In August, at least 60 people were convicted under criminal articles for political reasons
In August the Human Rights Center Viasna observed a continuing trend toward criminal prosecution and conviction of citizens for political reasons. Over the past month, the approximate number of people who could have been criminally persecuted by the judicial system is about 156 people. In the regional context, these figures are as follows: Minsk – 96, Homel region – 12, Brest region – 22, Hrodna region – 6, Minsk region – 9, Mahileu region – 6, Vitsebsk region – 5.
Human rights defenders have information about at least 60 citizens convicted in criminal proceedings in August, of which 18 are women and 42 are men. According to the sentences known to human rights defenders in August, the courts applied the punishment associated with imprisonment in 45% of cases. Restriction of freedom without referral to an open-type correctional facility (home confinement) was applied in 50% of cases of conviction of citizens. Arrest was used in 5% of cases of conviction of persons involved in protest cases.
Thus, in August, in politically motivated criminal cases the courts applied punishment related to deprivation of liberty, its restriction in the form of home confinement, and arrest in 100% of cases of conviction of persons involved in politically motivated criminal cases known to Viasna.
Trials in absentia
During August, four defendants in the case of an attack on employees of the Belarusian Embassy in the UK and damage to the building of the diplomatic mission were convicted in a special trial (in absentia). The defendants in the case were sentenced to imprisonment: Vadzim Bahaukou and Maksim Zuyeu to 10 years, Siarhei Rabushka and Aliaksandr Napreyenka to 8 years in a high-security penal colony.
Tougher penalties after the prosecutor's protest
On August 8, at the appeal protest of the prosecutor's office, the Supreme Court replaced the sentence imposed by the Homel Regional Court on Hleb Viatoshkin from 5 years of home confinement to one and a half years of imprisonment. It is known that the prosecutor's office asked for a sentence of three years in prison.
High-profile criminal cases
August has been remembered for a number of landmark criminal trials that have a wide public response. On August 24, the Minsk City Court sentenced Artsiom Liabedzka to three and a half years in prison under the article on financing the activities of an extremist formation for transferring funds to initiatives that arose in the wake of mass protests in August 2020 and were declared extremist formations by the Belarusian authorities: By_help, the BYSOL/Belarus Solidarity Foundation and Belarusian Sports Solidarity Fund. This act of repression can also be regarded as a restriction on the freedom of expression of Belarusian politician in forced emigration Anatol Liabedzka, since the convict is his son. The prosecution of Belarusians in court for donations to informal associations and initiatives is selective, since the bodies of the Department of Financial Investigations of the State Control Committee and the State Security Committee coerced citizens to transfer funds more than ten times the amount of the donation to the account of state institutions in exchange for the termination of criminal prosecution.
On August 31, the Homel Regional Court in closed session sentenced a well-known journalist Larysa Shchyrakova to three and a half years in prison under articles on promoting extremist activities and discrediting the Republic of Belarus. The subject of the trial was publishing materials "with deliberately false information discrediting the Republic of Belarus", as well as "the collection, creation, processing, storage, and transmission of audio, video, photo, and text information for further use in order to ensure the extremist activities of the information resource Viasna and the extremist formation Belsat" — information available in open sources and not limited to dissemination. Thus, Larysa Shchyrakova was persecuted for performing her professional duties.
On August 28, the Court of Polatsk and the Polatsk District began considering a criminal case against Nikalai Masharski, a resident of the Rasonski district, under articles providing for responsibility for insulting the president and repeatedly violating the order of organizing mass events. Article 342-2 of the Criminal Code introduced criminal liability for repeated violation of the order of organizing mass events, if a person was subjected to administrative penalties twice within one year for committing administrative offenses provided for in Article 24.23 of the Administrative Code, and within a year after the imposition of a second administrative penalty for such actions again violated the order of organizing mass events. Human rights defenders are aware of at least three citizens who were persecuted under this article. The trial against Nikalai Masharski will continue in September.
At least six families were convicted for participating in the protests
In August, at least six families were criminally prosecuted in Minsk for political reasons for participating in protests: Alesia and Aliaksandr Sushko, who were sentenced to up to three years of restriction of freedom without being sent to an open-type correctional institution. The same punishment was imposed on Yuliya and Siarhei Tarasevich; up to two and a half years of home confinement was imposed on Siarhei and Alena Chabatar, as well as on Siarhei and Aksana Yasiuchenia and Siarhei and Tatsiana Dzeshyts. The results of the trial against Anatol and Ivana Bahovik, Pavel and Anzhalika Yurkevich, Uladzimir and Darya Trayan are being established by human rights defenders.
New trials of already convicted political prisoners
There is still a tendency to repeated and subsequent conviction of citizens for political reasons. Thus, in August, the Court of the Kamianetski District sentenced Yelisei Kuzniatsou to two and a half years in prison for mocking the national flag. In November 2020, he was already convicted to two and a half years of restriction of liberty without referral to a correctional institution under articles on illegal actions connected to objects whose damaging effect is based on the use of flammable substances and on the threat of violence against a police officer. On August 11, the Homel Regional Court sentenced Aliaksei Kudasau to seven years in prison in closed session, accusing him of creating an extremist formation whose activities are aimed at rehabilitating Nazism, managing such a formation, committed repeatedly. Earlier, in April 2022, a political prisoner was sentenced by the Minsk City Court to eleven years in prison under articles on intentional actions aimed at inciting other social hatred and discord on the basis of other social affiliation committed by a group of persons; on preparation for organizing mass riots accompanied by violence against a person; on organizing group actions that grossly violate public order and associated with obvious disobedience to the legitimate demands of a representative of the authorities, which caused disruption of the operation of transport and enterprises; on managing an extremist formation and on publicly insulting a representative of the authorities in connection with the performance of his official duties. By partial addition to the punishment imposed under the previous sentence, Aliaksei Kudasau was finally sentenced to imprisonment for a period of eleven years and six months. In August, the human rights defenders of Viasna became aware that the Court of the Niasvizh District will consider the sixth criminal case against Vasil Dzemidovich, who was sentenced to seven years in prison, under the article on insulting a representative of the authorities for comments on the Internet that a political prisoner left after the events of August 2020.
Over the past month, not a single case of protests-related cases being published in the electronic schedule on the website of the Supreme Court after their consideration by the court began, eight such occasions were recorded in July: in Minsk, Zhlobin, Hrodna, and Rasony. At the same time, the electronic schedule of a number of cases did not contain information that the criminal case would be considered at a visiting session. In August, in Kamianets, the court considered the case against Uladzimir Prylutski at a visiting session on charges of intentionally rendering the condition of railway tracks and signalling facilities unusable for operation; this information was not indicated in the electronic timetable system. In the House of Culture of the agrotown of Vojskaja, Kamianetski district, a criminal case was considered against Zakhar Siniakou and Yelisei Kuzniatsou on charges of mocking the national flag, in Minsk against Siarhei Firstau on charges of mocking the national flag and against Andrei Mishurin on charges of organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them.