Out of jail! In December, 31 political prisoners were released
The number of political prisoners in Belarus has been growing steadily for two years now. Now 1,440 people are recognized as political prisoners. At the same time, some have already served their terms or are released from custody being sentenced to non-custodial punishments. At least 31 political prisoners were released in December, 24 of whom served their terms in full, and seven people were sentenced to home confinement and released from pretrial detention, according to human rights defenders. Viasna recalls their cases.
Twenty-four political prisoners served full time
“Dancing protesters” Yauhen Kalpachyk, Viktar Dzenisenka, and Mikalai Fedarenka spent 548 days in jail
Yauhen Kalpachyk, Viktar Dzenisenka, and Mikalai Fedarenka were convicted in the Dance Protest case. Criminal proceedings were initiated after the events of September 13, 2020, in Brest when the protesters danced at an intersection and were dispersed by a water cannon. On February 25, 2021, the court sentenced each of them to 18 months of restricted freedom under Article 342 of the Criminal Code for “active participation in group actions that grossly violate public order”. They began serving their time in open-type penal facilities on June 6, 2022.
On December 3, 2022, they were released, having fully served their time.
Yaraslau Pashkou spent about 400 days in jail
Yaraslau Pashkou was accused of discrediting the Republic of Belarus (Art. 369-1 of the Criminal Code) and insulting Aliaksandr Lukashenka (part 1 of Art. 368 of the Criminal Code). On September 7, the political prisoner was sentenced to 21 months of imprisonment and a fine of 3,200 Belarusian rubles ($1,300).
Pashkou was arrested on September 30, 2021, as part of criminal proceedings stemming from comments on the Internet after the death of KGB officer Dzmitryi Fedasiuk and IT specialist Andrei Zeltser. It is known, that the man’s mother died while he was in jail.
Pashkou was released around November 2022.
Vital Litvin spent 548 days in jail
Vital Litvin, another defendant in the Dance Protest Case was accused of active participation in group actions that grossly violate public order under Article 342 of the Criminal. On February 25, 2021, the Lieninski District Court of Brest sentenced him to 18 months of restricted freedom in an open-type penal facility.
The political prisoner fully served his sentence and was released from prison on December 5, 2022.
Vital Zaradzei spent 620 days in jail
Vital Zaradzei is a former military officer from Brest. He is one of the surviving liquidators, who worked to limit the consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. On March 29, 2021, police with machine guns broke into his house and arrested him. On August 9, the Kobryn District Court sentenced Zaradzei to 24 months in a general-security penal colony, finding him guilty of insulting several judges and Aliaksandr Lukashenka (Articles 391 and 368 of the Criminal Code). The political prisoner fully served his term and was released on December 8.
Aleh Barazna spent 607 days in jail
Aleh Barazna is an activist of the "Country for Life" and Sviatlana Tsikhanovskaya's team who has been repeatedly detained under political administrative articles. He was arrested in April 2021. It is known that he had been surveilled by the criminal police since the fall of 2020.
On October 5, 2021, the Čyhunačny District Court of Viciebsk sentenced Barazna to 2 years and 3 months in jail under Part 1 of Art. 328 of the Criminal Code for “illicit drug trafficking”. The political prisoner fully served his sentence and was released in December.
Volha Klaskouskaya spent 792 days in jail
Volha Klaskouskaya is a former Narodnaya Volya journalist. She was arrested on October 14 in Minsk. The woman was accused of blocking traffic on the evening of October 13, 2020. Klaskouskaya was convicted of “organization of group actions that grossly violate public order and caused disruption of transport” (Article 342 of the Criminal Code). The court sentenced her to 24 months of imprisonment. Later she was tried for another account and received 18 months under home confinement. The two sentences were compounded and the final one was two and a half years in a general-security penal colony.
The political prisoner fully served her term and was released on December 14.
Vital Prokharau spent 676 days in jail
Vital Prokharau from Žlobin was a minor at the time of the sentencing. He was charged under two articles of the Criminal Code: Part 1 of Art. 342 (organization or active participation in group actions that grossly violate public order) and Art. 364 (violence or threat of violence against a police officer).
At a protest on August 10, Prokharau threw at least one stone at a police van, which caused material damage to the vehicle, the prosecution claimed. He was detained the same day by riot police and severely beaten.
On February 8, 2021, Vital Prokharau was sentenced to 24 months in a juvenile penitentiary. He served his sentence in full and was released on December 15, 2022.
Viktoryia Mirontsava spent 793 days in jail
Siblings were accused of joining a protest held in central Minsk on August 10. They reportedly shouted slogans and clapped their hands, while refusing to leave the street.
On April 1, 2021, the Saviecki District Court of Minsk sentenced Viktoryia Mirontsava to two and a half years in a general-security penal colony, finding her guilty of “breaching public order” (Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code) and “using violence against police officers” (Part 1 of Article 363). Anastasiya Mirontsava received 24 months of imprisonment.
Viktoryia fully served her term and was released from the penal colony on December 16.
Mikalai Papeka spent 461 days in jail
Mikalai Papeka is a poet and beekeeper from Pružany. He was prosecuted in the Protest Dance case and sentenced to 24 months of freedom restriction in an open-type penal facility over his involvement in a peaceful rally on September 13, 2020, in Brest. Papeka was sent to serve his sentence on September 13, 2021. Mikalai's custody level was raised from freedom restriction to imprisonment in a penal colony for 8.5 months. In June 2022 he was transferred to the Mahilioŭ penal colony.
It is known that Papelka refused to write a petition for clemency.
The political prisoner served his sentence in full and was released on December 17, 2022.
Vital Zhuk spent 459 days in jail
Vital Zhuk is a resident of Kobryn sentenced to 18 months in a penal colony under Article 368 of the Criminal Code for “insulting the president of Belarus”. In June 2022, the political prisoner was placed in a punishment cell twice, for 5 and 10 days.
Zhuk served his full term and was released on December 17.
Yelisei Kuzniatsou spent 459 days in jail
Yelisei Kuzniatsou, 17, was accused of throwing a bottle with a flammable mixture at a police car. On November 5, 2021, the court of the Žabinka district sentenced him to two and a half years of freedom restriction in an open-type penal facility. However, the sentence was re-qualified. Kuzniatsou was taken into custody on April 20, 2022, and since May 27, he served a seven-and-a-half-months term in the colony.
On December 17, the political prisoner fully served his term and was released.
Siarhei Piatrukhin and Aliaksandr Kabanau spent 915 days in custody
Brest-based bloggers Siarhei Piatrukhin and Aliaksandr Kabanau were sentenced in April 2021 to three years in jail for “organizing group actions that grossly violated public order” and “insulting government officials and judges”.
On December 17, they were released, having fully served their sentence.
Maksim Latsuntsevich spent 450 days in jail
Maksim Latsuntsevich is a father of seven who was convicted in the Zeltser case on November 25, 2022. He was found guilty of “inciting social hatred” and “insulting a government official” under Articles 130 and 369 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 21 months of imprisonment. He was also 3,200 Belarusian rubles (approx. $1,270). Latsuntsevich was arrested on September 29, 2021, and spent in pre-trial detention almost 14 months. The time he spent in custody was counted against his sentence, so he had less than a month to serve after the trial.
On December 22, the political prisoner was released, having fully served his term.
Tatsiana Yekelchyk spent 756 days in jail
Tatsiana Yekelchyk is a student of the Mechanics and Mathematics Faculty of the Belarusian State University. She was detained by KGB officers on November 27, 2020.
On July 16, 2021, Yekelchyk was convicted in the Student case and sentenced to two and a half years in jail under Article 342 of the Criminal Code. She was released later than other defendants in this case as she was arrested later.
Danila Hancharou spent 651 days in jail
Danila Hancharou is a lighting designer earlier employed at the New Drama Theater. He was fired for joining a strike. The police searched Danila's apartment on March 15, 2021. He was arrested for staging a “one-person picket”. After 15 days of administrative imprisonment, he was re-arrested as part of criminal proceedings. Hancharou was charged with "participating in group acts that grossly violate public order" (part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code), and "complicity" in such a crime (part 6 of Article 16, part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code). The court sentenced him to 24 months in a general-security penal colony. The political prisoner pleaded not guilty.
He served his term in full and was released on December 24, 2022.
Uladzislau Bahamolnikau spent 120 days in jail
Uladzislau Bahamolnikau is an Orthodox priest and a lecturer at the Minsk Theological Academy. In 2020, he held a service for Raman Bandarenka who died after reportedly being beaten by security forces. Bahamolnikau also went on a hunger strike in support of the political prisoner Ihar Losik. The priest was detained by officers of the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK) on August 31. He spent 100 days of administrative imprisonment under seven reports. Each time he was tried for forwarding messages from “extremist” channels in private correspondence. It is known that while in prison Bahamolnikau went on a hunger strike and had Covid-19.
In early December he was not released after 100 days of administrative imprisonment but was re-arrested under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (active participation in actions that grossly violate public order). On 19 December the 10 days of his detention as a suspect expired and he was released on his own recognizance not to leave Belarus.
Aliaksei Kudzin spent 707 days in jail
Aliaksei Kudzin is a Belarusian MMA fighter and multiple world champion in kickboxing and Thai boxing. He was arrested on August 10, 2020, in the central square of Maladziečna.
He spent two weeks in a local detention facility and later in the pre-trial detention center in Žodzina, facing charges of using violence against police officers. The athlete was eventually released to wait for the trial under travel restrictions. The first hearing was scheduled for November 19, but the defendant did not appear in court, and he was declared wanted by the Belarusian authorities.
On January 21, Kudzin was detained in Moscow at the request of the Belarusian police and placed in a pre-trial detention center. It was decided to extradite him to Belarus. In July, the European Court of Human Rights ordered a stay of Kudzin’s extradition. Despite this, on July 21, the fighter was transported to Minsk.
On August 11, 2021, Kudzin was sentenced to two and a half years in a general-security penal colony on charges of “resistance to a police officer or other officer in charge of public order enforcement, associated with the use of or threat of violence” (Part 2 of Art. 363 of the Criminal Code) by Judge Volha Dubovik.
The political prisoner fully served his term and was released on December 28.
Yury Vinichuk spent 548 days in jail
Yury Vinichuk was sentenced on June 9, 2021, to 18 months of restricted freedom in an open-type penal facility by the Brest District Court under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (“insulting the president”).
It is known that on October 30, 2022, he was detained in the open-type penal facility and sentenced to seven days of arrest under an administrative report.
The political prisoner served his full sentence and was released on December 28, 2022.
Seven political prisoners got non-custodial terms and were released in the courtroom
At least seven political prisoners were sentenced to restricted freedom under home confinement and released from pre-trial detention facilities after the trials (the number may be an underestimate, as human rights defenders do not yet have all the results of the trials of political prisoners):
- Valiantsin Mitskevich—sentenced to three years under home confinement
- Mikita Saidau—sentenced to two and a half years under home confinement
- Kseniya Kotava—sentenced to two and a half years under home confinement
- Yauhen Hurynau—sentenced to two and a half years under home confinement
- Aleh Davydzenka—sentenced to three years under home confinement
- Natallia Aktsiabrskaya—sentenced to three years under home confinement
- Volha Ramantsova—sentenced to two years under home confinement