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Human Rights Situation in Belarus: December 2021

2021 2021-12-31T17:36:29+0300 2021-12-31T17:36:31+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”


  • in December, the authorities continued to apply politically motivated prosecution, issuing excessively harsh punishments to individual political prisoners;
  • as of December 30, there were 970 political prisoners held in places of detention; the number continue to increase steadily;
  • seven members of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” continue to be held in pre-trial detention on arbitrary charges: Ales Bialiatski, chairman of the organization, member of Viasna’s Board, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, a lawyer and coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign, coordinator of Viasna’s network of volunteers Marfa Rabkova, and volunteer Andrei Chapiuk. Leanid Sudalenka, a member of Viasna in Homieĺ and head of the Strategic Litigation Center, and Tatsiana Lasitsa, a Viasna volunteer, were sentenced to three years and two years and six months in prison, respectively, and are awaiting appeal hearings.
  • volunteers and members of Viasna faced new searches and detentions;
  • detentions of peaceful protesters continue, as well as arbitrary detentions of citizens for the use of white-red-white symbols, including in private homes and territories; in December, Viasna documented 2 fines totaling 40 basic units and 29 terms of administrative imprisonment totaling 381 days;
  • human rights defenders and journalists continue to report numerous cases of ill-treatment of politically imprisoned citizens detained and administratively imprisoned for participating in peaceful assemblies. Inhumane conditions of detention for this category of detainees deliberately created by the administration of pre-trial prisons, detention centers and other facilities are considered by Viasna experts as torture;
  • torture continues to be used in the investigation of politically motivated criminal cases.

Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution

The authorities continue to prosecute participants in the post-election protests of 2020, together with dissidents and critics of the government. This is still the most severe form of repression, which remains massive and widespread. Other types of persecution of pro-democracy activists include the widespread practice of politically motivated dismissals.

The number of political prisoners increased by 82 in the month to 970 as of December 30, continuing to grow steadily.

On December 14, six political prisoners were sentenced in Homieĺ: Siarhei Tikhanouski, Ihar Losik, Mikalai Statkevich, Uladzimir Tsyhanovich, Artsiom Sakau, and Dzmitry Papou. The trial in what is known as the “Tsikhanouski case” was held behind closed doors at the city’s pre-trial prison and lasted almost six months. The political prisoners were accused of organizing “mass riots” in Belarus during the preparation and holding of the 2020 presidential election, inciting social hatred and obstructing the work of the Central Election Commission. All the defendants were arrested long before the election. The Prosecutor General’s Office filed a lawsuit against the accused in the amount of 3,078 million rubles ($ 1.2 million). Siarhei Tikhanouski was sentenced to 18 years in prison, Mikalai Statkevich to 14 years in prison, Ihar Losik to 15 years in prison, Dzmitry Papou to 16 years in prison, Artsiom Sakau to 16 years in prison, and Uladzimir Tsyhanovich to 15 years in prison. The arbitrarily harsh sentences demonstrate the authorities’ unwillingness to engage in national reconciliation. On the contrary, the government aims to create conditions for the crackdown on its opponents and intimidating supporters of democratic change.

Political prisoner Eduard Palchys was sentenced in the Minsk City Court on December 17. He was charged under four articles of the Criminal Code: Part 1 of Art. 293 (organization of mass riots), Part 1 of Art. 342 (organization of actions that grossly violate public order), Part 3 of Art. 130 (incitement to social hatred) and Part 3 of Art. 361 (calls for action aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus). The trial was held behind closed doors in order to “prevent the dissemination of extremist material”, which grossly violated the procedural and constitutional rights of the accused. Judge Piotr Arlou found the blogger guilty and sentenced him to 13 years in prison.

On December 22, the Minsk Regional Court announced a verdict in a criminal case against anarchists Dzmitry Dubouski, Dzmitry Rezanovich, Ihar Alinevich, and Siarhei Ramanau. They were accused of involvement in a number of offenses: arson of police cars, buildings of the traffic police inspection and the Homieĺ regional office of the forensic committee. Dubouski and Alinevich faced additional charges of illegal transportation of prohibited substances, firearms and explosives. The trial was held behind closed doors. The ban cited “protection of personal data of the three victims involved in the case.” Alinevich, Rezanovich and Ramanau refused to take part in the trial. Judge Viachaslau Tuleika sentenced them to various terms of imprisonment: Ihar Alinevich and Siarhei Ramanau – 20 years each, Dzmitry Dubouski – 18 years, and Dzmitry Rezanovich – 19 years. All of them were recognized as political prisoners in connection with the violation of the right to a fair trial.

On December 27, the Minsk City Court announced a verdict in a criminal case against Yegor Dudnikov. Judge Siarhei Khrypach sentenced the Russian national to 11 years in a penal colony. Dudnikov was arrested on May 4 in Minsk, severely beaten and tortured. The indictment was initially filed under Part 1 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code in connection with the fact that he voiced videos and audio messages in a Telegram channel called “OGSB”. However, Dudnikov was eventually convicted under different charges, Part 3 of Art. 130 (incitement to hatred or enmity) and Part 3 of Art. 361 (calls for action aimed at harming the national security of Belarus). Dudnikov’s trial was held behind closed doors to “prevent the distribution of extremist products” and “protect the expert, Kniazeu”.

Ales Bialiatski, chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, Valiantsin Stefanovich, member of Viasna’s Board and vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Uladzimir Labkovich, lawyer and coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign, Maryia (Marfa) Rabkova, head of Viasna’s network of volunteers, and volunteer Andrei Chapiuk continue to be held in pre-trial detention. The head of Viasna’s Homieĺ branch Leanid Sudalenka (three years) and volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa (two and a half years) were sentenced to terms of imprisonment.

In early December, more than 20 Viasna volunteers were searched, detained and interrogated; the detainees were forced to sign non-disclosure statements. In response to the new attack, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" made a statement, strongly protesting against the new wave of pressure on the organization and its volunteers, condemning violations of human rights and freedoms as instruments of pressure on human rights defenders and volunteers, and in general on all segments of civil society, and reaffirmed its readiness to continue peaceful legitimate activities to protect and promote human rights.

Human rights activist Uladzimir Tseliapun’s apartment and summer house were also searched, information products were confiscated. Mahilioŭ human rights activist Barys Bukhel was also searched. Ales Kaputski, a human rights activist of Viasna, was detained in Maladziečna on December 17. On December 20, he was sentenced to 15 days in jail under Part 2 of Art. 19.11 of the Administrative Code (dissemination of extremist material).

Violations of the freedom of peaceful assembly. Suppression of freedom of expression

Criminal and administrative persecution of peaceful protesters and dissidents continues.

The Investigative Committee said it had opened two cases under Article 342-2 of the Criminal Code for “repeated violations of holding mass events.” These are the first known cases after the criminalization of such actions. This article provides for brief imprisonment, restricted freedom or imprisonment for up to three years. In one of the cases, a 59-year-old homeless man from Minsk, Aliaksandr Kutas, faced criminal charges after spending at least 130 days of administrative imprisonment on charges of “unauthorized picketing”. The man was convicted for displaying posters, which usually depicted the BSSR flag and requested help. In a separate picket, Kutas was detained for holding a white-red-white poster reading “Give me back my childhood, give me back my youth, and my first love. Help me forget the camps and long live the People’s Republic of Belarus.”

The participants of the protests in 2020 are still being convicted by the courts. On December 14, the Saviecki District Court of Minsk handed down a verdict in the criminal case of political prisoners, members of the fantasy-folk band IRDORATH, Uladzimir and Nadzeya Kalach, accused of organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order (Part 1, Article 342 of the Criminal Code). Judge Aliaksandr Yakunchykhin sentenced both to 2 years in prison each. On December 28, the Lieninski District Court convicted three more political prisoners, members of the same band, Yuliya Marchanka, Piotr Marchanka and Anton Shnip. Judge Anastasiya Achalava sentenced each of them to 1.5 years in a general-security penal colony. The press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that “in August last year a group of “bagpipers” repeatedly led a column of protesters and used musical instruments to involve citizens in the unauthorized mass rallies. The performance by the coordinators strengthened the protest mood of the participants and pushed them towards illegal actions against the police.”

On December 24, it became known that cultural manager Pavel Belavus, who had served three consecutive terms of administrative imprisonment, was eventually arrested in a criminal case under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (group actions that grossly violate public order). His house was searched and IT equipment confiscated.

On December 3, the Minsk City Court sentenced Volha Zalatar, a political prisoner and a mother of five. She was found guilty under three articles of the Criminal Code: Part 1 of Art. 361-1 (creation of an extremist formation), Parts 1 and 2 of Art. 342 (organization and training of actions that grossly violate public order), Part 1 of Art. 16 Part of 1 Art. 342 (assistance in organizing actions that grossly violate public order). Judge Anastasiya Papko sentenced her to four years in prison.

On December 17, Judge Tatsiana Lauraniuk of the Maskoŭski District Court of Brest sentenced twelve defendants to various terms of imprisonment over involvement in what became known as the “dancing protest”. 114 people have already been convicted in the case. All of them were found guilty of “gross violation of public order” (Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code). On September 13, 2020, protesters gathered at an intersection in central Brest to sing songs and dance. The demonstrators were dispersed with a water cannon, and dozens later faced criminal charges. This is by far the biggest political case in the history of Belarus.

Police officers continue to organize special operations across Belarus to storm houses and apartments in search of protest symbols, detain people in their work places, conduct searches and interrogations. The authorities are stepping up various forms of pressure and repression for active citizenship and opposing government policies. The courts hear administrative cases against persons arrested for displaying flags and stickers on windows and storing them in their apartments, reposting and commenting on social media, as well as other forms of protest activities or expression of opinion.

Cuban citizen Roberto Valdés Casanueva was detained during a protest on November 8 last year. He was later sentenced to 15 days, after which he was not released. The man spent more than 12 months in a detention center awaiting deportation. In early December, it became known that he was deported to Cuba.

A court in Polack ordered a 25-day term in detention under Art. 24.23 of the Administrative Code for Anatol Kakhanchyk, the owner of a white-red-white house, on charges of “unauthorized picketing”. Kakhanchyk declared a hunger strike to protest the sentence. A year ago, the man re-painted his parents’ house near Polack. He painted two white and one red stripes on the wall, and displayed a Pahonya coat-of-arms in the window. After a while, he was convicted of holding an unauthorized picket, and then threatened with a criminal case for “malicious hooliganism”.

Viasna reports that judges have imposed two fines totaling 40 basic units and 29 terms of administrative imprisonment for exercising the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, as well as on arbitrary charges of “distributing extremist material”. This is by no means a complete record of the number of politically motivated administrative cases: in many cases, judges secretly hold closed sessions by videoconference without announcing the date and place of the hearing, which grossly violates the procedural and constitutional rights of those involved in administrative proceedings.

Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code, which punishes the dissemination of extremist materials, is increasingly used by the Belarusian authorities to repress dissent. Most of these cases are triggered by reposts of various online publications from resources whose information products were earlier recognized as “extremist”.

A common tool of repression is persecution for slandering the president, insulting government officials, judges, prosecutors, police, and the president (Articles 367, 368, 369, 391 of the Criminal Code), and insulting state symbols. Trials on such charges are held throughout Belarus on a daily basis.

In particular, on December 15, the Dobruš District Court sentenced Ivan Khviashchuk on charges of “publicly insulting” Aliaksandr Lukashenka on social media (Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code). Judge Sviatlana Lukyianava sentenced Khviashchuk to one year in prison after hearing the case in a closed session.

On December 22, Judge Iryna Pradun of the Rahačoŭ District Court handed down a verdict in a criminal case of “insulting a government official”. In October last year, Aliaksandr Kandorski posted a comment reading “Stake up” under the video about the dispersal of a peaceful rally. Despite the conclusions of a linguistic examination, which found that the phrase contained “no elements of aggression” or “calls for violence”, the defendant was found guilty under Art. 369 (insulting a representative of the authorities) and sentenced to two years of restricted freedom in an open penitentiary. The sentence was announced at a court hearing held in the building of the local police department.

On August 29, 2021, Maksim Mychko, Yana Mileuskaya and Aliaksandr Bendz, “acting as a group of persons by prior conspiracy, expressing contempt for the state flag of the Republic of Belarus, tore it down, then the accused Mychko threw it on the sidewalk.” The court found the three guilty of insulting the state flag under Art. 370 of the Criminal Code and sentenced each to one year in prison.

In December, the list of extremist Internet resources grew by 59 positions. In addition to various local Telegram channels and groups on social media, the Centraĺny District Court of Minsk outlawed the Telegram channel, social media accounts and YouTube channel of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Belarus service. On December 20, it became known that the list of extremist materials was updated with the Telegram channel and chat of politician Valery Tsapkala, the Telegram and YouTube channels of politician Pavel Latushka, the social media accounts of the People’s Anti-Crisis Management, and the Telegram account of the Coordination Council.

On December 30, the Čyhunačny District Court of Homieĺ recognized the information products of the Telegram channel “Viasna” as extremist materials. This decision was made by Judge Illia Svirydau.

Violations of freedom of association

On December 21, members of the Belarusian parliament adopted amendments to the Criminal Code, which provide for criminal liability for participation in liquidated organizations: political parties, public and religious associations, foundations.

As of December 1, 2021, according to a monitoring conducted by Lawtrend together with the OEEC, 283 non-profit organizations in Belarus were in the process of forced liquidation, including through lawsuits, or forcibly excluded from the Unified State Register of Legal Entities or Individual Entrepreneurs.

The re-enforcement of the notorious Article 193-1 of the Criminal Code may serve to criminalize social protest and legalize the government’s response to social unrest.

Decisions by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the KGB to recognize groups of citizens as extremist groups are aimed at arbitrarily restricting the right to association. In December, the Interior Ministry said that a group of citizens united through the Internet resources of the BYSOL / Belarus Solidarity Foundation was “extremist”. This included its sub-units Voices from Belarus and Digital Solidarity. A group of citizens united through the BY_help Solidarity Initiative, including its structural subdivisions Belarusam.rl and Media Solidarity Belarus, was also recognized as “extremist”. Both initiatives became widely known during the 2020 protests for their active charitable activities in support of victims of political repression.

Pressure on journalists and the media

At the end of December 2021, 32 media representatives were in prisons.

Journalists continue to be regularly arbitrarily detained and searched. Their homes are raided and they are imprisoned for performing their professional duties.

Independent journalist Yury Dziashuk was detained in Biarozaŭka on December 3. It is known that he was taken to Lida. The reasons for the detention are unknown. Yury was later released, but prohibited to disclose any details of his case.

Another search took place in the editorial room of the Hantsavitski Chas newspaper. It was conducted by the Department for Financial Investigations, which seized a flash drive and documents. Prior to that, both the editorial office and the apartments of its employees were searched several times in summer and autumn.

Journalist Anatol Hatouchyts was detained in Homieĺ on the day the verdict in the Tsikhanouski case was announced. Hatouchyts’s wife said that the journalist was arrested near the pre-trial prison which housed the trial.

On December 23, Andrei Kuznechyk, a journalist with Radio Svaboda, who was detained on November 26 in an administrative case and was twice sentenced to short terms of imprisonment, faced charges in a criminal case.

On the same day, another Radio Svaboda journalist, Aleh Hruzdzilovich, was arrested after police stormed his apartment in Minsk. Hruzdzilovich is a suspect in a criminal case under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them). After the arrest, the man was placed in pre-trial prison No. 1. He was again recognized as a political prisoner.

Torture. Cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment

Former political prisoners continue to report deliberate deterioration of detention conditions for those arrested in politically motivated cases, which in turn border on torture, are cruel, degrading and inhumane. Human rights activists of Viasna continue to receive information about inhumane conditions of detention in Minsk detention facilities. Detainees and those arrested for political reasons are kept in overcrowded cells, receive no medical care, no outdoor time and no mail or parcels from their families. Prison staff do not respond to complaints about cockroaches and insects in the cells, and patients with covid-19 are often not treated or isolated from healthy people.

Prisoners in criminal cases are also held in harsh conditions. They are subjected to pressure and torture in the penal colonies.

The shocking cases of torture reported by political prisoners are still not investigated.

Guarantees of a fair trial. Persecution of lawyers

On December 23, the Ministry of Justice revoked the license of lawyer Lizaveta Matveyeva, who defended political prisoners Henadz Mazheika, Uladzimir Matskevich, Ala Lapatka, and Iryna Slaunikava. She was also expected to represented opposition activist Pavel Vinahradau, who was arrested the previous before.

Matveyeva was expelled from the Minsk City Bar Association for allegedly committing a disciplinary offense. She was summoned for extraordinary re-certification, but disagreed with the procedure and appealed against the re-certification in court. Since the decision was being appealed, the lawyer did not appear for re-certification, which was arbitrarily regarded as a disciplinary offense. The Minister of Justice ruled to suspend her license, as a result. Later, the Council of the Minsk City Bar Association considered the disciplinary action and ordered to disbar Matveyeva.

This case is a clear example of the inadmissible interference of the executive authorities in the activities of the independent bar and the failure of the bar self-government bodies to fulfill their mission to protect the rights of members of the community.

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