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At least 207 detained upon return to Belarus: current statistics from Viasna for 2023

2024 2024-01-11T19:06:51+0300 2024-01-12T13:20:19+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

According to human rights activists of Viasna, in 2023, at least 207 people were detained after border checks. Besides Belarusians, there were citizens of Ukraine, Lithuania, and Russia among them. Almost all the detainees were sentenced to days of arrest and fines for reposting news from independent media, "petty hooliganism", or for "picketing" with national symbols. And at least 18 of them were convicted under criminal articles, 12 of which were sent to a penal colony. Viasna has collected all known information about the persecution of people returning to Belarus from abroad.

Who is persecuted upon returning to the country and why

After crossing the border with Belarus, according to estimates by human rights activists of Viasna, at least 207 people were detained for political reasons. But note that this figure may be much higher due to the lack of complete data. 

The reason for the persecution may be photos from protests in 2020, donations, comments on social media, "extremist" reposts, photos with white-red-white symbols that are found on phones and social media pages, and even photos from solidarity actions abroad. Security forces find them on social media when checking phones at the border.

At least 58 arrested at border crossings when returning to Belarus

According to the State Border Committee, 52 people were detained on "extremist" charges when entering Belarus last year. But according to Viasna's data, at least 58 Belarusians were arrested after crossing the border in 2022 and 2023.

It is known that most people are detained after returning from Lithuania, but checks and detentions are carried out at all working checkpoints, including on the border with Russia. Security forces take Belarusians off shuttle buses, meet them at bus or railway stations, or come to their homes after the return. If the detention takes place right at the checkpoint, then the person is usually placed in the nearest police department before the trial, where a report is drawn up against them.

Every day, in addition to detentions, those who enter the country are interrogated. Human rights activists know that customs officers or the KGB pay attention, for example, to Ukrainian stamps in the passport. Also, those who are included in the BESporiadki database of the security forces go through interrogations. The data of all detainees after the start of the protests in 2020 is stored in that database.

The Return Commission: how people come home by agreement with the security forces, and end up behind bars

Last year, Lukashenka announced a "major decision" to create an interdepartmental commission to work with Belarusian immigrants, which will be headed by Prosecutor General Andrei Shved. According to Shved, the commission will tell those wishing to return to Belarus whether they can return without going to jail. Allegedly, the commission was supposed to carefully study each of the applicants in order to prevent "extremists and terrorists" from entering Belarus. The verification will take place "based on the information that is available in the law enforcement system." The Commission ceased its work at the end of 2023.

At the end of 2021, the security forces created the Way Home program, which allegedly "allows those who left to return without consequences." At the same time, Belarusians are given certain conditions under which they can do this. This program was in effect until the end of 2022. 

But human rights defenders are aware of at least three cases when, despite the "agreements", criminal cases were initiated against people.

For example, the Way Home program was used by the administrator of protest chats Tatsiana Kurylina. But in the end, she was sentenced to four and a half years in a penal colony under 12 articles of the Criminal Code.

Also in November 2023, Ihar Nemirovich, a 30-year-old Brest resident who returned to Belarus through an appeal to the Return Commission was convicted. He was sentenced to one year of imprisonment under Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting Lukashenka). At the same time, the court did not recognize the appeal to the commission as "an indisputable basis for concluding his repentance." 

And in December 2023, propagandists published an interview with Tatsiana Sobal, who reportedly also returned to Belarus through the Commission. The woman was forced to talk about how she felt bad abroad and how she "succumbed to influence" and participated in protests in 2020. As a result, Tatsiana is awaiting trial; she is charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code. She is free on bail.

Important! Human rights activists remind that repressions in Belarus have been taking place daily for three and a half years. If you have been socially and politically active since 2020 to this day: you took part in protest actions in Belarus and abroad, left comments on social media, donated to support victims in Belarus or Ukraine, were active in a local chat, which you left a long time ago, posted a new Naviband music video on Facebook once or posted on Radio Svaboda, the risks of persecution upon return to Belarus are very high. Please take care of your safety, and also do not forget about those relatives and friends whose messages or photos from the protests can be found on your phone.

Which detainees are currently imprisoned and how can you support them

We publish the stories of some of them.

Katsiaryna Brukhanava — two years and six months in a penal colony.

Кацярына Бруханава

Katsiaryna is a citizen of Ukraine, originally from the city of Kherson. She studied in China, graduated from the university there in 2015, and in 2016 moved to Belarus, where she worked as a translator from Chinese.

On July 25, 2023, Brukhanava was detained while crossing the Belarusian border. The security forces allegedly saw that on March 30, 2022, she sent two videos to the chatbot of the Zerkalo editorial office showing the movement of Russian military equipment near Minsk.

Support the political prisoner with letters of solidarity, telegrams, and postcards:

Penal colony No. 4. 246035, Homiel, vul. Antoshkina, 3

Katsiaryna Andreyeuna Brukhanava

Kiryl Hniazdzilau — eight years in a penal colony 


Kiryl has been working in the police since 2007, which he quit in August 2020 and moved to work in the IT. The Brest resident was detained right at the border when he returned from Poland to visit his wife and children. 

The case was considered behind closed doors during six court sessions. It is known that the case is associated with the Black Book of Belarus. On August 3, 2023, he was convicted in the Brest Regional Court under two articles of the Criminal Code.

Support the political prisoner with letters of solidarity, telegrams, and postcards:

Penal colony No. 3. 211322, Viciebsk region, Vitsba

Kiryl Viktaravich Hniazdzilau

Aliaksandra Kasko — 10 years in a penal colony.

Аляксандра Каско

On December 19, the Hrodna Regional Court sentenced the political prisonerto up to ten years in a penal colony. She was detained upon her return from Poland in early February 2023.

She has been convicted under eight articles of the Criminal Code, including for "participating in extremist formation" and "facilitating extremist activities." Even before the trial, Aliaksandra was added to the "list of terrorists" and the "list of extremists." 

Support the political prisoner with letters of solidarity, telegrams, and postcards:

Prison No. 1. 230023, Hrodna, vul. Kirava, 1

Aliaksandra Viktarauna Kasko

Anastasiya Petrachenka — three years in a penal colony

Анастасія Петрачэнка

Anastasiya moved from Belarus to Poland after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion to Ukraine. While in the neighboring country, she tried to make a donation from her Belarusian bank account to Kalinoŭski Regiment in the amount of 16.71 US dollars, but the transaction was not successful.

Later, the political prisoner decided to return to Belarus, where she was detained.

Support the political prisoner with letters of solidarity, telegrams, and postcards:

Penal colony No. 4. 246035, Homiel, vul. Antoshkina, 3

Anastasiya Alehauna Petrachenka

Aliaksandr Kulikou — four years and six months

Аляксандр Кулікоў у прапагандысцкім фільме

The Mahilioŭ resident went abroad last year because of political persecution, but later the security forces promised him that if he returned, he would not be imprisoned. As a result, the political prisoner was detained in June 2023 upon his return from Poland right at the border and placed in a pre-trial detention center.

Two months later, he was convicted for comments in "extremist" chat rooms. Recently, Aliaksandr was convicted again for trying to join Kalinoŭski Regiment in Ukraine, as well as for "undergoing training to participate in extremist activities." 

Support the political prisoner with money transfers, parcels, and letters of solidarity:

Prison No. 4. 212011, Mahilioŭ, vul. Krupskai, 99A

Aliaksandr Uladzimiravich Kulikou

Pavel Mazheika and Yuliya Yurhilevich — six years in a penal colony


The political prisoners were charged under Part 2 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code for "other assistance to extremist activities committed repeatedly by a group of persons by prior agreement". The case was considered in the Hrodna Regional Court by judge Maksim Filatau.

According to the materials of the case, Yuliya gave Pavel information about the decision to disbar her, as well about the consideration of a criminal case against Ales Pushkin and the imposition of punishment on him. The prosecution was sure that Mazheika had transmitted this data for publication on Belsat.

Support the political prisoner with letters of solidarity, telegrams, and postcards:

Penal colony No. 4. 246035, Homiel, vul. Antoshkina, 3

Yuliya Piatrouna Yurhilevich

Kanstantsin Salamiyuk is held in a pre-trial detention center as part of a criminal case


Kanstantsin is a software engineer from Brest, who recently lived in Poland. He was detained in October 2023 under Article 369 (insulting a representative of the government) of the Criminal Code.

In November 2023, a "penitential" video with the man was released, where he said that he was detained for "numerous offensive comments."

Support the political prisoner with money transfers, parcels, and letters of solidarity:

SIZO-7. 224030, Brest, vul. Savetskikh pamezhnikau, 37

Kanstantsin Siarheyevich Salamiyuk

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