Belarus: lawyer Yuliya Yurgilevich and journalist Pavel Mazheika unjustly sentenced to six years in prison

Today, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has condemned the unjust conviction and sentencing of prominent Belarus lawyer, Yuliya Yurgilevich, and journalist, Pavel Mazheika, to six years’ imprisonment on trumped up charges.

Yurgilevich, who has practised law for almost 18 years and has a record of defending human rights activists, was accused of publicizing her disbarment and providing Mazheika with information on political prisoners in Belarus, notably on dissident artist Ales Pushkin, who was recognized as a political prisoner by a number of leading human rights groups, and who died in a Belarusian prison of an unknown cause earlier this month.

The charges brought against Yurgilevich and Mazheika, and their subsequent trial, guilty verdicts and sentences of imprisonment appear to be part and parcel of the on-going pattern of intimidation of lawyers, and aim to muzzle any communication with journalists.

Mazheika himself was found guilty of “complicity in extremist activity” for covering political opposition activities for Belsat TV, a Belarusian news outlet based in Poland, which the Belarusian authorities have labelled “extremist”.

“This case constitutes an alarming continuation of a years-long crackdown on opposition figures, independent lawyers, journalists and human rights activists. Lawyers must be able to fulfil their professional responsibilities in an environment devoid of retaliation or persecution. This is a fundamental principle established by international law and standards on the role of lawyers,” said Temur Shakirov, Director (ad interim) of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme.

Yurgilevich’s trial was marked by numerous irregularities. She was not allowed to prepare her own defence against the charges she was facing before the trial, in violation of her right to a fair trial under international human rights law, including Article 14 of the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by which Belarus is bound as a State party.

“It is deeply troubling that, in violation of the presumption of innocence, throughout her trial Yurgilevich was forced to wear a prison uniform inscribed with the words ‘Solitary Confinement 2’, and was confined to a cage”, added Shakirov.

The Belarusian Republican Bar Association and the Grodno Regional Bar Association have reportedly failed to provide any support to Yurgilevich, let alone to protest against the evident violation of her right to a fair trial. This stance contradicts their professional responsibilities as a Bar Association.

The ICJ urgently calls on the Belarusian authorities to release Mazheika and Yurgilevich immediately, to cease their persecution, and to quash their convictions and sentences.

“Such instances of harassment and prosecution breach the principle that lawyers should not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes simply for the legitimate discharge of their professional duties to their clients,” said Shakirov.

The ICJ condemns the escalating pattern of intimidation, harassment and persecutory prosecutions against independent lawyers in Belarus. Legal professionals have been systematically targeted by Belarusian authorities in an attempt to stop them from upholding the rule of law, their clients’ human rights, and their own right to freedom of expression. The ICJ calls on the Belarusian authorities to immediately cease any oppressive actions against independent lawyers.

According to Principle 16 of The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, lawyers should be able to perform their professional functions without intimidation or improper interference.


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