To jail for 12 years. Who will be punished for calling for sanctions in Belarus?

Belarus has introduced criminal responsibility for calls for sanctions. According to the new law, this can entail up to 12 years in jail. Who will be primarily affected by this measure?

Alexander Lukashenko has recently signed a law that introduces criminal liability “for calls for sanctions against the Republic of Belarus, its citizens and organizations. What does this innovation mean, and to whom will it apply? Read the lawyers’ comments on DW.

“A symbolic gesture on the part of lawmakers.”
A new law signed by Alexander Lukashenko introduces amendments to Article 361 of the Criminal Code of Belarus “Calls for actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus. In particular, it introduces criminal liability – from 6 to 12 years’ imprisonment – “for calling for sanctions against the Republic of Belarus, its citizens and organizations. “Article 361 is already “rubber”, that is, it has no clear disposition. A lot of things can fall under the wording of “committing other actions aimed at harming national security,” says lawyer Andrei Mochalov, disbarred in Belarus.

As an example, he cites the case of Maksim Znak, whose work as a lawyer was interpreted as “other actions aimed at harming national security.” “I think the new wording of the article is not so much a legal step to fix the possibility of prosecution as a symbolic gesture on the part of lawmakers. But even without changes of the Criminal Code in Belarus, it was not difficult to prosecute someone for calling for sanctions,” believes Mochalau.

The authorities want to stop the public debate on sanctions.
“I consider the adoption of this law not as a deterioration of the legal situation, but as an attempt to intimidate. The Belarusian authorities regard the sanctions as a threat, every mention of which damages the reputation. Accordingly, they want to stop the public discussion so that even the Belarusians, who have left the country, are afraid to express their political stance,” said Mikhail Kiriliuk, a lawyer, responsible for justice issues of the National Anti-Crisis Department and the Coordinating Council of the Belarusian opposition.

According to him, the new law will be aimed primarily at representatives of the Belarusian democratic forces abroad, claiming for sanctions. “I can’t recall a single expert in Belarus who has recently been able to openly call for sanctions without going to jail and without this law,” Kiriliuk notes.

At the same time, says the lawyer, it is possible to prosecute people under the laws of the territory in which they are. There are exceptions, which are enshrined in international treaties, such as the Convention against Torture. “They can prosecute for torture all over the world, because this crime is considered to be extremely dangerous, probably for Lukashenko’s regime, calls for sanctions are more terrible than torture,” Kirilyuk argues. – Unfortunately, the Belarusian Criminal Code has failed to meet international standards for many years, as human rights activists and the Venice Commission have written about. In January 2016, the parliament amended the principle of territoriality in the Belarusian Criminal Code: and allowed to prosecute for crimes committed outside the country, “if these crimes are directed against the interests of Belarus.” “The only thing we can say on this point is that the interests of the Belarusian authorities are not the interests of Belarus,” Kirilyuk says.