September 10, 2020

We express our deep concern at the detention of lawyers Ilya Salei and Maksim Znak on September 9, 2020, in Belarus, in a criminal case which is undeniably politically motivated. We consider this to be a gross violation and interference with their professional legal activities and with their rights to express professional opinions, as established by international legal standards. This case is a direct consequence of a dire situation, problems and violations of professional rights of attorneys and lawyers and overall functioning of the legal profession in the Republic of Belarus. These problems were highlighted by both international organizations and representatives of the legal community before.[1]

According to information posted on the website of the Main Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, “the investigation of the criminal case opened by the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Belarus under Part 3 of Art. 361 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. At the moment, in the course of the investigation, evidence has been obtained that testify to the commission by individuals of a non-governmental organization called the Coordination Council, actions aimed at destabilizing the socio-political, economic situation and public awareness in the country, causing harm to the national security of the Republic of Belarus. These actions were carried out using the media and internet resources. With regard to the suspects Maria Kolesnikova and Maksim Znak, with the approval of the prosecutor, a preventive measure was chosen in the form of detention. Ilya Salei was also detained on suspicion of committing this crime.”[2]

However, detained Ilya Salei is a lawyer of Maria Kolesnikova, one of the leaders of the Belarusian protest movement and a member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council, who is also in jail.[3] Second detained lawyer Maksim Znak was representing Viktor Babariko, who ran for the President of the Republic of Belarus, but was not allowed to register as a candidate and was recognized as a political prisoner. Maksim Znak was also an attorney for the former presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, on whose behalf he created the Coordination Council. As a member of the Presidium of the Coordinating Council, Maxim Znak was providing legal assistance as an attorney. Maxim Znak’s lawyer Dmitry Laevsky notes: “all his statements, appeals, comments were public, transparent, their content was absolutely legal and did not carry any illegal intentions.”[4]

We would like to emphasize that, in accordance with the United Nation’s Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers[5], governments must ensure that lawyers can perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment, or improper interference. Lawyers, like other citizens, are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they 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 actions or their membership in a lawful organization.

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee appealed to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers with a report about the situation of lawyers Maksim Znak and Ilya Salei.[6] The report called for urgent action to be taken in connection with the detention of the lawyers and requested to send an urgent message to the Government of Belarus on the need to comply with the Basic Principles concerning the role of lawyers.

Belarusian lawyers and jurists have made an open statement in connection with the detention of their colleagues.[7]

We also demand from the authorities of the Republic of Belarus to:

– immediately release lawyers Maksim Znak and Ilya Salei and comply with international legal standards of the independence of legal profession and the exercise of the right to defense;

– stop the persecution of lawyers and attorneys who are exercising their constitutional right of free expression by expressing their opinions[8] while performing professional functions;

– strictly observe the provisions of Art. 62 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus: “everyone has the right to exercise and protect rights and freedoms, including the right to use at any time the assistance of lawyers and their other representatives in court, other state bodies, local government bodies, at enterprises, institutions, organizations, public associations and in relations with officials and citizens. Opposition to the provision of legal assistance in the Republic of Belarus is prohibited by law.”[9]

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  1. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland
  2. ARTICLE 19, United Kingdom
  3. The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe
  4. The Bar Association of Luxembourg
  5. The Swedish Bar Association
  6. The French and German speaking bars association of Belgium AVOCATS.BE
  7. The European Association of Lawyers AEA-EAL
  8. Lawyers for Lawyers, The Netherlands
  9. FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
  10. Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights YUCOM, Serbia
  11. OMCT World Organisation Against Torture
  12. Human Rights House Foundation, Norway
  13. Centre de la protection internationale, France
  14. Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Lithuania
  15. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), Belgium
  16. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee
  17. Freedom Now, USA
  18. Crude Accountability, USA
  19. All-Ukrainian Association of Lawyers Providing Free Legal Aid – Odesa Division, Ukraine
  20. Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Russia
  21. Pskov Regional Human Rights Environmental Public Movement “Svobodnyi Bereg”, Russia
  22. Kharkiv Regional Foundation Public Alternative, Ukraine
  23. German-Russian Exchange in St. Petersburg
  24. Stichting CAAT Projects, The Netherlands
  25. MEMORIAL Deutschland e. V. Haus der Demokratie und Menschenrechte, Germany
  26. Legal Policy Research Center, Kazakhstan
  27. Public Association Dignity, Kazakhstan
  28. Human Rights Movement “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan”
  29. Belarusian Helsinki Committee
  30. Human Constanta, Belarus
  31. Center for Participation and Development, Georgia
  32. Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor, Armenia
  33. Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement, Ukraine
  34. SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, Russia
  35. Souchastiye v Sud’be, Blagotvoritel’nyy Tsentr, Russia
  36. Human Rights Embassy, Moldova
  37. Libereco Partnership for Human Rights, Germany
  38. Public Verdict Foundation, Russia
  39. Human Rights Group “Grazhdanin, armia, pravo”, Russia
  40. DRA – German-Russian Exchange, Germany
  41. Social Action Centre, Ukraine
  42. Helsinki Committee of Armenia
  43. Helsinki association, Armenia
  44. Macedonian Helsinki Committee
  45. Swedish OSCE-network
  46. Albanian Helsinki Committee
  47. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
  48. Women of the Don, Russia
  49. Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia
  50. Human Rights House Zagreb, Croatia
  51. Human Rights Center, Georgia
  52. Mogilev Human Rights Center, Belarus
  53. Netherlands Helsinki Committee
  54. Human Rights Center ZMINA, Ukraine
  55. The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
  56. “Ekumena” Center, Belarus
  57. Youth Memorial – Perm, Russia
  58. Human Rights House in Chernihiv, Ukraine
  59. The Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims
  60. Östgruppen – Swedish initiative for democracy and human rights, Sweden
  61. IDP Women Association Consent, Georgia
  62. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, Kazakhstan
  63. Czech Bar Association, The Czech Republic (tbc)
  64. Civil Initiative Against Lawlessness in Courts and Prosecutor’s Office, Belarus
  65. AED-EDL (Avocat.e.s Européennes Démocrates / European Democratic Lawyers), Barcelona, Spain
  66. Freedom House, USA
  67. Independent Social Ecological Movement – NESEHNUTI, Brno, The Czech Republic
  68. Stichting CAAT Projects, the Netherlands
  69. La Asociación Libre de Abogados, Spain
  70. RAW for Women and Girl Survivors of War (Raw in War)
  71. Citizens Network Watchdog, Poland
  72. ORDRE DES AVOCATS DE PARIS / Paris Bar, France
  73. The Сouncil of the Warsaw Bar Association of Advocates, Poland
  74. Russian LGBT Network
  75. Board of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum
  76. Freedom of Religion and Believe – FORB, Belarus
  77. Human Rights Center Memorial, Russia

[1] See,

[2] See

[3] Coordination Council – public initiative, created with the goal of overcoming political crisis in Belarus and ensuring peace and understanding, and also for protection of sovereignty and independence of the republic of Belarus. More information about the Council please see

[4] See

[5] Adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August to 7 September 1990, see

[6] See


[8] Article 33 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus

[9] See

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