‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’: Oleg Belousov, a St. Petersburg resident jailed for anti-war remarks on social media, is a political prisoner

20 July 2022

Oleg Belousov has been remanded in custody on charges of spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian military

Source: Political Prisoners. Memorial

The ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ human rights project, in accordance with international standards, considers Oleg Belousov a political prisoner. His prosecution violates the right to freedom of expression and is intended to silence the voices of all those in Russia who oppose the war against Ukraine.

We demand the immediate release of Oleg Belousov. All criminal prosecutions under the unconstitutional Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code must be terminated.

Who is Oleg Belousov and what are the charges against him?

Oleg Belousov is a 55-year-old St. Petersburg resident who engages in excavations and ‘treasure hunting.’ Registered as having a minor disability [of the ‘third group’], he is the sole carer for his 21-year-old son who has special psychological needs.

In April, in a chat on the ‘St. Petersburg Diggers’ group on the VK social media website, Belousov wrote that Russian troops had committed war crimes in Bucha, Gostomel and Irpen and were ‘raping and pillaging’ in Ukraine. His posts were immediately deleted by moderators but three months later the person with whom Belousov had been arguing in the online chat, fellow member of the VK group Sergei Chmykhun, who had saved copies of the comments, reported Belousov to the authorities. 

On 27 June officers from SOBR [Special Rapid Response Unit] broke down his apartment’s iron door and searched his home. Later the same day Oleg Belousov was charged under Article 207.3 (Part 2, Paragraph d) of the Russian Criminal Code. He maintains his innocence of the charges.

On 28 June Moskovsky district court in St. Petersburg remanded Belousov in custody.

Why do we consider Oleg Belousov a political prisoner?

Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code, criminalising dissemination of information known to be false about the actions of the Russian army, contradicts the Russian Constitution, Russia’s international obligations and fundamental principles of law.

In particular, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: ‘Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.’ Restrictions on the exercise of these rights ‘shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.’ Such norms are also contained in Article 29 of the Russian Constitution. The restrictions on freedom of expression introduced by Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code serve none of these purposes and are a form of censorship.

Article 207.3 criminalises any statements about the use of the Russian armed forces and the activities of Russian state bodies abroad. In the course of an armed conflict, it is not always possible to establish the accuracy of information disseminated by various sources. Still less is it possible to establish whether the person who disseminated a given piece of information knew it was false. Taken together, these deficiencies determine the unlawful nature of Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code.

The timing and context of the introduction of Article 207.3 into the Russian Criminal Code – after the beginning of large-scale Russian military aggression against Ukraine – allow us to assert that this article was specifically intended as a means to prosecute critics of the Russian authorities. This fully applies to the prosecution of Oleg Belousov.

We take note of the fact that since Belousov’s words were deleted by the moderators almost immediately after they were posted, they would not have constituted a great danger to society, even if such statements did in principle represent a danger to society as this article of the Criminal Code suggests.

More information about the case of Oleg Belousov and the position of the ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ project is available on our Telegram channel.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply the ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ project agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.

How can you help?

You can send letters to the following address:

In Russian: 196655, г. Санкт-Петербург, г. Колпино, ул. Колпинская, 9, ФКУ СИЗО-1 УФСИН по СПб и ЛО, Белоусову Олегу Васильевичу, 1967 г. р.

In English: Oleg Vasilievich Belousov (born 1967), Remand Prison No. 1, Russian Federal Penitentiary Service for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region, 9 Kolpinskaya Street, Kolpino, St. Petersburg, 196655, Russia.

Electronic mail can be sent via ‘FederalPenitentiaryService-Letter.’ 

You can donate to support all political prisoners via the PayPal (helppoliticalprisoners@gmail.com) or YooMoney accounts of the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners.

Translated by Rights in Russia

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