Belarus authorities exerting pressure on political prisoner over solidarity wave

Amnesty International has launched a campaign of solidarity with imprisoned activist Dzmitry Paliyenka.

Amnesty International believes that all charges against Dzmitry Paliyenka stem from the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. According to the organisation, Dzmitry Paliyenka has been targeted by the authorities because of his peaceful activism and, as such, that he is a prisoner of conscience. Amnesty International considers Dzmitry Paliyenka a political prisoner and urges Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him.

The penal authorities that got outraged over the recent solidarity rallies continue exerting pressure on the political prisoner, Dzmitry’s friend Maryna Nasenka says.

“Due to this fact, police officers often visit Dzmitry. They are not comfortable with his issue being pushed in public space and disclosing the fact of pressure. Moreover, they also give no peace to the persons who communicate with Dzmitry in prison – they are intimidated and transferred to other units. The authorities want Paliyenka to be alone,” she said.

Paliyenka was repeatedly placed in a punishment cell for some minor violations.

“Almost every two months Paliyenka is thrown into a punishment cell for so-called violations. They are trying to pressurize him through both official regulations and unwritten prison riules <…> What is happening now is nothing but the pressure on him in prison and on his associates at liberty. His name being mentioned at solidarity rallies is like a stick in the craw for Belarusian authorities. We saw that some people were carrying portraits of Dzmitry at the recent March of Outraged Belarusians,” Nasenka said in October.

The political prisoner believes that the ground is being prepared for opening another criminal case against him (wilful standing in contempt of the prison administration).

In a letter to his friend, the activist said he had to wear a yellow ‘extremist’ tag in prison.

As part of the solidarity campaign announced by the human rights watchdog, written appeals demanding the immediate release of Paliyenka will be sent to Belarusian authorities. According to Amnesty International representative Aisha Jung, they are also set to draw influential politicians’s attention to Paliyenka’s fate and hold street rallies to gain resonance among the European public.

In April 2016, about 35 cyclists gathered in downtown Minsk to take part in the Critical Mass cycling event, an action that was aimed at ‘reclaiming the streets’, i.e. asserting their rights. Although the event was observed by a representative of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the riot police brutally detained several activists, including Paliyenka.

Paliyenka was charged with using violence against a police officer (Article 364 of the Criminal Code). In late August he was accused of… porno-peddling. The court found the activist guilty under the both arlicles: in October, 2016 he was sentenced to two years of impisonment with a two-year reprieve.

A court in Minsk revoked the suspension over alleged violations of related restrictions. Taking into account the time spent in pretrial detention, the judge decided that the activist would spend 18 months and 13 days in prison.