UK leading law firm H2O Law is going tobring a private prosecution against the "President of the former Soviet republic, Alexander Lukashenko" "systematic torture inside the KGB-run prisons of Belarus." The basis of this argument is the testimony of hundreds of activists, arrested in the aftermath of "the disputed presidential elections," the British lawyers report.
Human rights investigators have come to the conclusion that «torture, beatings and inhumane prison conditions are commonplace in the country which still calls its feared secret police the KGB and is often described as the last dictatorship in Europe,» reports Independent.
Belarusian and international human rights activists have interviewed 205 released detainees, many of whom were quickly processed in trials without lawyers and given short jail sentences. At least 148 respondents reported beatings during pre-trial detention, including 57 who stated that they were beaten with batons.
«In many cases, security forces beat and humiliated the people detained after the protests and held them for hours in the cold with no access to food, water or lavatories, and the court then sentenced them in hasty trials with no semblance of due process. It was a mockery of justice from beginning to end,» said Anna Sevortian, Russian director at Human Rights Watch.
One of the protesters, 19-year-old Svetlana, described how three policemen assaulted her when she asked for a lawyer and then refused to sign her arrest record. «One of the policemen held my hands behind my back and the other two were kicking me and beating me with sticks. Other detainees started yelling at them not to beat me, and then they took me into another room and filled in the report. They didn’t even show it to me aying: «You won’t sign it anyway, but it doesn’t matter,» explained the girl.
British Lawyers Demand Release of Detained Opposition Members
The human rights organization H2O Law intends to sue Alexander Lukashenko «if he doesn’t release all political prisoners.» The organization represents the interests of the civilian group Free Belarus Now, created by families of the opposition politicians and journalists, arrested during the demonstrations.
«We believe we got all the ingredients to pursue both a private prosecution and civil action against Alexander Lukashenko,» said one of the organization’s partner, Jason McCue.
Advocates hope that a private prosecution could eventually result in an arrest warrant being issued for Alexander Lukashenko or his associates. President of Belarus and many of his supporters are already restricted by the EU travel ban, but an arrest warrant would cover those countries outside the EU with which Britain has signed an extradition agreement.
British Lawyers Want to Sue «on Behalf of Victims of Lukashenko»
H2O Law also intends to sue the Belarusian leader on behalf of his victims. » If successful, the financial assets of Alexander Lukashenko in the UK and around the world can be frozen.»
The firm had initially been brought in to pressure the UN and the International Criminal Court in The Hague to act on human rights violations. However, allegations of torture have prompted it to take a more direct approach. «We already had a wealth of evidence concerning torture inside the KGB detention centers, but the real game-chenger was the recent testimony from Ales Michalevic,» said Jason McCue.
As Telegraph previously reported, a former presidential candidate, Ales Michalevic, claimed that he had been repeatedly tortured by his interrogators in the KGB jail in Minsk, from where he was recently released. KGB denied his claim.
If H2O Law proceeds as planned, it would be the first time that human rights lawyers have gone after a sovereign head of state. Under international law, torture is one of a small number of crimes that can challenge sovereign immunity.
«If charges include torture, it potentially allows the court to exercise universal jurisdiction, and it could also annul Lukashenko’ claims to sovereign immunity,» said the organization’s lawyer Matthew Jury, who questioned the Belarusian refugees, fled to Europe in January.