GENEVA (30 July 2021) — The decision to cancel the licence of a Belarusian lawyer after he spoke to the media about the detention conditions of his client, an opposition presidential candidate, violated the lawyer’s rights to a fair hearing and freedom of expression, the UN Human Rights Committee has found.
The Committee issued its findings after considering a complaint filed by Aleh Aheyeu, a defence lawyer who represented Ales Mikhalevich, an opposition candidate in the presidential election of 2010.
Mikhalevich was arrested on the day after the election by Belarus KGB agents on charges of organizing what were termed mass riots. Mikhalevich denied the accusations, saying that the protests were aimed at highlighting the results of an unfair election which saw President Alexander Lukashenko, in office since 1994, declare victory. While in detention, Mikhalevich was allegedly tortured, and deprived of medical care and legal assistance.
Aheyeu spoke about Mikhalevich’s detention conditions to Belarusian journalists and his comments were published online by European Radio for Belarus. Belarus authorities then started an investigation against Aheyeu for overstepping the work of a lawyer and violating professional ethics.
On 14 February 2011, the Belarus Ministry of Justice cancelled Aheyeu’s licence, arguing that he had “committed an offence incompatible with being a lawyer”. After making several unsuccessful appeals to the authorities to reverse their decision, Aheyeu turned to the Human Rights Committee.
“It is clear that Mr. Aheyeu was severely and unfairly sanctioned merely for speaking to the media, which he did in the interests of his client and in order to satisfy public interest,” said Arif Bulkan, member of the Committee.
“The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Mr. Aheyeu’s situation does not fall under the possible exceptional limitations to this right,” Bulkan added.
“Mr. Aheyeu, in addition, was never notified of the Ministry of Justice’s charges and proceedings against him. He was not present at the hearing and did not have a chance to mount a defence. He was denied a fair and public trial by an independent and impartial tribunal.”
In its conclusion, the Human Rights Committee urged Belarus to take appropriate steps to provide Aheyeu with adequate compensation and to restore his lawyer’s licence. The Committee also called on the State party to take measures to ensure that similar violations do not recur in the future.