of the acts of the accused in this case was the result of numerous and widespread human rights violations by the authorities, the lack of freedom of expression, and caused by disappointment with the authorities’ reluctance to use the force of law to protect citizens’ violated rights in the absence of conditions for a democratic and constitutional change of government in fair elections.
Given the circumstances, we believe that the criminal prosecution of Mr. Dzmitryi Semchanka is politically motivated and aimed at stopping or changing the nature of his legitimate public activities in the sphere of non-violent exercise of freedom of expression and dissemination of information.
Based on this and guided by para. 2.1 and 3.1 of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners adopted at III Belarusian Human Rights Forum, we, human rights defenders, recognize Mr. Dzmitryi Semchanka as a political prisoner and demand that the Belarusian authorities:
immediately release Mr. Dzmitryi Semchanka and drop criminal charges against him;
refrain from using criminal prosecution as an instrument of pressure on freedom of expression, or other rights and freedoms;
immediately release all political prisoners, as well as other individuals detained in connection with their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly in the post-election period and stop political repression in the country.
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Human Rights Center Viasna
Belarusian Helsinki Committee