The families of political prisoners detained in Belarus after the 19 December election have instructed a London law firm to launch civil proceedings against the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko.
This is the first time that a serving president has faced a private prosecution for torture in a UK Court.
If the case is successful, any financial assets held by Lukashenko in Britain, or abroad, may be frozen to provide compensation.
London firm H20 Law will represent Free Belarus Now, a coalition of friends, families and supporters, including Index on Censorship of the victims of political repression in Belarus.
The firm is known for bringing human rights cases on behalf of victims of terrorist organisations (the Real IRA) and rogue states (Libya).
H20’s founding partner Jason McCue says: “We are gathering together all the ingredients we need to pursue both a private prosecution and civil action against Alexander Lukashenko. We are getting ready to go and the families that we represent are determined.”
On the 19 December 2010, thousands of people took to the streets of Minsk in a pro-democracy rally whilst awaiting the announcement of the results of the presidential election. Hundreds were arrested, including opposition candidates Andrei Sannikov, Aliaksei Mikhalevich, Uladzimir Niakliayeu, Mikalai Statkevich, and Vital Rymasheuski. Sannikov and Statkevich are still being held in the Belarus State Security Agency (KGB) detention centre in Minsk and allegations have been made recently that prisoners have been subject torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Mikhalevich, released by the KGB two months after his arrest, has stated that he was tortured during his time in detention.
According to H20 lawyer Matthew Jury “If charges include torture it potentially allows the court to exercise universal jurisdiction and it could also annul Lukashenko’s claim to sovereign immunity.”
Natalia Koliada of the Belarus Free Theatre commented: “Our country needs justice against a dictator that has abused our people for too long. In the absence of the international community having the will and the ability to bring strong action against Lukashenko we have decided to take action ourselves. We are delighted that Belarusian lawyers have joined forces with this experienced international team to bring about a true ‘peoples’ action’ against this dictator. We hope this will be the first step to justice for Belarus and a free Belarus.”
Mike Harris of Index on Censorship said: “It is to Lukashenko’s shame that Belarussians have to come to a English court to speak freely and find justice.”
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