Cultural activist Pavel Belavus receives 13 years in jail
On May 11, 2023, the Minsk Municipal court announced a sentence for political prisoner and cultural manager Pavel Belavus, the founder of the Symbal.by store. He was sentenced to 13 years of imprisonment in a medium-security penal colony and a fine of 18,500 Belarusian rubles (about $7,300). Belavus was charged under four articles of the Criminal Code, including “high treason” (part 1 of Article 356). The prosecution accused him of “promoting Belarusian nationalism”, “anti-state activities”, and “inciting hatred among fellow citizens against their homeland”. He was also accused of “leading an extremist formation”, the Belarusian Council of Culture. However, at the time when the Council of Culture was recognized as an “extremist formation” Belavus had been detained for seven months. Judge Zhanna Brysina passed the sentence. The trial was held in a closed session; hence, the defendant's position and other details remain unknown.
The trial was initially open, but at the beginning of the hearing, the state prosecutor requested that the case be heard in closed session “to prevent the disclosure of information from sources recognized as extremist”. Judge Zhanna Brysina granted the request and considered the case behind closed doors for almost three months.
Pavel Belavus was tried under four articles of the Criminal Code: part 1 of Article 356 (“high treason”), part 1 of Article 342 (“actively participating in group actions that grossly violate public order”), part 3 of Article 361 (“calling for actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus”), and part 1 of Article 361-1 (“leading an extremist formation”). Details of the case are only known from official statements by representatives of the Investigative Committee. The prosecution claimed that Pavel “led activities aimed at the unconstitutional change of state power for ten years”.
“In 2011, the accused began transmitting information to the masses in order to find like-minded individuals. Under the guise of cultural-historical development, he disseminated ideas of Belarusian nationalism aimed at changing the state power in Belarus on various public social networks and websites. The defendant registered individual business activity, established a Limited Liability Company (an online and offline retail store), and then began conducting various mass events.”
Pavel Belavus was detained on November 15, 2021, after being summoned to the police. Subsequently, Belavus was tried three times on administrative cases, including under Article 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (“unauthorized picketing”), for a tattoo of a white-red-white flag on his hand. After Belavus served his short-time imprisonment, a criminal case was initiated against him, and he was transferred to a pre-trial detention center. His family had their cars and some appliances confiscated. All property in the house, from the cupboard to the kettle, was inventoried and may also be seized.
Financial support for Pavel Belavus' family
The amount collected will go to pay for lawyers, as well as to buy the necessities of life and to cover household expenses for Pavel's family.