‘Memorial. Political Prisoners’: Muscovite Aleksandr Gedzhadze, convicted in Belarus of disorderly conduct, is a political prisoner

21 November 2022

Aleksandr Gedzhadze, sentenced to three years’ imprisonment by a Belarusian court, will serve his sentence in Russia

Source: Political Prisoners. Memorial

The human rights project ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ considers Aleksandr Gedzhadze a political prisoner in accordance with international standards. We believe his criminal prosecution was politically motivated and related to non-violent exercise of the right to peaceful assembly. Gedzhadze has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment in violation of his right to a fair trial.

We demand the immediate release of Aleksandr Gedzhadze and that all criminal charges against him be dropped.

What were the charges against Gedzhadze?

Aleksandr Gedzhadze is a 35-year-old businessman from Moscow. He often travelled to the Belarusian capital to visit friends and his girlfriend, as well as on business matters. 

On 27 October 2020, Gedzhadze was detained in Minsk and later charged with ‘participation in group activities that grossly violate public order’  (Article 342, Part 1, of the Criminal Code of Belarus). According to Belarusian law enforcement bodies, on 12 October Gedzhadze drove a car share to transport tyres used to make barricades at the Cascade housing complex. That evening, protests took place in many districts of the Belarusian capital in reaction to the use of force to disperse the ‘Pensioners’ March.’ 

In court Gedzhadze did not deny he transported the tyres at the request of his acquaintances, but claimed he did not know what they would be used for. He did not build barricades and did not take part in the protests. He also reimbursed the damage claimed by the Ministry of Emergencies – 66.36 Belarusian roubles (just over 27 euros).

On 20 April 2021, a Belarusian court found Aleksandr Gedzhadze guilty and sentenced him to three years in a general regime penal colony. In January 2022, Moscow City Court heard a petition by Gedzhadze’s defence and ruled he be transferred to a Russian penal colony. To enable such a transfer, the charges against him were changed to fall under Russian law – in Russia he will serve his sentence for the offence of ‘participation in riots’ (Article 212, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code). 

Why do we consider Aleksandr Gedzhadze a political prisoner?

In the last two years the authorities in Belarus have responded to civil protest with an unprecedented wave of political repression. According to the statistics of the Belarusian Viasna Human Rights Centre, from the beginning of the Belarusian 2020 presidential campaign until November 2022, there have been more than 5,500 criminal prosecutions in the country related to protests against the results of the presidential election. As of early November 2022, 1,355 people were in detention on political grounds.

This number includes Aleksandr Gedzhadze, recognised as a political prisoner by Belarusian human rights organisations in January 2021.

Having studied the materials of the case, we agree with this assessment.

The criminal prosecution of Aleksandr Gedzhadze is part of the campaign to suppress protests in Minsk. At that time it had become evident that the residents of the new housing complexes – mostly young, economically active and successful Belarusians – had learned to unite, coordinate their actions and create socially active groups on the basis of neighbourhood chats. The Cascade housing complex in Minsk became famous throughout the country for the huge red and white banners that residents regularly hung between their apartment buildings. The crackdown on Minsk’s most prominent protest communities, such as Cascade, the Square of Changes (where security forces killed one of the protesters), the Malinovka neighbourhood and others, was intended to demonstrate to Belarusian civil society the authorities’ intent to suppress protests, the security forces’ impunity and the courts’ subservience. 

We believe that, irrespective of whether Gedzhadze knew about the purpose of the tyres, he has been prosecuted for his exercise of the right to peaceful assembly and is a victim of political repression. He must be released immediately. 

The fact that there is no article in the Russian Criminal Code criminalising ‘active participation in actions that grossly violate public order’ is all the more reason to demand Gedzhadze’s release. The reclassification of Gedzhadze’s offence under Article 212, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code is wrong and, therefore, there are no grounds for holding Aleksandr Gedzhadze in a Russian penal colony.

A more detailed description of the case and the position of the ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ human rights project are available on our publishing platform on Telegram.

An up-to-date list of political prisoners in Russia is available on our 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?

Letters can be sent to the following address:

In Russian: 215500, Смоленская область, г. Сафоново, микрорайон Горный, посёлок Шахта, 3, ФКУ ИК-3 УФСИН России по Смоленской области, Геджадзе Александру Давидовичу, 1986 г. р. 

In English:  Aleksandr Davidovich Gedzhadze (born 1986), Penal Colony No. 3, Russian Federal Penitentiary Service for Smolensk region, 3, Shakhta Settlement, Gorny microdistrict, Safonovo, Smolensk region, 215500, Russia 

Electronic mail can be sent via the Zonatelekom service, or the voluntary Rosuznik project.

In addition, 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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