‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’: Andrei Russkikh, a psychotherapist from Belarus threatened with extradition to his home country, is a political prisoner

17 August 2022

Andrei Russkikh has been charged with insulting Aliaksandr Lukashenka and inciting hatred of Belarusian law enforcement bodies.

Source: ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial

The human rights project ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ considers Belarusian citizen Andrei Russkikh a political prisoner in accordance with international standards. We believe his criminal prosecution is politically motivated and related exclusively to his beliefs and his exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

We demand the immediate release of Andrei Russkikh from custody. We demand that the Russian authorities fulfil their international obligations under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The request to extradite Andrei Russkikh to Belarus must be turned down and he must be granted temporary asylum.

Who is Andrei Russkikh and what are the charges against him?

Andrei Russkikh is a well-known Belarusian psychologist and psychotherapist from Orsha. He works in the field of anxiety phobias and sexual disorders.

In December 2021 Andrei Russkikh moved to Russia and he has since been engaged in transferring his psychotherapeutic practice to the country.

In March 2022, after Russkikh had already left for Russia, criminal charges were brought against him in Belarus for publicly insulting the President of Belarus (Article 368 of the Belarusian Criminal Code) and incitement of social hatred (Article 130 of the Belarusian Criminal Code). According to Belarusian investigators, in the years 2021 and 2022 Russkikh posted commentaries to publications on the Telegram social media site in which he insulted Lukashenka, spoke negatively about Belarusian law enforcement agencies and even called for actions ‘intended to harm [them].’

On 28 May 2022, Russkikh was detained at a train station in St. Petersburg and then taken into custody pending a decision on his extradition.

Andrei Russkikh maintains his innocence of the offences with which he has been charged; while held in a Russian remand prison he applied for temporary asylum in the country.

Why do we consider Andrei Russkikh a political prisoner?

Having studied the materials of the case, we concluded that the prosecution of Andrei Russkikh is politically motivated, has been carried out in the context of the unlawful mass repressions in Belarus, and that extradition to his home country could threaten his life and health. 

The political crisis in Belarus was triggered by the August 2020 presidential elections. Civil society was outraged by the widespread falsification of the election results and there were numerous street protests. The security forces responded with unprecedented repression. The first street demonstrations were broken up by the Belarusian police using tear gas, stun grenades, water cannon and rubber bullets. The extreme cruelty with which law enforcement officers treated detainees became public knowledge immediately.

Belarusians have demanded an end to the torture and prosecutions and that those who perpetrated the violence be brought to justice. However, not a single case of law enforcement officers being brought to justice has been reported so far.

According to the statistics of the Belarusian Human Rights Centre (HRC) ‘Viasna,’the number of political prisoners in Belarus at the end of January 2022 was 1,007, while by mid-August 2022 it had already reached 1,282 people. Since then, Belarusian human rights defenders have continued to register numerous cases of torture and ill-treatment of those prosecuted for alleged crimes. They point out that, since the start of the crisis, there has been no reduction in the number of complaints of torture.

The criminal prosecution of those in opposition to the authorities for alleged crimes of insult or incitement to hatred is regularly used in Belarus without any foundation as a means to intimidate civil society. For example, in the materials of Andrei Russkikh’s criminal case available to us, there is no evidence for the crimes of which he stands accused. Even the forensic analysis conducted by the investigative authorities does not confirm that his statements contained appeals to violence, while negative assessments of the actions of politicians and law enforcement officers by citizens should not be subject to criminal prosecutions since they are a lawful exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

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

A complete list of political prisoners in Russia can be found on our temporary website.

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, Россия, г. Санкт-Петербург, г. Колпино, ул. Колпинская, д. 9, ФКУ СИЗО-1 УФСИН России по г. Санкт-Петербургу и Ленинградской области, Русских Андрею Владимировичу, 1979 года рождения.

In English: Andrei Vladimirovich Russkikh (born 1979), Remand Prison No. 1, Russian Federal Penitentiary Service for St. Petersburg and Leningrad region, 9 Kolpinskaya Street, Kolpino, St. Petersburg, 196655, Russia.

You can also send electronic mail via FederalPenitentiaryService-Letter or Zonatelekom.

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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