IBAHRI urges release of lawyers Ilya Salei and Maxim Znak in Belarus

As countries denounce the secret inauguration and presidency of Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko amid protests against the disputed 9 August 2020 presidential election results, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) expresses deep concern over the continued detention of lawyers Ilya Salei and Maxim Znak and calls for their immediate release.

Both lawyers, detained on 9 September 2020, are members of the Minsk Regional Bar Association and the Presidium of the Coordination Council – an independent entity established by civil society in Belarus to organise a peaceful transfer of power from the incumbent office holder to a transitional government.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996 – 2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented: ‘The IBAHRI calls for the immediate release of Mr Salei and Mr Znak. Their continued detention is indicative of sustained efforts by the Belarusian authorities to silence all dissent. It is unacceptable. The principle of the independence of legal professionals is enshrined in the United Nations Basic Principles of the Role of Lawyers. Relevantly, Article 23 states, “Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or form local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in a lawful organization.”We call on the Belarusian authorities to comply with its international human rights obligations.’

Reports state Mr Znak was taken from the Coordination Council office in Minsk by unidentified men in ski masks and that he managed to text ‘masks’ before his phone was confiscated. He has gone on hunger strike in jail, to expose ‘the absurdity of prosecuting people for freely expressing their opinions,’ his lawyer has relayed. Alongside Mr Salei, he is charged with seeking to harm national security.

Mr Salei is the lawyer of jailed Coordination Council co-leader, Maria Kolesnikova. Mr Znak was the lawyer for the former candidate for the Belarusian Presidency, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, currently in exile in Lithuania. Mr Znak had been providing legal assistance as her lawyer.

Article 16 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states that governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference, and shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and immediate past Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, commented: ‘The pattern of detaining lawyers in Belarus who are linked to opposition candidates, and/or protesters, can only be regarded as harassment; intended to intimidate. The detentions of Ilya Salei and Maxim Znax are undemocratic and go against the rights to free expression and assembly, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In Belarus the authorities are impeding the professional role of lawyers and their fundamental rights as Belarusian citizens. This must stop, and Mr Salei and Mr Znax should be released immediately.’

The unprecedented protests in Belarus are now in their seventh week. They continue unabated, as does the violent crackdown by masked security agents following Alexander Lukashenko’s claim to have won re-election with 80 per cent of the vote on 9 August 2020.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor

  1. View related IBAHRI items on Iran:
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works 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. 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.
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