Young Gay Activist in Belarus Targeted by KGB Faces Two Years in Jail for His Activism

KGB’s ‘dirty tricks’ – tries to get activist to become informer

Gomel – A young Belarusian LGBT activist is today living in fear of imprisonment after being summoned yesterday to KGB headquarters in Biletskogo Street, Gomel.

Svyatoslav Sementsov, aged 25 and co-president of the TEMA Information Center, was told that a criminal case had been started against him under article 193-1 Criminal Code of Belarus for “organizing group activities in the name of non-registered organisation”.

“On Wednesday, I received the phone call from a KGB officer who said his name was Surin,” Mr. Svyatoslav told UK Gay News yesterday evening. Even speaking to UK Gay News could get him into further – and deeper – trouble with the KGB.

“He said I should report to the KGB Gomel region department in 13:00 – and if I did not attend, they would come and get me, using physical force. I don’t have a lawyer, so I decided to go.

“I said nothing to my family as I didn’t want them to worry.

“When I arrived, I was taken to the room 2-7 on the second floor, there were three people in civilian clothes,” he explained.

“One of them asked me to sit down and said that he was Surin. I was informed that criminal case on Art. 193-1 has been started due to my participation in an unregistered NGO, TEMA, and I can get fine or a prison term of up to two years.

“Also, I was told that they can start another criminal case on article 369-1 – providing false information to a foreign organization or government, defined as information intended to misrepresent or discredit Belarus because I have disseminated information on violations and hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Belarus and this information is used by many international human rights organisations in their reports.

“They then suggested that I work for KGB in exchange for closing the criminal case against me,” he claimed.

“For this, I’ll have to tell them the password for my e-mail, a give them a list of members and gays among officials who I know.

“I refused and said that will not work for them. The officer said that I would regret it later – but it would then be too late.

“From the conversation I realised that they know too much about our organisation and probably we have a rat at our board,” he suggested.

Mr. Sementsov pointed out that a criminal case investigation could take between three months and five years.

Background compiled from international human rights organisation reports.

Article 193-1, which penalises acting on behalf of unregistered organizations, was added to the Criminal Code in December 2005 as part of amendments that provided for harsh punishment “for activities directed against people and public security”. Conviction under it carries penalties of a fine or a prison term of up to two years.

Belarusian human rights and and international human rights organisations have on a number of occasions, condemned this article and repeatedly urged the Belarusian government to abolish it.

Since 2006, when the criminal responsibility for activities of unregistered organisations was enforced, 17 persons have convicted under Article 193-1. There were no acquitting judgements in these cases.

Article 361-1 criminalises “calls for actions directed at damaging the national security of Belarus, the overthrow of the State, territorial integrity …”. The second paragraph of this article criminalises calls addressed to a foreign State or an international organisation to act in a manner that harms the national security of Belarus.

Both offences are punishable by jail terms of up to three years – or five years in case of dissemination through the media. Finally, Article 369-1 criminalises defamation of the Republic of Belarus towards foreign States and foreign or international organisations, defined as knowingly handing over false information concerning the “Belarusian State or its organs”.

Restrictions on the right of free expression on the grounds of national security are justified only when there is a direct, rather than a conjectural link, between the expression and the likelihood of harm occurring. The restriction of expressions based on a hypothetical or remote risk of harm unnecessarily limits democratic debate about what are often important and contentious political issues. Article 361-1 and (2) are extremely vaguely worded and set a very low threshold for the imposition of limitations to the right to free expression. The penalties are seen as being grossly disproportionate.

Article 369-1 is equally problematic, as it criminalises defamation of the Belarusian State. The prevailing view in advanced democracies is that public bodies, including the State, do not have a reputation entitled to legal protection, since they lack an emotional or financial interest in preserving their good name. Moreover, the penalty is disproportionate and likely to greatly undermine, by creating a ‘chilling effect’, exchanges between Belarusian people and foreign countries.

In the words of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the amendments “will further plunge Belarusian society into an atmosphere of fear.”

Source – UK Gay News