viasna on patreon

Human rights situation in Belarus. February 2024

2024 2024-03-07T17:02:19+0300 2024-03-07T17:02:54+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”


  • The human rights situation in Belarus remains critical. The regime continues to repress political opponents and dissidents. The authorities attempt to create an illusion of civil accord and popular support for their policies.

  • In 2023, over 1,300 criminal cases with political charge were sent to court. Since the fall of 2020, human rights defenders have registered 4,690 politically motivated convictions;

  • As of February 2024, Belarus had 1,410 political prisoners, including 170 women. The human rights community recognized 33 people as political prisoners during that month;

  • On February 20, political prisoner and social activist Ihar Lednik died. He received a three-year prison sentence for "defaming" Lukashenka in a publication of a party magazine;

  • The Viasna Human Rights Center has several members who are currently serving sentences in correctional facilities. These include Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Maria Rabkova, volunteer Andrei Chapiuk, and Human Constanta human rights activist Anastasia Loika;

  • The arbitrary detention of individuals for exercising their civil rights persists. In February 2024, Viasna received information about at least 625 cases of administrative and criminal persecution (trials and arrests), including at least 548 administrative proceedings on political grounds. The judges administered 95 administrative detentions and 84 fines; three people were punished with community service. Additionally, over 100 individuals, including political prisoners and their relatives, received administrative detention sentences for accepting food aid from other individuals and foundations;

  • Viasna human rights defenders still regularly register and document instances of torture and prohibited treatment during politically motivated criminal investigations, as well as in administrative proceedings;

  • The Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign reported that the elections for deputies to the House of Representatives of the People's Assembly and local Councils of Deputies did not meet international standards for democratic and free elections. The monitoring mission's results showed that the elections were associated with numerous violations of the electoral legislation of the Republic of Belarus.

  • The European Parliament passed a resolution on Belarus in response to the mass crackdown on January 23-24, pressure on political prisoners and their family members, and the "analysts case." MEPs condemned the recent mass arrests in Belarus and called on the Lukashenka regime to stop repression, including gender-based persecution. They reminded the regime of its international obligations. The parliamentarians are demanding the immediate and unconditional release of over 1,400 political prisoners. They also call for redress for the prisoners and their families, as well as for other arbitrarily detained individuals, while also restoring the full rights of these individuals.

Political prisoners. Persecution of human rights defenders

As of February 29, 2024, Belarus had 1,410 prisoners classified by the human rights community as political prisoners. 170 of them were women. Over 1,560 individuals, including 361 women, have been released due to completing their sentence, change of restraining order, non-custodial sentence, amnesty, or pardon. As a result, the total number of political prisoners and former political prisoners continues to grow, approaching 3,000, including more than 530 women.

In February, human rights activists recognized 33 individuals as political prisoners. Human rights defenders demanded the rehabilitation of 22 former political prisoners who participated in peaceful assemblies. These individuals meet the criteria for recognition as political prisoners, but information about their detention or the reasons for it only became known after their release.

Viasna has registered over 4,690 individuals who have been convicted in politically motivated criminal cases.

On February 16, Dzmitry Hara, the chairman of the Investigative Committee, reported that in 2023, investigative bodies took over 1,300 extremism-related criminal cases to court. During the same period, Viasna human rights defenders identified 1,603 convicted individuals.

On February 20, Ihar Lednik, a political prisoner and public activist, died in a prison hospital at the age of 64. He received a three-year prison sentence for “defaming” Lukashenka in an article that appeared in the magazine Pazicyja issued by the Belarusian Social Democratic Party. Despite having a second-degree disability caused by heart problems, the political prisoner was still sentenced to imprisonment. During his detention, Ihar Lednik’s health significantly deteriorated, and he underwent surgery on his gastrointestinal tract. The cause of death of the political prisoner was cardiac arrest. Ihar Lednik passed away at the prison hospital in Kaliadzičy. He was transferred there from Babrujsk Correctional Facility No. 2, where he had been in the medical unit throughout his time. This is the fifth death of a political prisoner behind bars.

Many political prisoners are often placed in a state of incommunicado by the authorities. No information is available about Maria Kalesnikava (from February 15, 2023), Mikalai Statkevich (from February 10, 2023), Siarhei Tsikhanouski (from March 9, 2023), Ihar Losik (from February 20, 2023), Viktar Babaryka, and other political prisoners. Ales Bialiatski, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been kept in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) of the Horki Correctional Facility. He has not received any letters in a long time, and his lawyer has not been able to meet with him. Additionally, he is currently deprived of telephone conversations with his family, as well as the ability to receive packages and medicines.

Human rights defenders and democratic activists have been informed about long interruptions in contact with other political prisoners. Many of them also face correspondence and visitation bans.

This situation creates conditions for impunity for the violation of political prisoners’ rights, including the right to be free from torture and other prohibited treatment.

UN human rights experts have expressed concern over reports of critical health conditions and ill-treatment in custody of politician Ryhor Kastusiou, 66, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “conspiracy to seize power by unconstitutional means.” Experts note that failure to provide Ryhor with quality and timely treatment can be considered torture. They called on the Belarusian authorities to consider pardoning the politician or commuting his sentence.

Human rights defenders and political prisoners Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Maria Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, and Anastasia Loika, who were sentenced to imprisonment, are still in detention.

Prison authorities subject political prisoners to intense pressure while in detention.

Political prisoner Andrzej Poczobut is occasionally placed in a punishment cell. Poczobut was not allowed any visits, calls to his relatives, or care packages for over eight months at Navapolack Correctional Facility No. 1. He has been held in the SHU for several months and is occasionally put in a punishment cell.

The administration of Correctional Facility No. 24 for women has filed a third criminal case against political prisoner Viktoria Kulsha under Article 411. Last year, Viktoria was convicted twice for persistent disobedience of the prison administration demands (Part 1 Article 411 of the Criminal Code) while serving a sentence of imprisonment. During her most recent court appearance, the woman was sentenced to an additional year in prison, on top of her original three-and-a-half-year prison sentence. Viktoria has been in the Secure Housing Unit for over a month. She spent New Year’s Eve in the punishment cell.

A new criminal case was opened against political prisoner Dmitry Rezanovich. The Ivacevičy Correctional Facility No. 22 administration has filed a criminal case against Dzmitry for repeatedly disobeying the prison staff’s demands, as outlined in Article 411 of the Criminal Code. Last year, the political prisoner was transferred to the Secure Housing Unit until March of this year. It was previously reported that Dzmitry was repeatedly placed in a punishment cell, deprived of visits and care packages, and threatened with transfer to a high-security prison.

Political prisoner Vadzim Tsahelnik was convicted for persistent disobedience of the prison staff’s demands under Article 411 of the Criminal Code. His trial began in Babrujsk on February 2. The verdict is still unknown to human rights activists.

Viasna is aware of 31 political prisoners who have been arbitrarily sentenced to additional terms of imprisonment under Article 411 of the Criminal Code.

Belarusian charitable initiatives support political prisoners and their families, but the authorities keep interfering and try to stop them. As of February 29, according to the Viasna human rights activists, at least 287 people have been prosecuted as a result of the mass arrests on January 23-24 and the following days. The majority of those prosecuted are women. After the searches, the targets of persecution were interviewed and then most were released with a non-disclosure plea. However, human rights activists are still trying to find out where some of those detained ended up. The KGB was interested in the IneedHelpBY initiative’s support for the families of political prisoners. The authorities had labeled the initiative an “extremist formation” some time before. Over a hundred people were convicted under Article 24.15 of the Administrative Offences Code for “using foreign aid to carry out terrorist or extremist activities, or other actions prohibited by law.” This is an arbitrary prosecution of individuals who have not violated any legal rules, nor have they carried out or financed any terrorist or extremist activities, or any other actions prohibited by law with the aid they received. Human rights defenders and international organizations have repeatedly criticized Belarus’ policy of regulating foreign and international aid. This policy infringes on many inalienable rights and freedoms, such as freedom of association, freedom of opinion, and freedom of expression.

On February 9, the Barysaŭ District Court heard an administrative case of Aksana Khinevich, the mother of former political prisoner Anatol Khinevich. She was accused of receiving “foreign aid” facilitated by the IneedHelpBY initiative. Judge Sviatlana Baranava found the defendant guilty of violating Article 24.15 of the Administrative Offences Code. The woman was fined and ordered to compensate for the amount of “foreign’ payments made through E-delivery, an online shopping and delivery service. Viasna published details and the recording of the trial.

On February 1, Dzianis Siarhejeu, a former political prisoner, was tried in Orša for violating Article 24.15 of the Administrative Offences Code, which prohibits the use of foreign gratuitous aid for terrorist and other extremist activities. Dzianis was detained on January 23 during a KGB raid. The man allegedly received 244 rubles and 38 kopecks worth of goods and materials as foreign aid from representatives of the extremist formation IneedHelpBY. The aid was transferred to the online store Euroopt and used by the man, the police report states. Judge Yulia Khatkevich imposed a fine of 1,000 Belarusian rubles ($305) and ordered compensation for the amount of “foreign” payments within the E-delivery service.

In February, Belarusian human rights defenders were added to the wanted database of the Russian Interior Ministry. The list included Natallia Satsunkevich, Leanid Sudalenka, Ihar Kazmerchak, Maria Tarasenka, Uladzimir Khilmanovich, Dzmitry Salaujou, Viciebsk human rights activists Pavel Levinau and Iryna Tratsiakova. This means that the Belarusian authorities are prosecuting them.

Violation of the freedom of peaceful assembly. Suppression of freedom of expression

The authorities are still prosecuting participants of the 2020 protests for political reasons. Human rights activists regularly receive information about new convictions under Part 1 Article 342 of the Criminal Code for participating in group actions that grossly violate public order. The grounds for liability include protesters walking on the roadway and disobeying police orders to stop assemblies if they do not have the necessary permits. This practice grossly and unquestionably violates the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Convicted protesters are also arbitrarily charged for alleged damages caused to transportation companies.

On February 16, Yauhen Shum’s case was heard at the Minsk Centralny District Court. He had been detained upon his return from Poland. He was charged with participating in the 2020 protests under Article 342 of the Criminal Code. The case was heard by Judge Dzmitry Karsiuk. The offender will be subject to three years of home confinement.

Administrative prosecution on arbitrary grounds often precedes criminal prosecution. On February 8, the Minsk Kastryčnicki District Court announced the verdict of the artist Hanna Kruk. The woman was charged with organizing, preparing, or participating in actions that violated public order under part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code. The case was considered by Judge Ina Sivets. The defendant was detained on November 29, 2023 in the Marx cafe in Minsk. The woman underwent trial in an administrative court two days later for unauthorized picketing under Article 24.23 of the Administrative Offences Code. According to the report, Hanna “displayed a painting of the white-red-white flag thus making it available to the public.”

Kruk did not plead guilty. She explained to the court that she had indeed placed her painting in the cafe. However, the painting did not have an image of the white-red-white flag on it. Disregarding these claims, she was sentenced to 13-day administrative detention. When the term was over, she was redetained and criminally charged with protesting in 2020. The court found her guilty and sentenced her to three years of home confinement.

A pastor from Navalukoml, Aliaksandr Zaretski, was detained on February 22 for praying for an end to the war in Ukraine during services in his congregation, as reported by Khrystsiyanskaya Viziya. Local ideological workers had challenged the pastor on the matter multiple times and threatened persecution. The authorities were also displeased that the pastor declined to participate in their organized political events. Zaretski and his community have been harassed by security forces on more than one occasion. The pastor was searched in July 2021 and detained on April 20, 2023, under Article 19.11 of the Administrative Offences Code. This was due to his liking and commenting on online articles that have been recognized as extremist. The pastor spent a month behind bars after receiving two consecutive 15-day detention sentences.

On January 24, Aliaksandr Malikau was sentenced by the Lida District Court. He was accused of insulting a public officer under Article 369 of the Criminal Code. The case was heard by Judge Uladzimir Fedarovich. In December 2021, the defendant made a comment about the commander of a military unit based in the Lida District on social media. The prosecution and the judge found the comment to be offensive. Although he did not plead guilty, the court sentenced him to one year and six months of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility, as well as a fine of 4,000 Belarusian rubles ($1,220).

The Maskoŭski District Court of Brest reviewed the criminal case of Kanstantsin Salamiyuk, a 40-year-old political prisoner, on February 14, 2024. The trial took place on the premises of Brest pre-trial detention center, the case was considered by Judge Maryna Skalkovich. The man was tried under Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code for public insult of Lukashenka. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

Politically motivated harassment continues to be actively pursued through administrative prosecution. In February, Viasna identified 625 cases of reprisals, including trials and detentions, related to criminal and administrative prosecution. Among them are 548 cases of politically charged administrative proceedings in court. The judges imposed 95 administrative arrests and 84 fines. Three individuals were sentenced to community service, and one case was dismissed. The results of the remaining trials are unknown. The repressions were distributed among the regions as follows: 140 cases in the Brest Region, 111 in the Hrodna Region, 215 in Minsk and the Minsk Region, 158 in the Homieĺ Region, and 72 in the Viciebsk Region.

The most popular ground for conviction is the distribution of “extremist” informational materials.

On January 25, Aliaksandr Liashkou, an employee of Naftan, was detained by Navapolack court judge Zinaida Balabolava for sharing “extremist” content on Telegram. He was sentenced to 15 days in a detention center. The participant in the 2020 strike received his fourth consecutive administrative detention term. In court, it was revealed that Aliaksandr had forwarded messages from a Telegram channel declared extremist.

Furthermore, over 100 individuals received fines for utilizing food aid (with the cost of aid being recovered) which is prohibited by Article 24.15 of the Administrative Offences Code.

Police detained individuals involved in the 2020 elections, including those who participated in observation and were arrested at protests, on the eve of the parliamentary elections in Babrujsk.

Artsiom Stadolnik, a former history teacher, was detained in Dokšycy. He faced charges for unauthorized picketing under Article 24.23 of the Administrative Offences Code due to an Instagram post on January 18, 2021. The post does not contain any political content. However, it was illustrated with a picture of a car that had a Pahonia sticker on it [From 1991 to 1995, Pahonia served as the national emblem of Belarus. Today, it is frequently used by protesters. — TN]. Artsiom later removed the sticker at the demand of the police: at that time they filed no report. In February, the young man was detained for three days. In October 2020, Artsiom was detained for participating in an unauthorized gathering. On July 8, 2021, he was detained for three days on suspicion of involvement in a “political” inscription on a bus stop. The man has three minor children.

Elvira Mirsalimava, a pro-Russian activist in Viciebsk, was charged with violating the regulations of organizing or holding mass events and propagating or publicly demonstrating, producing, and distributing Nazi symbols or attributes under Articles 24.23 and 19.10 of the Administrative Offences Code, respectively. This fact shows that authorities do not always care about the values supported by a “violator,” but rather focus on not allowing any social or political activity that they do not sanction.

Violation of rights and freedoms under the pretext of combating extremism and terrorism

The authorities continue to add to the list of recognized extremist formations. This has been accompanied by an increase in the number of people detained and convicted for creating, participating in, and financing such initiatives.

On February 6, the trial of Dzmitry Papkou, Ihar Charnavusau, and Uladzimir Kamenau began in the Homieĺ Regional Court. They are accused of promoting extremist activity (parts 1 and 2 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code), creating or participating in an extremist formation (part 1 of Article 361-1), and insulting Lukashenka (part 1 of Article 368). Details of the charges are unknown because the trial is being held in closed session. The case is being considered by Judge Aleh Kharoshka. The defendants have been in custody for the better part of a year. In the “penitential video,” they reported creating a group chat to communicate with each other. Allegedly, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they insulted Lukashenka several times in their correspondence, in addition to leaving “wrong” comments in other channels.

On February 16, the Minsk City Court passed a sentence on 27-year-old political prisoner Ksenia Khodyrava. She was found guilty of violating two articles of the Criminal Code: Art. 361-2 (financing an extremist formation) and Part 2 of Art. 361-3 (financing participation in an armed group or conflict or military actions in a foreign country). The case involved three sessions. The political prisoner was accused of donating to initiatives recognized as extremist formations and to Belarusian volunteers fighting for the independence of Ukraine. As a result, Judge Sviatlana Makarevich sentenced the political prisoner to five years of imprisonment.

On February 12 and 14, 2024 Brest Regional Court considered the criminal case against Aliaksandr Sysoyeu, 39. The trial was presided over by Judge Ruslana Sianko. The man allegedly transferred money to Kalinouski Regiment via Facebook using PayPal. The transfer in the amount of $12.91 was made from a bank card emitted in Belarus. The state prosecution has classified it as part 2 of Article 361-3 of the Criminal Code. This article pertains to the financing of citizens of the Republic of Belarus who participate in an armed formation of one of the opposing parties in armed conflicts or military actions on foreign soil. According to the Brest chapter of Viasna, on February 12, the prosecutor suggested five years of imprisonment as a punishment for Sysoyeu. The verdict was announced on February 14.

In February, the list of people involved in extremist activities grew by 80 individuals. The list now contains 3,819 names and includes data on those convicted of protest activities.

The authorities added three new groups to the list of extremist formations, bringing the total to 181.

The National List of Extremist Materials has been updated with information on resources recognized as extremist based on over 100 court decisions.

During the month, there were 416 cases of administrative conviction for distributing information materials recognized as extremist.

Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment

The right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment is being grossly violated with impunity in Belarus. This is happening during arrest, administrative detention, and in places of restriction or deprivation of liberty.

Released prisoners inform human rights defenders about torture and other types of prohibited treatment.

One of the individuals, a former political prisoner who served three years in a correctional facility, was arbitrarily convicted under Article 19.11 of the Administrative Offences Code for sharing an article from an online resource recognized by the authorities as extremist. They served administrative detention in the temporary detention center (TDC) of Minsk District in November 2023. Viasna was informed about their experience and observations. They described the conditions in the TDC and compared them to being in a punishment cell of a correctional facility. They also compared the conditions in the TDC to those from three years ago.

Another former political prisoner was detained in the high-profile “Zeltser case” in the fall of 2021. In 2024, he gave the details to Viasna. He spent two years in detention, including with others detained and convicted in the case. Detainees faced cruel inhuman treatment.

The authorities continue to record humiliating videos of detainees confessing to protesting and dissent. Thus, the special services detained an ex-employee of the Council of Ministers of Belarus. In the video, the woman says that in the 90s she worked in the Supreme Soviet and the Council of Ministers of Belarus. She was accused of participating in protests and discussing politics with friends from Ukraine and Israel. Propagandists claim the woman was detained for 15 days.

Uladzislau Beladzed, a Catholic political prisoner, was coerced into recording a “penitential video” where he appeared depressed and under duress to declare his homosexual orientation, as reported by Khrystsiyanskaya Viziya. This puts him in even greater danger. The propaganda video used a derogatory tone to speak of him, made him incriminate himself, and showed photos and videos intended to discredit him in the eyes of believers.

Former political prisoners report that medical care in Belarusian detention facilities is inadequate. Chronic diseases receive little to no assistance in correctional facilities and pre-trial detention centers. There is a lack of quality medical supplies. Very little time is allocated for doctor’s appointments. Because of this, a long queue forms, causing prisoners to not receive timely medical care. As a result of untimely and poor-quality care, five political prisoners have already died in the correctional facilities. Many elderly and disabled political prisoners in correctional facilities are in poor health and require immediate treatment.

A former political prisoner who was recently released from Navapolack correctional facility spoke to Viasna about the support among the sick. Political prisoners pass candy to diabetics in punishment cells. Prisoners with oncological diseases are sometimes offered antidepressants instead of specialized medical examinations at Correctional Facility No. 1. Additionally, some prisoners refuse to request medical parcels due to the complicated procedure for receiving them. He mentioned the requirement of obtaining separate certificates for wearing and keeping eyeglasses.

Harassment of lawyers

On February 28, KGB officers arrested multiple lawyers in Minsk. According to human rights activists, at least 12 lawyers have been arrested. Most have been released, while some remain in detention. Six lawyers are currently behind bars for their professional activities and for exercising their civil and political rights.

On February 15, 2024, the Qualification Commission for Legal Profession in the Republic of Belarus conducted a regular attestation of lawyers. According to the results of the procedure, the Commission decided that lawyer Shabanova I.A. was not qualified enough to perform her professional duties. The Qualification Commission also decided to terminate N.I. Kanoda’s license. The license was terminated because the lawyer was found to be insufficiently qualified to perform her professional duties. This decision was made by the Qualification Commission following the results of the regular attestation on January 18, 2024. Iryna Shabanava and Natallia Kanoda are professional lawyers with impeccable reputations. They have previously participated in the activities of lawyers’ self-governance bodies. Their disqualification is a shameful act of repression against lawyers. This weakens not only the bar but also the justice system as a whole.

The Belarusian authorities’ support of Russia’s military aggression and war criminals, prosecution for supporting Ukraine and anti-war stance

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Belarusians have actively demonstrated an anti-war stance. They have organized marches and pickets, disabled railroad equipment to slow down the movement of Russian military equipment, undermined Russian military aircraft, contributed to the information war, and fought on the side of Ukraine.

The Viasna Human Rights Center consistently condemns the Russian Federation’s aggression and any support provided by the Belarusian authorities.

Belarus has convicted 13 individuals of railroad sabotage, resulting in a total of 199.5 years of imprisonment as of February 23, 2024. At least 37 people have been convicted for sharing photos and videos of Russian military equipment with the media, and 15 people have been convicted for intending to fight on the side of Ukraine. At least 38 people were prosecuted for publicly condemning Russian aggression and supporting Ukraine. 14 people were convicted for monetary donations to Belarusian volunteers. Over 1,500 individuals were detained for anti-war actions in Belarus during the first month and a half of the war. People in our country still face persecution and administrative detention for openly supporting Ukraine.

In total, at least 1,671 people were detained for displaying an anti-war stance. Ninety-four individuals received criminal sentences, ranging from one to twenty-three years. Viasna reported on the persecution of Belarusians for their anti-war stance.

Viasna spoke to two participants in the peaceful anti-war protests on the second anniversary of the invasion. They discussed why it was no longer possible to remain silent and the consequences of their actions.

Violation of electoral rights

The single voting day was introduced in Belarus as a result of the constitutional amendment at the referendum in 2022. The elections for the Eighth Convocation House of Representatives deputies and the Twenty-Ninth Convocation Local Councils of Deputies were scheduled for February 25, 2024. The expert mission observed the election of deputies on the single voting day as part of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign, which unites the Viasna Human Rights Center and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. The mission has published its Preliminary Analytical Report on the observation results.

Human rights activists stated that the elections in Belarus were held under continuous repression. There was an actual absence of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. The elections took place in an atmosphere of total fear and a cleansed political field. The campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections monitored all stages of the election and concluded that it did not meet international standards for democratic and free elections. The elections were accompanied by numerous violations of the electoral legislation of the Republic of Belarus. The authorities not only administratively controlled all stages of the electoral process but also organized them to maintain power and simulate popular support and accord in society. The non-transparent formation of election commissions, authorization of candidate lists by the power vertical, campaigning that imitated political activity, and the continued practice of forcing voters to participate in early voting are all evidence of the lack of transparency in the election process. Additionally, an atmosphere of intimidation was created with bans on photographing and taking ballots out of polling stations, rhetoric about “extremist conspiracies,” police officers stationed at polling stations, a non-transparent vote-counting procedure, and a complete absence of independent observers.

Latest news