What happened to political prisoners on November 28–December 4
There are currently 1,446 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 November 28–December 4.
Political prisoner count
Last week the list of political prisoners was updated with 22 new names.
Human rights defenders demanded the release of another 18 people taken into custody for “group actions grossly violating public order” under notorious Article 342 of the Criminal Code. This article is often used against 2020 protest participants. The authorities seek to completely purge society of all dissent. No past merit is a guarantee against imprisonment. Thus, a businessman Bahdan Karavets whose company once developed the websites of the KGB and the Ministry of Sports was put on the list of political prisoners among others.
Another political prisoner who was previously favored by the authorities and then persecuted is Dzmitryi Semchanka, a former Lukashenka's pool reporter. Semchanka resigned from the television in protest of the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrations in August 2020. On September 15, 2022, Dzmitryi Semchanka and his wife were arrested in an administrative case. Later it became known that a criminal case under part 1 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code for “incitement of social hatred” was brought against the journalist. This article provides for up to five years of imprisonment as a maximum penalty. Human rights defenders believe that Semchanka’s prosecution is politically motivated and demand his immediate release.
Last week, human rights defenders found three people in administrative detention to be political prisoners. Namely, a priest Uladzislau Bahamolnikau, the wife of a political prisoner who was ill-treated in the colony Volha Anishchuk, and human rights defender Nasta Loika who had reported torture herself. Administrative detention is a type of incarceration related to administrative offenses. This concept was inherited from the law of the Soviet Union. A typical administrative jail time is 15 days, and this sentence is routinely applied to dissidents in Belarus. There is also a practice of sentencing a person to several administrative detentions in a row that has been used by the Belarusian authorities as a politically motivated pressure for quite a long time. All persons subjected to administrative detention for exercising their internationally recognized rights and freedoms are considered political prisoners for the period of their incarceration.
Last week, Viasna received the reports of at least eight people convicted in court.
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 22, 2022, the Homieĺ Regional Court found Siarhei Yesmanovich guilty of “incitement to social hatred” (part 1 of Art. 130 of the CC). Judge Aliaksei Khlyshchankou sentenced him to 24 months in a general-security penal colony.
- On November 24, 2022, Judge Ruslan Tsaruk of the Homieĺ Regional Court found Siarhei Sliazhou guilty of “insulting the president” (part 1 of Art. 368 of the CC) and “inciting social hatred” (part 1 of Art. 130 of the CС) and sentenced him to three years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony.
- On November 25, 2022, Aliaksei Horbach was convicted of “insulting a government official” (Art. 369 of the CC) and “inciting social hatred” (Art. 130 of the CC) and sentenced to two and a half years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony.
Prosecution of dissenting law enforcers
- On November 18, 2022, Judge Siarhei Khrypach of the Minsk Municipal Court convicted Aleh Yermakou, a lawyer and a former employee of the prosecutor's office. Yermakou was found guilty of “illegal collection and dissemination of information about private life” (part 1 of Art. 179 of the CC, excluded on May 26, 2021) and “incitement to social hatred” (part 1 of Art. 130 of the CC) for sending data of law enforcement officers to protest information resources. The political prisoner was sentenced to six years of imprisonment in a medium-security penal colony.
- On December 2, 2022, Judge Anzhela Kastsiukevich of the Minsk Municipal Court sentenced Mikita Starazhenka to seven years in a medium-security penal colony for “inciting social hatred” (part 3 of Art. 130 of the CC) and “collecting and disseminating information about private life” (part 1 of Art. 179 of the CC). Starazhenka is a former investigator who resigned after the election as a sign of protest. He was arrested on February 1, 2022, and accused of sending the contacts of two employees of the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK) and the deputy head of the Investigative Committee for Minsk to one of the “protest Telegram channels”. On May 4, 2021, Starazhenka, like other security officers who resigned in protest, was stripped of his rank of first lieutenant of justice in the reserve by Lukashenka.
Defamation and protest cases
- On November 28, 2022, Siarhei Savich was found guilty under Article 130 of the Criminal Code for a comment in a local chatroom. The prosecution claimed that in this comment, the man called for violence against police officers. Savich did not admit his guilt. He said that he did not remember writing such a comment. However, Judge Valiantsina Kunitskaya agreed with the penalty requested by the state prosecutor Aliaksei Yaroshyk and sentenced the political prisoner to three years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony.
- On November 29, 2022, the Centraĺny District Court of Minsk considered the criminal case of Dzmitryi Liaukovich and his wife Katsiaryna Liaukovich. Judge Yuliana Shcherba sentenced each of them to three years under home confinement. Dzmitryi Liaukovichwas detained on August 9, 2022, in Minsk. It became known that Liaukovich was accused of ‘active participation in group actions that grossly violate the public order’ under Article 342 of the Criminal Code.
- On December 2, 2022, Judge Ihar Ziamtsou of the Mahilioŭ Regional Court convicted Viktar Dzibrou in a closed-door trial. Dzibrou was detained in early August 2022 for a comment in which he allegedly insulted Aliaksandr Lukashenka. A criminal case under Article 368 of the Criminal Code (‘insult to the president’) was brought against him. Eventually, Dzibrou was tried under Art. 361-4 of the Criminal Code for “promoting extremist activities”, according to human rights defenders. He was sentenced to two and a half years of imprisonment in a general-security penal colony.
Last week, thirteen people finished serving their terms in full and were released from penal colonies.
- Ten defendants in the Student case were released on November 30, having spent 749 days in jail: students Ksenia Syramalot, Yahor Kanetski, Illia Trakhtenberg, Kasia Budzko, Yana Arabeika, Viktoryia Hrankouskaya, Anastasiya Bulybenka, Maryia Kalenik, political activist Alana Gebremariam, and professor Volha Filatchankava. They have fully served their two-and-a-half-years sentences. Tatsiana Yekelchyk convicted in the same case was detained later and is expected to be released in mid-December. Hleb Fitsner received a shorter term and has been released from jail in May 2022. Eleven students and a university teacher were charged under part 2 of Article 17 ("a conspiracy to commit a crime") and part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code ("active participation in group actions that grossly violate public order") for active participation in student protests in autumn 2020.
- Entrepreneur for Žlobin Siarhei Piarfiliyeu finished serving his 24-months jail sentence. He has spent in detention 643 days.
- Artsiom Kandratsiyeu was released after 543 days of custody. He has thus finished serving his 18-months sentence of restricted freedom in an open-type penal facility.
- Iryna Palianina finished serving a 24-month jail term. Since her detention, she has spent 575 days behind bars.
- Illia Pirazhkou will be transferred from an open-type facility to a penal colony.
- Halina Dzerbysh receives no parcels or letters. It has been also reported that parcels do not reach either Iryna Harachkina or Liubou Rezanovich.
- The TUT.BY case has been referred to court. Editor-in-Chief Maryna Zolatava and former General Director Ludmila Chekina are now in custody. In relation to the others defendants in the case, the preventive measure has been changed.
- The case of Darya Losik was forwarded to the prosecutor's office for referral to the court. It is unclear what exactly she is accused of yet.
- Maksim Znak was placed in a punishment cell. Previously, the administration of the Viciebsk colony had punished Maksim with solitary confinement three times.
- Aliaksandr Pleskatsevich was transferred from an open-type penal facility to Babruisk colony.
- Anatol Latushka was “strongly advised” not to write letters in Belarusian, because the censor in Viciebsk pre-trial detention center had not studied the language and did not understand it.
- Alena Lazarchyk is kept in a punishment cell. She will stay there till 4 December.
- The prosecutor's office is going to appeal the sentence of ex-political prisoner Illia Mironau who has served more than 12 months behind bars.