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Belarus: UN experts call for release from prison of veteran politician suffering from cancer

26 February 2024

GENEVA (26 February 2024) – UN experts* today expressed concern at the reported critical health condition and ill-treatment in detention of Ryhor Kastusiou (Grigoriy Kostusev), a 66-year-old veteran opposition politician serving a 10-year sentence for “conspiracy to seize power in an unconstitutional way”.

“Failure to provide adequate medical treatment and care to detainees in critical condition violates Belarus’ obligation under international human rights law to treat persons deprived of liberty with humanity and respect for their inherent dignity,” the UN experts said. “It may even amount to torture.”

Ryhor Kastusiou, detained since 2021, is the leader of the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) party, one of the oldest Belarusian opposition parties, which was liquidated by the Supreme Court on 14 August 2023. He was reportedly diagnosed with cancer shortly after his arrest but has not received adequate and timely medical treatment and care.

“The failure of the prison medical services to provide Mr Kastusiou, his lawyer and his family with the results of his medical examinations in a timely manner has deprived him of the opportunity to effectively seek release from detention on medical grounds,” the experts said.

They noted that despite his deteriorating health, Kastusiou has been repeatedly transferred to a punishment cell (SHIZO) and a cell-like premise (PKT). According to several consistent allegations received by UN experts over the past year, both SHIZO and PKT are notorious for inhumane conditions of detention.

The experts highlighted the lack of adequate legal safeguards and effective remedies to prevent and challenge the abuse of disciplinary measures by prison authorities.

“Despite his advanced age and medical condition, Mr Kastusiou has reportedly been repeatedly subjected to harsher conditions of detention than those provided for in his sentence and has been deprived of effective remedies to challenge these conditions,” they said.

In view of Kastusiou’s grave health condition, the experts called on Belarusian authorities to consider granting him a pardon or remission of sentence, or replacing his imprisonment with an alternative form of deprivation of liberty, in accordance with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Noncustodial Measures (Tokyo Rules).

The UN experts are in contact with the Belarusian authorities about these allegations.

*The experts: Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Ms. Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Mr. Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo and Mr. Mumba Malila, Working Group on arbitrary detention; Ms. Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons

Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

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