March 2023 - The firm filed an expert declaration on international law in the Leninsky District Court of Minsk in support of three human rights defenders – including Belarusian human rights advocate and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski – who have been jailed in Belarus. The defenders were members of Viasna, a human rights organization that campaigned against arbitrary arrests and human rights abuses by Belarusian authorities.

Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich and Uladzimir Labkovich were detained in July 2021 and charged with large-scale tax evasion, smuggling and “financing group actions that disrupted public order.” Many independent observers believe, however, that the defenders were actually carrying out legitimate human rights activities related to peacefully protesting apparent electoral fraud during Belarus’ 2020 presidential election.

HHR’s declaration, which was filed in February, focused on how the charges against the human rights defenders in the case violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Belarus is a signatory. The declaration also emphasized that, as a state party to the ICCPR, Belarus is obligated to “protect the rights guaranteed by the ICCPR and extend these guarantees to the Defendants.”

The firm’s team, which was led by Jim Boykin and Vitaly Morozov, reviewed case materials and accounts of the public trial, and noted that the prosecution of the defendants “was the result of the exercise of their civil and political rights” and was used “to silence dissent and penalize the Defendants for their work to protect fundamental rights.”

The declaration went on to say that “[t]he charges have no legitimate basis and constitute impermissible restrictions on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association guaranteed by Article 19, Article 21 and Article 22 of the ICCPR. … The government has failed to demonstrate that these restrictions are necessary or proportionate.”

According to Viasna’s press release, the filing of HHR’s declaration “is significant because it is important for Belarus to continue to comply with core international human rights standards and to fulfill its obligations to ensure that the people of Belarus have access to the same protections available to others.”

In March, the Court handed down sentences ranging from 7-10 years of imprisonment and substantial fines to each of the defenders.

The expert declaration can be read on Viasna’s website. The case has been covered by BBC News, CBS and The Washington Post.

In addition to Boykin and Morozov, the HHR team included Alexander Afnán, Winthrop Jordan, Justin Campbell and David Tannenbaum.