IBAHRI sends open letter to Belarusian authorities to end incommunicado detention of lawyer Maksim Znak

Wednesday 21 February 2024

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has expressed concern over the incommunicado detention of lawyer Maksim Znak and called for its termination in an open letter to Belarusian authorities. The IBAHRI has been informed that Mr Znak has not been allowed to see his family, independent medical personnel, or his lawyer(s) during this more than a year-long confinement.

Mr Znak is the 2021 recipient of the International Bar Association’s Award for Outstanding Contribution for Human Rights – given for his commitment to defending democratic principles and human rights in Belarus.

The full text of the letter, signed by IBAHRI Co-Chairs Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc and Mark Stephens CBE, appears below. Also, it can be downloaded here.

Department of Corrections, Ministry of Internal Affairs
14A Brilesvskaya Street, Minsk, 220039, Republic of Belarus

General Prosecutor's Office
22 Internatsionalnaya Street, Minsk, 220030, Republic of Belarus

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
19 Lienina Street, Minsk, 220030, Republic of Belarus


21 February 2024

Public letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, General Prosecutor's Office and the Department of Corrections of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus from the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute

We are writing to you on behalf of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) to express our concern regarding the incommunicado detention of lawyer Maksim Znak for over one year and to call on the Belarusian authorities to cease this.

The International Bar Association, established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. It has a membership of over 80,000 individual lawyers, and 190 bar associations and law societies, spanning over 170 countries. The IBAHRI, an autonomous and substantively independent entity of the IBA, works with the global legal community to promote and protect human rights and the independence of the legal profession worldwide.

In 2021, Maksim Znak was awarded the International Bar Association’s Award for Outstanding Contribution for Human Rights for his commitment to defending democratic principles and human rights in Belarus, in addition to awards from the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) and Lawyers for Lawyers.

According to reports, on 9 September 2020, Maksim Znak was arrested and taken into custody in the pre-trial detention facility No1 in Minsk. On 6 September 2021, after a closed trial, he was convicted of ‘conspiracy to seize state power’, ‘creation of an extremist formation’, and ‘calls for action aimed at harming national security’ under Articles 357(1), 361-1(1), and 361(3) of the Criminal Code of Belarus respectively and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. On 24 December 2021, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence against Mr Znak. As we understand, in January 2022, Mr Znak was transferred to penal colony No 3 near Viciebsk. Since February 2023, Mr Znak has reportedly been held in incommunicado detention and has been denied access to his family members, his lawyer(s) and independent medical personnel.

The IBAHRI notes that, in May 2022, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found the arrest and detention of Mr Znak to be arbitrary and considered that his treatment was an act of retaliation for his activism. The Working Group requested, inter alia, that he be released immediately and granted reparation and compensation, in accordance with international law.

The IBAHRI recalls that Belarus has ratified and is therefore bound by, inter alia, the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

We respectfully remind you that, in line with the above legal framework, Belarus must respect and fulfil international human rights law, standards and norms, including, but not limited to:

I. Prohibition of torture: Incommunicado detention as a form of torture and ill-treatment per se

Numerous UN human rights bodies and mechanisms, including the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, have held that prolonged incommunicado detention can itself constitute torture and ill-treatment. The latter has considered incommunicado detention for four months to be ‘prolonged’ based on factual circumstances.

The prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, which is a peremptory norm of international law, is codified in Article 7, ICCPR. It is an absolute prohibition, from which no derogation is permitted, as per Article 4(2), ICCPR, and Article 2(2), CAT. Article 10(1), ICCPR, complements this prohibition and imposes a positive obligation on State parties to treat all persons deprived of their liberty with humanity and respect for their dignity.

II. Prevention of torture: Heightened risk of torture and ill-treatment during incommunicado detention

Prolonged incommunicado detention is conducive to and facilitates the perpetration of torture and ill-treatment, creating a heightened risk of such treatment.

Under Articles 2(1) and 16, CAT, States must take effective legislative, administrative, judicial, or other measures to prevent acts of torture and ill-treatment in any territory under its jurisdiction. Furthermore, the UN Human Rights Committee has held that States must make provisions against incommunicado detention to guarantee the effective protection of detained persons.

Prompt and regular access to lawyers of one’s choice, independent medical personnel and family members of detainees at all stages of detention are, inter alia, essential and necessary safeguards against torture and ill-treatment that States must ensure in order to comply with the above obligations.

We therefore call on the Belarusian authorities to cease the incommunicado detention of Mr Znak and to respect and fulfil his right of access to his lawyer(s), independent medical personnel and contact with his family to, inter alia, respect the prohibition and ensure the prevention of torture and ill-treatment.

We would be grateful to receive your assurances that you have received this letter and that these concerns will be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Yours sincerely,

Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc
Co-Chair, IBAHRI and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association

Mark Stephens CBE
Co-Chair, IBAHRI



Notes to the Editor 

  1. Related material:
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  3. Find the IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) on social media here:
  4. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

  5. Find the IBA (@IBAnews) on social media here:

Website page link for this news release:

Short link: www.tinyurl.com/anzyvcsv
Full link: www.ibanet.org/IBAHRI-sends-open-letter-to-Belarusian-authorities-to-end-incommunicado-detention-of-lawyer-Maksim-Znak