What happened to political prisoners on November 7–13
Last week, the political prisoner count hit 1,400—and still counting with 1,425 people currently in jail. Every week the courts keep handing down new sentences and laying new charges against those already in custody. Viasna has collected all the news about political prisoners from the second week of November.
Political prisoner count
Last week the list of political prisoners was updated with 39 new names. This brings the count of people jailed for political reasons far over the 1,400 mark showing an unprecedented deterioration of the Belarusian judicial system in just two years.
Traditionally, people convicted 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 make up a large part of the list. Human rights defenders demanded the release of another 34 people charged under this article and one person convicted of an even more serious crime, ‘mass rioting’ (Part 2 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code). Rights advocates stress that citizens assembled peacefully and posed no threat to national or public security during the 2020 post-election protests. The protesters did not set fires, destroy property or put up armed resistance to law enforcement agencies and thus their actions cannot be qualified as mass riots as well.
In the second joint statement published last week, the Belarusian human rights community assessed four verdicts in cases where, at first glance, accusations have some substance in reality. Thus, two people were sentenced for causing injuries to police officers. However, the court did not consider the context and circumstances of the use of violence, which might be self-defense against disproportionately brutal actions of the police.
Another two individuals recognized as political prisoners by the same statement received excessively long jail terms for their did. They were convicted in a closed-door trial without any procedural grounds for this. Rights advocates raise awareness that violation of procedural guarantees reasonably makes people doubt the decision of the court. They demand to review of the sentences while ensuring the defendants' right to a fair trial.
Between November 7 and 13, human rights defenders learned about at least seven political prisoners who were convicted in court.
Persecution for 2020 peaceful protests
At least four 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 November 8, 2022, the Maskoŭski District Court of Minsk sentenced Maksim Stasilevich to two years and six months of restricted freedom under home confinement. Stasilevich is a believer in one of the churches of Christians of Evangelical Faith in Minsk. He was detained at his home on July 22, 2022, and first sentenced to 10 days of administrative arrest for ‘the distribution of extremist materials’ under Article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offences. It then became known that a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 342 was opened against him, so he stayed in custody until the trial.
- On November 11, 2022, Judge Tatsiana Pirozhnikava of the Maskoŭski District Court of Minsk found Ihar Khmara guilty and sentenced him to two and a half years of restricted freedom under home confinement. Khmara is a tour guide and local historian. He was detained in early August 2022 for speaking Belarusian in public and sentenced to administrative arrests. He was not released after he had served the term as a criminal case under Article 342 of the Criminal Code was filed against him.
- On November 11, 2022, the Zavadski District Court convicted Vital Chychmarou. He was sentenced to three years of freedom restriction under home confinement. Chychmarou is a pastor and a former engineer. He was fired in 2020 because of his trade union activities—at his plant, he used to lead the primary organization of the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (FTUM). The activist was detained on April 19, 2022, and his home was searched. The man was charged and placed in pre-trial detention center.
- On November 11, 2022, the Minsk Municipal Court sentenced Anastasiya Kukhta to five years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony. Kukhta is a social activist from Minsk. She was arrested on February 17, 2022, at her place of residence. Her house was searched. At first, she was sentenced to administrative arrest, but after the end of her sentence, Anastasiya was not released. She was re-detained in a criminal case on group actions grossly violating public order and placed in pre-trial detention center.
The case against A Country to Live in Foundation volunteers
On July 9, 2021, KGB arrested four A Country to Live in Foundation volunteers during “a large-scale clearance operation against radicals”. Anton Stasheuski, Maryna Dubrouskaya, Yuliya Syrykh, and Tatsiana Astrouskaya were charged with ‘financing of an extremist group’ under Part 2 of Article 361-2 of the Criminal Code and placed in pre-trial detention.
On May 6, 2022, Syrykh and Astrouskaya’s measure of restraint was changed, and they were released pending trial. The women have left Belarus.
Maryna Dubrouskaya was placed under house arrest on November 10, 2021.
Among four defendants, only Anton Stasheuski spent all his time before the trial behind bars.
The trial started on October 17, 2022, in the Minsk Municipal Court. It became known that the initial charges were changed. Stasheuski was tried for ‘conspiracy to seize state power in an unconstitutional way’ under Part 1 of Article 357 of the Criminal Code, and Dubrouskaya was tried for ‘training and preparing of persons to participate in actions that grossly violate the public order and their funding’ under Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code.
On November 11, 2022, Judge Dzina Kuchuk found the political prisoners guilty and sentenced Stasheuski to eight years of imprisonment in a maximum-security penal colony and Dubrouskaya to 18 months of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony. Maryna Dubrouskaya was arrested in the courtroom.
- Journalist Dzianis Ivashyn was not released from the punishment cell of Hrodna prison after seven days.
- Artist Ales Pushkin, activist Artsiom Sakau, and Dzianis Barsukou may be transferred to prison if their custody levels are approved to raise.
- Aliaksandr Pleskatsevich who was transferred from an open-type facility to a prison in June is forced to pay his utility bills.
- Aliaksei Fedarkevich had his custody level increased and was transferred from an open-type facility to a penal colony.
- Viachaslau Smirnou sentenced to restricted freedom finished serving a 10-day arrest for ‘disorderly conduct’. He was detained during a mass “clean up” by GUBOPiK and riot police in open-type penal facilities all over Belarus. The officers were not happy that he had a Telegram app installed on his phone, but they did not find any “extremist” channels or shared posts. However, they wrote up a report under Article 19.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences (‘disorderly conduct’).
- The political prisoners in the Tsikhanouski case will have to pay 22 million Belarusian rubles ($8.7 Mio) in compensation. The court ruling states that the money will cover "post-election protests overtime payments to employees of the Ministry of Internal".
- The case of Danuta Peradnia, sentenced to 6.5 years in a penal colony, will be reconsidered in the Mahilioŭ Regional Court.