Harry Pahanyayla: Prisoner of Conscience status gives practically nothing
The HR defender explains how the procedure of considering someone a political prisoner looks like and what it is for.
Euroradio: In Russia, the Amnesty International considers people who are persecuted for their political views prisoners of conscience very easily. Syarhei Kavalenka, the Young Front activists, and even Julia Tymoshenko are not considered prisoners of conscience. Why do we have a problem with that?
Harry Pahanyayla: I would like to tell from the start that, in fact, Belarus does not have a problem with consideration of persons convicted to imprisonment under criminal articles prisoners of conscience or political prisoners if there is a political component in the case. This consideration has no legal meaning, but it affects the relations between Belarus and the governments of the Western countries to a certain extent. In particular, more than a dozen our citizens were considered political prisoners. There are several organizations which monitor the situation with imprisonment of citizens due to political reasons. These are the Amnesty International, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament. They have elaborated certain criteria for including a person into the list of prisoners of conscience, political prisoners, victims of the regime - there are different degrees and terms. However, we cannot say that Belarus is ignored in this respect. We have political prisoners who are discussed a lot in Europe, and Europe puts the question on their release and rehabilitation before the Belarusian authorities. As far as I know, Syarhei Kavalenka was considered a prisoner of conscience upon the case for which he had been sentenced initially. As for administrative cases, not everyone is considered a prisoner of conscience, as the negotiations take time, people are usually released and leave prisons during this time. Therefore, it is more complicated with administrative cases, but the human rights organizations and political organizations in Belarus consider them victims of repressions and political prisoners. This is up to politicians and human rights defenders - to define political prisoners under the corresponding criteria which can be different in every country but should be based on the international documents.
Euroradio: What does the prisoner of conscience status give to a person?
Harry Pahanyayla: Practically, it gives nothing, it has no legal consequences apart from the fact that it can be used in the political struggle with those regimes which use administrative and criminal jurisdiction against political opponents or dissidents.
Euroradio: How does this procedure look like? Do Belarusian human rights defenders appeal to the international organizations, or do the latter initiate consideration a person as a prisoner of conscience? There is an impression that the European organizations will try to avoid giving someone the prisoner of conscience status in order to take a step towards the Belarusian authorities.
Harry Pahanyayla: We cannot make such conclusions. In the first place, the Belarusian society plays a great role in consideration the repressions politically motivated - political parties, civil movements, human rights activists, which declare certain cases or certain people political victims or prisoners of conscience. It's the terms that differ. For example, the Amnеsty International speaks about prisoners of conscience meaning those who were sentenced illegally or inadequately in terms due to political reasons. I would like to underline once again that this is just an independent action, there are no strict legal canons or procedures. When there are political repressions, the international organizations try to react with their own measures, including political ones, to put pressure on the governments to make them release the victims of political repressions, rehabilitate them and reinstate them in all their rights. This is the struggle against human rights violation in certain countries with autocratic regimes.
Euroradio: Is the question of prisoners of conscience discussed in the United Nations Organization, which includes Belarus?
Harry Pahanyayla: The UN official structures do not use such terms but they reflect the illegality of use of criminal and administrative repressions due to political motives in their appeals and documents. They monitor the situation with human rights violations including such as sending people to mental hospitals or prohibition to go abroad.