Politically motivated administrative prosecution in April: Summary
Repression in Belarus has increased since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. All over the country, law enforcement officers conduct searches, arrests, and interrogations on a daily basis.
According to human rights defenders, last month at least 150 people were convicted under ‘political’ articles. Of these, 95 served a total of 1,198 days of administrative imprisonment, and 55 people were fined a total of 53,090 rubles (about 15,800 US dollars). It is also known that the court ruled to confiscate phones from 45 people, in addition to the fines for “distribution of extremist materials”.
Persecution of anti-war protesters
Since the first day of the war in Ukraine, the people of Belarus have been expressing their disagreement with Russian aggression every day. Belarusians send photos of Russian equipment to Telegram channels, sabotage railroads, and hold solitary pickets to protest the war.
But even a remark to the serviceperson that the military equipment damages the roads in the city can become a ground for the arrest. For this very reason, a Homieĺ resident was charged under Article 24.23 of the Administrative Code. The court sentenced him to 10 days in jail.
In early April, two women were detained in Babrujsk for hanging white-red-white and yellow-blue ribbons on trees in Victory Square. In their reports under Article 24.23 of the Administrative Code, police officers pointed out that “the white-red-white ribbons symbolize the protest actions of 2020, and yellow and blue ribbons were meant to express [women’s] social and political thoughts in connection with the events in Ukraine”. As a result, the court sentenced one woman to a fine of 640 rubles* (about 190 US dollars) and the other woman to 960 rubles (about 190 US dollars).
In Minsk, a university student was convicted for ‘provocative slogans’. According to the report under Article 24.23 of the Administrative Code, on April 19 at about 10 pm the guy, standing on the balcony overlooking the street, “publicly expressed his protest against the war in Ukraine, shouting the slogan ‘Glory to Ukraine’.” A police witness claimed that he had seen the picket. The court arrested the student for 15 days.
Two more Minsk residents were detained on the evening of April 25. They were accused of “expressing disagreement with the incumbent authorities’ assisting the Russian military operation in Ukraine while shouting ‘Zhyve Belarus’ at about 11 pm on April 25.”
On April 12, the Maskoŭski District Court of Brest convicted a local resident for a ‘solitary picket’ in a store. A ‘No to War’ sticker on his backpack drew the attention of the police. This was considered ‘unauthorized picketing’. The man was fined 1600 rubles (about 480 US dollars).
Also in Brest, on 10 April, Pavel Barsuk came to the Russian consulate with an anti-war poster. Just 10 minutes later he was arrested. On April 12, a Lieninski District Court of Viciebsk Judge Sviataslau Kalina sentenced Pavel to 10 days of administrative imprisonment.
Crackdown on antiwar protests in Belarus cities and small towns
At least 1,500 people have been detained for anti-war protests across the country since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops. Most of them are prosecuted in administrative cases, and some are subjected to criminal proceedings.
Baranavičy residents are tried for ‘extremism’
Large-scale ‘purges’ in Baranavičy began in mid-March. The police are still looking for ‘rail guerrillas’ who organize sabotage on the railroad and for those who send information about the movement of Russian military equipment to Telegram channels. The detainees have their phones checked by security officers, and if the police find subscriptions to ‘extremist’ channels or reposts from such channels, they draw up reports under Art. 19.11 of the Administrative Code.
In April alone, judges considered at least 21 cases under ‘political’ articles against Baranavičy residents. Ten of them were jailed and served 5 to 15 days of administrative imprisonment. Another 11 people were fined. The court confiscated phones from almost all of the convicts.
On April 27, Intex-press journalist Yuryi Hantsarevich was arrested in an administrative case. On April 29, he was sentenced to 10 days behind bars. About a week after the journalist's detention, pro-government Telegram channels published a video fragment of his interrogation, as well as revealed the reason for his detention. He was allegedly taking pictures of Russian military equipment and sending them to the media, recognized by the Belarusian authorities as extremist.
One of the residents was fined 640 rubles (about 190 US dollars) for saving an image with a poem on his VKontakte page that had the logo of RFE/RL on it.
Navapolack: The pressure on independent trade unions continues
Volha Brytsikava, Chair of the independent state-owned oil refinery Naftan trade union, has been convicted five times in a row. In total, she has been already sentenced to 75 days in jail. All charges against Brytsikava were brought under Article 24.23 of the Administrative Code (unauthorized picketing). First, she was convicted of taking photos of the ballot. A few days later Volha was tried for the second time. She was sentenced to another 15 days in jail for wearing clothes with the ‘No to War’ slogan. On March 10, it became known that Volha had been convicted again. According to the available information, she was sentenced to additional 15 days for displaying ‘No to War’ on her windows. On April 28, she was convicted for the fifth time.
In addition, Naftan lawyer Veranika Bakhmutava was tried in April. She was arrested on April 4 at the workplace, handcuffed, and taken for interrogation. The reason for her arrest was allegedly a photo of his Facebook profile with the TUT.BY logo. A Hlybokaje Сourt Judge Andrei Tarasevich found Veranika guilty of ‘distributing extremist materials’ and sentenced her to 7 days in jail.
It is also known about at least three people arrested for being members of the Telegram group Polatsk Novopolotsk Country for Life Chat Freedom to Sergei Tikhanovski. Police considered it ‘possession of extremist materials’. The court sentenced them to 15 days in jail each.
Tatsiana Trafimava, a resident of Navapolack, was arrested twice in a row under Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code. She was found guilty of two reposts from ‘extremist’ channels in 2020. One of the reposts was made from the Belsat page, it was news about the largest Sunday rally in Minsk on August 16.
Pahonia pennant, a white-red-white bracelet, and an image of a Ukrainian flag are grounds for arrest
On April 11, a Maskoŭski District Court of Minsk Judge Tatsiana Motyl heard the case against Illia Misnikevich. According to the case file, a ‘concerned citizen’ informed the police that a group of people on Haziety Zviazda Ave insulted Lukashenka and shouted the slogan ‘Zhyve Belarus’. The judge found Illia guilty and arrested him for 14 days.
In Smarhoń, a local resident was fined 1,280 rubles (about 380 US dollars) on April 1 for photos with a white-red-white flag on Instagram.
On April 1, Andrei Kirdzik, a driver from Vierchniedzvinsk, was arrested for 10 days for ‘picketing’ with white-red-white symbols on the Belarusian border. He was charged under Article 24.23 of the Administrative Code and sentenced to 10 days in jail.
On April 4, the Pastavy District Court heard a case against Aliaksandr Baran. He was charged under Article 24.23 of the Administrative Code for posting on Facebook with a white-red-white flag and a Ukrainian flag, and under Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code for reposts from ‘extremist’ channels. Judge Natallia Maksimovich found Aliaksandr guilty and sentenced him to 10 days of administrative imprisonment.
Twenty-six-year-old Safiya Skobla, the daughter of the famous Belarusian writer and journalist Mikhas Skobla, was arrested for 15 days for a white-red-white bracelet on her wrist. She was detained in Minsk on April 26 and charged with ‘unauthorized picketing’.
In Brest, on April 15, a court sentenced the mother of a minor to a fine of 800 rubles (about 240 US dollars) for a white-red-white flag in the window of her apartment.
Arrests, fines, and confiscation of phones for ‘extremist’ materials
According to human rights activists, at least 83 people were convicted last month for ‘distributing extremist materials’. Forty-five of them also had their phones confiscated.
For instance, on April 27, the priest and dean of Mahilioŭ deanery Andrei Keulich was tried at Horki District Court. Judge Stanislau Liashenka sent the case under article 19.11 of the Administrative Code (distribution of extremist materials) ‘for revision’. The priest was arrested on April 18 right after a service in a church in Horki. The reason for the arrest was a repost from an ‘extremist’ channel. After the report was drawn up, Keulich was released from the local police department.
On April 28th, priest Ihar Lashuk from Stoŭbcy was fined 960 rubles (about 290 US dollars) for ‘distribution of extremist materials’ by reposting from Belsat and RFE/RL channels.
On April 5, Čerykaŭ District Court considered the case of The Belarusian Social Democratic Party member and Protestant church pastor Raman Razhdzestvenski. He was tried under Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code for reposting from the ‘extremist’ channel and a ‘like’ on Facebook under the post from 2020. The court found Raman guilty and fined him 640 rubles (about 190 US dollars).
Musician Uladzislau Pliushchau was arrested in mid-April for 25 days for subscriptions to ‘extremist’ Telegram channels and reposts from them. He was arrested on April 12. Later, a ‘repentant’ video appeared on pro-government Telegram channels, where he says that he had gone to rallies in 2020, had subscribed to ‘extremist’ channels, had made reposts from them, and had registered in Telegram-based Plan Pieramoha chatbot.
On 26 April Natallia Dulina, a former associate professor of the department of the Italian language at Minsk State Linguistic University was convicted of ‘possessing information products of the YouTube channel Radio Svaboda. The court sentenced her to 15 days of arrest.
*According to Belstat, in March 2022, the average salary in Belarus was 1,602.7 Belarusian rubles.