Maksim Znak 

Belarusian lawyer imprisoned for ten years for his professional activities


By the spring of 2020, the post of president in Belarus had been occupied by Aliaksandr Lukashenka for 26 years in a row, who gradually subjugated all branches of power in the country. This was ensured by a wide apparatus of intelligence services. Security forces had almost unlimited powers over citizens and could interfere in any area. The courts had no real independence, and in a dispute with the authorities a citizen had little chance of defending his rights. Human rights were of a declarative nature and in a number of cases were significantly limited - especially with regard to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom to participate in the political life of the country. Public expression of dissent or criticism of the authorities could lead to negative consequences for any person, including deprivation of work, property, and freedom. Elections for the presidency, parliament and local government were held under conditions in which the public did not have the opportunity to verify the voluntariness of voting, the absence of falsification and the fairness of the vote count. Activists and politicians who sought public support and could compete with Lukashenka were either not allowed to participate in the elections, or were subject to criminal prosecution, or were forced out of the country, or disappeared without a trace.

In May 2020, the next presidential elections were scheduled in Belarus, which were to be held on August 9, 2020. Several new independent candidates, including Viktar Babaryka, announced their intention to nominate their candidacies. He was a successful head of a large bank, a philanthropist in the field of culture and a supporter of democratic values, so he quickly began to gain popularity.

Despite the atmosphere of unfreedom, there was a great demand for change in Belarusian society.



At the time the elections were called, Maksim Znak was a lawyer with a specialization in business support, managed attorneys bureau, taught at the university while practicing law, and had a PhD in Law. At the end of May 2020, he joined the election headquarters of Viktar Babaryka and became his legal representative, providing legal assistance as a lawyer on issues of the election process.

In just one month of the election campaign, Viktar Babaryka’s team collected a record number of signatures in the history of Belarus for his nomination as a presidential candidate - he became the main competitor of the Lukashenka regime in the upcoming presidential elections.

On June 18, 2020, on the way to the election commission, Viktar Babaryka was arrested and taken into custody, and later was not allowed to participate in the elections. Lawyer Maksim Znak consistently represented the interests of Viktar Babaryka in the election process, seeking his registration as a presidential candidate, and appealed the authorities’ refusal to allow Viktar Babaryka to participate in the presidential elections.

Despite the fact that the authorities removed Viktar Babaryka from the election campaign (in July 2021, Viktar Babaryka was sentenced to 14 years in prison), Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was registered as a presidential candidate. She acted in this capacity instead of her husband, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, who was arrested shortly before the arrest of Viktar Babaryka for the same reason - because he was a notable competitor of the Lukashenka regime (in December 2021, Siarhei Tsikhanouski was sentenced to 18 years in prison).

On July 16, 2020, the political headquarters of Viktar Babaryka joined the headquarters of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and Maksim Znak, as a lawyer, began to provide legal assistance to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, despite the high personal risk.

In addition, during the entire election campaign, Maksim Znak carried out public explanations in the media about the electoral rights of citizens, pointed out violations of these rights by government agencies and talked about legal measures taken to achieve fair elections.

After the presidential elections on August 9, 2020, when the Central Election Commission of Belarus announced Lukashenka’s victory, Maksim Znak, on behalf of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, filed a complaint with the Supreme Court to declare the elections invalid. But the court refused to even accept the complaint for consideration. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya herself, who according to many evidence could be considered the winner of the elections, was forced to leave Belarus under pressure from security forces.

After the elections, against the backdrop of mass protests and their violent suppression by the authorities, representatives of civil society in Belarus established the Coordination Council - a public body created to peacefully overcome the political crisis in Belarus. Maksim Znak became one of the founders of the Coordination Council and became a member of its presidium.



On September 9, 2020, lawyer Maksim Znak was arrested and taken into custody. On September 6, 2021, after a trial closed to the public, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “calls for action aimed at harming national security”, as well as “conspiracy to seize state power” and “creating an extremist formation”.

The unlawfulness of criminal prosecution of lawyer Maksim Znak has been recognized by international organizations and institutions.

Amnesty International recognized Maksim Znak as a prisoner of conscience and the coalition of Belarusian human rights organizations recognized him as a political prisoner.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the arrest and deprivation of liberty of Maksim Znak were arbitrary because they had no legal basis, were conditioned by the peaceful exercise of his rights, were the result of a violation of his right to a fair trial, and were based on discrimination on the basis of his political opinions and his status as a lawyer for a political opposition movement, therefore Maksim Znak should be immediately and unconditionally released.

The UN Special Rapporteurs called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release all prisoners in the country detained on trumped-up charges for exercising their fundamental rights, including Maksim Znak.

However, the authorities refused to release Maksim Znak. He has been in prison for more than three years now. All this time, brutal mass repressions have been going on in Belarus.

The professional community highly appreciated the legal activities of Maksim Znak. In light of the events described, he became a laureate of international awards:

- Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe Human Rights Award 2021;

- International Bar Association Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Rights 2021;

- Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021.



Currently, Maksim Znak is kept in penal colony No. 3 in the village of Vitba, Vitebsk region of the Republic of Belarus. There he was repeatedly placed in a punishment cell, which in the practice of Belarusian penal colonies is used as a way of causing special suffering to a prisoner.

Since February 2023, Maksim Znak has been completely deprived of contact with the outside world: the authorities do not allow lawyers to see him, and have deprived him of phone calls, visits, and correspondence with anyone, including his family.

On January 19, 2024, the UN Human Rights Committee appealed to the authorities of Belarus that it is urgently necessary to provide Maksim Znak with the opportunity to communicate with a lawyer, family, as well as access to qualified medical care.

On February 21, 2024, the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute issued an open statement to the authorities of Belarus that keeping Maksim Znak incommunicado (deprived of contact with the outside world) is torture, contradicts the international obligations of Belarus and must be stopped.

On March 15, 2024, the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded that Maksim Znak was being held incommunicado for more than 11 months, and said that this could amount to enforced disappearance (A/HRC/55/61, paragraph 35).

These appeals were ignored by the Belarusian authorities.

All arguments about the need to respect the rights of Maksim Znak were ignored by the authorities, and the complaints were rejected. All lawyers who defended Maksim Znak were deprived of the right to practice law.

There are compelling reasons to fear for his life and health.

Thus, Maksim Znak is not only wrongfully deprived of his freedom, but is also being kept in torture conditions. We demand to stop this!


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We ask all people to download this poster, post it on your social networks, and also send it to the Belarusian authorities with a demand to stop torturing lawyer Maksim Znak.

You can send your demand to stop torturing Maksim Znak to the authorities of Belarus simultaneously at the following addresses:

Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

General Prosecutor's Office:

Department of Corrections of the Ministry of Internal Affairs: