Open statement in connection with the detention of Belarusian lawyers Ilya Salei and Maksim Znak


We express our deep concern at the detention of lawyers Ilya Salei and Maksim Znak on September 9, 2020, in Belarus, in a criminal case which is undeniably politically motivated. We consider this to be a gross violation of professional rights and privileges and improper interference with their professional legal activities and with their rights to express professional opinions, as established by international legal standards. This case is a direct consequence of a dire situation, problems and violations of professional rights of attorneys and lawyers and overall functioning of the legal profession in the Republic of Belarus. These problems were highlighted by both international organizations and representatives of the legal community before.

According to information posted on the website of the Main Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, “the investigation of the criminal case was opened by the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Belarus under Part 3 of Art. 361 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. At the moment, in the course of the investigation, evidence has been obtained that testify to the commission by individuals of a non-governmental organization called the Coordination Council, of actions aimed at destabilizing the socio-political, economic situation and public awareness in the country, causing harm to the national security of the Republic of Belarus. These actions were carried out using the media and internet resources. With regard to the suspects Maria Kolesnikova and Maksim Znak, with the approval of the prosecutor, a preventive measure was chosen in the form of detention. Ilya Salei was also detained on suspicion of committing this crime.”

However, detained Ilya Salei is a lawyer of Maria Kolesnikova, one of the leaders of the Belarusian protest movement and a member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council, who is also in jail.3 Second detained lawyer Maksim Znak was representing Viktor Babariko, who ran for the President of the Republic of Belarus, but was not allowed to register as a candidate and was recognized as a political prisoner. Maksim Znak was also an attorney for the former presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, on whose behalf he created the Coordination Council. As a member of the Presidium of the Coordinating Council, Maxim Znak was providing legal assistance as an attorney. Maxim Znak’s lawyer Dmitry Laevsky notes: “all his statements, appeals, comments were public, transparent, their content was absolutely legal and did not carry any illegal intentions.”

We would like to emphasize that, in accordance with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, governments must ensure that lawyers can perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment, or improper interference. Lawyers, like other citizens, are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights, and to join or form local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful actions or their membership in a lawful organization.

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee appealed to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers with a report about the situation of lawyers Maksim Znak and Ilya Salei. The report called for urgent action to be taken in connection with the detention of the lawyers and requested to send an urgent message to the Government of Belarus on the need to comply with the Basic Principles concerning the role of lawyers.

Belarusian lawyers and jurists have made an open statement in connection with the detention of their colleagues.

We urge the authorities of the Republic of Belarus to:

– immediately release lawyers Maksim Znak and Ilya Salei and comply with international legal standards of the independence of legal profession and the exercise of the right to defense;

– stop the persecution of lawyers and attorneys who are exercising their constitutional right of freedom of expression by expressing their opinions8 while performing their professional functions;

– strictly observe the provisions of Art. 62 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus: “everyone has the right to exercise and protect rights and freedoms, including the right to use at any time the assistance of lawyers and their other representatives in court, other state bodies, local government bodies, at enterprises, institutions, organizations, public associations and in relations with officials and citizens. Opposition to the provision of legal assistance in the Republic of Belarus is prohibited by law.”


1. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland

2. ARTICLE 19, United Kingdom

3. The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe

4. The Bar Association of Luxembourg

5. The Swedish Bar Association

6. The French and German speaking bars association of Belgium AVOCATS.BE

7. The European Association of Lawyers AEA-EAL

8. Lawyers for Lawyers, The Netherlands

9. FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

10. Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights YUCOM, Serbia

11. OMCT World Organisation Against Torture

12. Human Rights House Foundation, Norway

13. Centre de la protection internationale, France

14. Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Lithuania

15. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), Belgium

16. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee

17. Freedom Now, USA

18. Crude Accountability, USA

19. All-Ukrainian Association of Lawyers Providing Free Legal Aid – Odesa Division, Ukraine

20. Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Russia

21. Pskov Regional Human Rights Environmental Public Movement “Svobodnyi Bereg”, Russia

22. Kharkiv Regional Foundation Public Alternative, Ukraine

23. German-Russian Exchange in St. Petersburg

24. Stichting CAAT Projects, The Netherlands

25. MEMORIAL Deutschland e. V. Haus der Demokratie und Menschenrechte, Germany

26. Legal Policy Research Center, Kazakhstan

27. Public Association Dignity, Kazakhstan

28. Human Rights Movement “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan”

29. Belarusian Helsinki Committee

30. Human Constanta, Belarus

31. Center for Participation and Development, Georgia

32. Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor, Armenia

33. Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement, Ukraine

34. SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, Russia

35. Souchastiye v Sud’be, Blagotvoritel’nyy Tsentr, Russia

36. Human Rights Embassy, Moldova

37. Libereco Partnership for Human Rights, Germany

38. Public Verdict Foundation, Russia

39. Human Rights Group “Grazhdanin, armia, pravo”, Russia

40. DRA – German-Russian Exchange, Germany

41. Social Action Centre, Ukraine

42. Helsinki Committee of Armenia

43. Helsinki association, Armenia

44. Macedonian Helsinki Committee

45. Swedish OSCE-network

46. Albanian Helsinki Committee

47. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

48. Women of the Don, Russia

49. Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia

50. Human Rights House Zagreb, Croatia

51. Human Rights Center, Georgia

52. Mogilev Human Rights Center, Belarus

53. Netherlands Helsinki Committee

54. Human Rights Center ZMINA, Ukraine

55. The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House

56. “Ekumena” Center, Belarus

57. Youth Memorial – Perm, Russia

58. Human Rights House in Chernihiv, Ukraine

59. The Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims

60. Östgruppen – Swedish initiative for democracy and human rights, Sweden

61. IDP Women Association Consent, Georgia

62. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, Kazakhstan

63. Czech Bar Association, The Czech Republic (tbc)

64. Civil Initiative Against Lawlessness in Courts and Prosecutor’s Office, Belarus

65. AED-EDL (Avocat.e.s Européennes Démocrates / European Democratic Lawyers),

Barcelona, Spain

66. Freedom House, USA

67. Independent Social Ecological Movement – NESEHNUTI, Brno, The Czech Republic

68. Stichting CAAT Projects, the Netherlands

69. La Asociación Libre de Abogados, Spain

70. RAW for Women and Girl Survivors of War (Raw in War)

71. Citizens Network Watchdog, Poland

72. ORDRE DES AVOCATS DE PARIS / Paris Bar, France

73. The Сouncil of the Warsaw Bar Association of Advocates, Poland

74. Russian LGBT Network

75. Board of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum

76. Freedom of Religion and Believe – FORB, Belarus

77. Human Rights Center Memorial, Russia

78. Khusanbai Saliev, lawyer, Bir Duino-Osh, Kyrgyzstan

79. Valerian Vakhitov, lawyer, Bir Duino-Osh, Kyrgyzstan

80. Lyudmila Ulyashina, Human Rights Advocate, PhD in Law, Associate Professor, European

Humanities University

81. Lyubov Moseyeva-Elye, Legal Adviser, Kaluga Movement For Human Rights, Russia

82. Magomed Mutsolgov, journalist and human rights activist, Ingushetia, Russia

83. Dina Shautsova, Lawyer, Belarus