What happened to political prisoners on October 31–November 6
There are currently 1,393 political prisoners in Belarus—and counting. Every week the courts keep handing down new sentences and laying new charges against those already in custody. But there are also those who have served their term and are finally released. Viasna has collected all the news about political prisoners from the first week of November.
Political prisoner count
Last week the list of political prisoners was updated with 66 new names.
Human rights defenders demanded the release of another 21 people taken into custody on charges of ‘group actions grossly violating public order’ under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code for exercising their right to peaceful assemblies during the 2020 protests.
Rights advocates also noted that authorities have tightened and extended criminal legislation to persecute dissidents. The Interior Ministry and the KGB arbitrarily recognize extremist groups of citizens brought together by public or political interests and opposition media outlets. Citizens are also persecuted for the non-violent exercise of freedom of expression, dissemination of information, and association in the context of anti-war protests. Six people who were jailed for these reasons recently are now recognized as political prisoners.
Finally, defamatory charges are still a beloved officials’ tool for shutting up those who dare to criticize the authorities and state policies. The Belarusian human rights community has identified another 40 persons who were put behind bars for ‘insulting’ Lukashenka, government officials (police officers), judges, ‘desecrating state symbols’, and other similar “offenses”. We have published two statements (1, 2) to make sure the political reasons behind these cases are clear to everyone.
Between October 31 and November 6, human rights defenders learned about at least 10 political prisoners who were convicted in court.
Persecution of United Civic Party members
Last week, six members including leaders of the liberal-conservative United Civic Party (UCP) were convicted in apparent retaliation for political dissent.
On October 31, 2022, Judge Ala Skuratovich of the Frunzienski District Court of Minsk convicted UCP members Andrus Asmalouski and Artur Smaliakou together with Smaliakou’s partner Dziyana Charnushyna. All of them were found guilty of ‘active participation in group actions that grossly violate the public order’ under Article 342 of the Criminal Code.
According to the prosecution, Asmalouski, Charnushyna, and Smaliakou actively participated in a Minsk post-election protest on August 23, 2020. The prosecution believes that the UCP members grossly violated the public order, failed to respond to police calls, disrupted the peace of citizens, and obstructed public transportation traffic.
Prosecutor Aksana Sakovich asked the court to sentence Smaliakou and Charnushyna to 24 months of imprisonment and Asmalouski—to three years in jail. Judge Ala Skuratovich granted the prosecutor's request.
The Pieršamajski District Court of Minsk has finished considering the criminal case against the opposition United Civic Party leaders: Aksana Aliakseyeva, Mikalai Kazlou, and Antanina Kavaliova. Political prisoners received 12 to 30 months in jail for participating in the 2020 protests.
Three days later, on November 3, 2022, the Pieršamajski District Court of Minsk finished considering the criminal case against the UCP leadership: Aksana Aliakseyeva, Mikalai Kazlou, and Antanina Kavaliova.
Judge Anastasiya Kulik has led the trial. Ina Zubko supported the state prosecution. Political prisoners were routinely accused of ‘actions that grossly violate the public order’ (Article 342 of the Criminal Code) for participating in a large-scale rally a few weeks after a rigged 2020 presidential election.
According to the prosecution, on August 23, 2020, Aliakseyeva, Kazlou, and Kavaliova “shouted slogans in public, loudly clapped their hands, stepped onto the roadway blocking and obstructing traffic including public transportation in Minsk.” Judge Anastasiya Kulik pronounced the verdicts that were fully consistent with the prosecutor’s request filed on the previous day. Antanina Kavaliova got a 12-month jail term, Aksana Aliakseyeva was sentenced to 18 months, and Mikalai Kazlou received 30 months behind bars.
Persecution for 2020 peaceful protests
In addition to the UCP members, three other people were convicted of ‘group actions that grossly violate the public order’ under the “people’s article” 342 of the Criminal Code for their participation in 2020 protests:
- On October 28, 2022, the Pieršamajski District Court of Minsk sentenced Dziyana Mitskevich to two and a half years of restricted freedom in an open-type penal facility. Mitskevich who had spent 109 days in pre-trial detention was released awaiting the commencement of her sentence.
- On October 31, 2022, Ina Panova was convicted in the Lieninski District Court of Minsk. She was sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony.
- On November 2, 2022, the Zavadski District Court of Minsk considered the case of an artist and teacher Natallia Karneyeva. Judge Zhanna Khvainitskaya sentenced Karneyeva to three years of restricted freedom under home confinement. It is known that Karneyeva has two daughters, one of whom is underaged. While her mother was in custody, the girl spent some time in an orphanage. The child's other relative was granted guardianship later, human rights defenders understand.
Sentencing in the Zeltser case continues. In this case, hundreds of people are prosecuted for commenting on the internet about the fatal shooting between KGB officer Dzmitryi Fedasiuk and IT specialist Andrei Zeltser.
On November 4, 2022, the Brest Regional Court pronounced the verdict on another defendant in this case, Dzmitry Lahodzich.
The political prisoner was initially charged with ‘insulting a government official’ under Article 369 of the Criminal Code. But eventually, he was accused and convicted of ‘insulting the president‘ under Part 1 and part 2 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code and ‘inciting social hatred’ under Part 1 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code.
The court sentenced Lahodzich to three and a half years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony.
Last week, four people finished serving their terms in full and were released from penal colonies:
- Aliaksandr Stankevich finished serving a 19-month jail term. Since his detention, he has spent 397 days behind bars.
- A volunteer of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's nomination group Andrei Novikau finished serving his 30-months custodial sentence. The man who is a Russian national was released after 567 days in jail and immediately deported to Russia where he was handed over to the FSB.
- An activist of the political party BSDH (Hramada) and the independent trade union REP Aliaksandr Hubeika was released after 633 days of incarceration. He has thus finished serving his 24-months imprisonment sentence.
- Businessman and football coach Aleh Famin was released after his 30-months prison term was over. The man has spent 813 days behind bars.
- Arciom Tarasiuk had his custody level raised from restricted freedom in an open-type facility to imprisonment in a penal colony.
- Veteran opposition politician Mikalai Statkevich might have been once again placed in the punishment cell. In a recent letter to his wife, the political prisoner wrote that he had been again summoned to the commission for another “violation”.
- A defendant in the Tsikhanouski case Uladzimir Kniha has been kept in a punishment cell for four months.
- Aliaksei Korshun has been placed in pre-trial detention for a month after his extradition to Belarus from Russia. In a letter to his mother, he said that he was sitting alone in his cell. The political prisoner reportedly has no envelopes, writing paper, hot water, or toilet paper.
- The father of journalist Kseniya Lutskina said that her health was not good. In detention, Lutskina has developed a brain tumor that is growing. Political prisoner has constant headaches and suffers from shaking limbs.
- On October 30, detentions, searches and interrogations took place in open-type penal facilities all over Belarus. The riot police and GUBOPiK officers seized cell phones from political prisoners for screening. At least 23 political prisoners were detained. They are tried on administrative charges and held in temporary detention facilities.