viasna on patreon

Human rights situation in Belarus. March 2024

2024 2024-04-08T22:58:11+0300 2024-04-08T23:31:40+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”


Human rights violations in Belarus remain widespread, fundamental freedoms are critically vulnerable, repression against political opponents of the regime and dissidents continues, and the bellicose rhetoric of the authorities in foreign and domestic policy has intensified:

  • As of March 2024, Belarus had 1402 political prisoners, 171 of whom were women. Over the month, 38 people were recognized as political prisoners by the human rights community, which also demanded the rehabilitation of 66 former political prisoners;
  • 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 Nasta Loika;
  • The arbitrary detention of individuals for exercising their civil rights persists. In March 2024, Viasna received information about at least 453 cases of administrative and criminal persecution (trials and arrests), including at least 416 administrative proceedings on political grounds. The judges administered at least 82 administrative detentions and 86 fines; one person was punished with community service;
  • 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 same applies to persecution, imprisonment, and forced deportations on political grounds;
  • On March 8, International Women's Day, Viasna reported on the repression of women through figures and pictures. Over 8,000 women have been persecuted in Belarus since August 2020 for fighting for socio-political rights and expressing their opinions. On March 8, there were 171 female political prisoners in Belarus. Since 2020, more than 1,033 women have been sentenced for dissent related to protests against the current government and the war in Ukraine. Of these, 242 have been imprisoned, 497 have been placed under home confinement, 70 have been subjected to freedom restriction in an open-type correctional facility, five women have been criminally detained, and two have been subjected to compulsory treatment. A minimum of 321 women have been convicted and released from prison during this time;
  • On March 13, 2024, the Human Rights House Foundation and various international and Belarusian civil society organizations issued a joint letter. The letter called on Member States of the Human Rights Council to support the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus and to establish an independent accountability mechanism to advance the work of OHCHR in investigating the situation in Belarus.
  • The UN Human Rights Council released a report on March 15, 2024, regarding the human rights situation in Belarus before and after the 2020 presidential election. The report describes various human rights violations, including NGO shutdowns, political prisoners, and their detention conditions, such as incommunicado detention. It also covers repression of the media, disbarring of lawyers, expansion of 'extremist' lists, searches, arbitrary detention, torture, deaths during protests and in detention, and forced emigration. The Council concluded that "OHCHR has reasonable grounds to believe that the crime against humanity of persecution may have been committed, along with other underlying acts which may be established as a result of the human rights violations described". The situation with human rights in Belarus was considered on March 20 at the 55th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Political prisoners. Persecution of human rights defenders

As of March 31, 2024, Belarus had 1,402 prisoners classified by the human rights community as political prisoners. 171 of them were women. Over 1,680 individuals, including 381 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 3,100, including more than 550 women.

In March, human rights activists recognized 38 individuals as political prisoners. Human rights defenders demanded the rehabilitation of 66 former political prisoners who participated in peaceful assemblies and were convicted for expressing their opinions. 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.

In March, Viasna published data on politically motivated convictions in February: the number of citizens who, according to preliminary data, may have been subjected to judicial repression and convicted in criminal proceedings amounted to 129 people, of whom 46 were women and 83 were men. In total, Viasna is currently aware of over 4,860 convicted in politically motivated criminal cases.

Many political prisoners are often held 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.

Human rights defenders and democratic activists have been informed about long interruptions in contact with other political prisoners. It is known that they also face correspondence and visitation bans, and their ability to make phone calls and see their lawyers is restricted.

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.

Human rights defenders and political prisoners Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Maria Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, and Anastasia Loika, who were sentenced to imprisonment, are still in detention. UN Special Rapporteurs have issued a statement on the unlawful and unfair convictions of Viasna human rights defenders Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, and Uladzimir Labkovich. One year after they were sentenced to ten, nine, and seven years in prison, respectively, concerns about the fairness of the trial remain, the UN experts said.

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

One of the most brutal measures is the extension of the prison term:

  • The Čyhunačny District Court of Homieĺ has scheduled a hearing in the criminal case of political prisoner Volha Mayorava. She is currently serving a 20-year sentence in the Homieĺ women's correctional facility. Volha Mayorava is being charged under Article 411 of the Criminal Code for "persistent disobedience" to the administration of the facility.
  • On March 7, the Žodzina City Court issued a verdict in a new criminal case against political prisoner Aleh Rubets. He was charged under part 2 of Article 411 of the Criminal Code. Judge Sviatlana Samuseva found the political prisoner guilty and sentenced him to one and a half years in addition to the initial term of five and a half years of imprisonment. Aleh was previously convicted for participating in post-election protests in Pinsk in 2020. He faced severe pressure as a political prisoner, including multiple stints in a punishment cell and Secure Housing Unit, before being convicted under Article 411. In June 2022, Judge Volha Balika of Navapolack Court transferred Aleh to a high-security prison for three years. Aleh was kept in a punishment cell for over 200 days in the past year at Žodzina Prison No. 8, including for several consecutive months.
  • Viasna summarized and reported on the methods of punishment used by correctional facility administrations against political prisoners and how one becomes a 'persistent violator of the regime'.

New information has emerged regarding the conditions of serving a sentence in the form of freedom restriction in open-type correctional facilities. Convicts are under constant video surveillance, and their time outside is strictly limited to 1-2 hours per day. Their location is monitored through geolocation every two hours, and they are subject to video check-ins multiple times a day. Additionally, they may be subjected to searches and are effectively prohibited from visiting the city during their free time. The working conditions are also discriminatory.

Since 2020, Belarusian political detainees have been forced to have their photos taken while in captivity. Former political prisoners shared their experiences within the 'Political Prisoner Mugshots' project, recounting their time in correctional facilities in Homieĺ, Viciebsk, Škloŭ, and Mahilioŭ.

In honor of International Women's Day, the Viasna Human Rights Center produced a film about Daria Karol, a former political prisoner who was detained in the Minsk pre-trial detention center for four months in 2022 for participating in post-election protests.

A criminal case was initiated in absentia against Leanid Sudalenka, a former political prisoner and human rights activist. The information was made public on March 4 through the telegram channel “Special Proceedings. Official”. He is charged under Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code (promotion of extremist activity).

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

Depriving and restricting the liberty of peaceful protesters and dissenters remains the most serious violation of freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

The courts are still sentencing the 2020 protesters, even though it’s been over three years since then.

Human rights defenders are aware of at least 21 convictions in March under Article 342 of the Criminal Code. Defendants are sentenced to either imprisonment or freedom restriction.

On March 4, 2024 the Leninski District Court of Minsk passed a sentence in a criminal case on charges of organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order (part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code). Zhana Dudzinskaya was in custody from January 25th to February 1st, 2024. According to the case file, the convict took part in an unauthorized mass event in Minsk in September 2020. The verdict reads: "...the defendant committed actions in a public place, on the roadway in Minsk, within public view. This grossly violated public order and demonstrated disrespect for society, disregard for accepted rules of community life, and the rights of other individuals. The defendant engaged in riotous behavior.” The court sentenced the defendant to 2 years and 6 months of home confinement.

Furthermore, there have been at least 28 rulings issued in March 2024 under Article 24.23 of the Administrative Offenses Code for violations related to the organization of mass events.

On Freedom Day, police officers visited the home of well-known public activist Nina Bahinskaya, who will be tried for displaying the white-red-white flag. According to Belsat TV sources, she was taken to the police station on March 28th and detained until the evening. Nina Bahinskaya is summoned to the Pieršamajski District Court of Minsk to address an administrative report regarding the discovery of the flag in her apartment by law enforcement. The white-red-white flag was on the nightstand in the room where Bahinskaya lives.

Many sentences are still being handed down under defamation articles, such as insulting A. Lukashenka (Article 368 of the Criminal Code) and public officials (Article 369 of the Criminal Code). Defendants are sentenced to either imprisonment or freedom restriction.

Human rights defenders are aware of at least 9 convictions under Articles 368 and 369 of the Criminal Code in March 2024.

On March 5, 2024, the Partyzanski District Court of Minsk sentenced Alena Kaspiarovich for publicly insulting a public officer, the acting head of the Department of Corrections for the Viciebsk Region, referred to as Zh. (Article 369 of the Criminal Code). Alena Kaspiarovich is on leave to care for her minor child with a disability. She also looks after her elderly parents. Following her arrest, she was released with the condition that she not leave town before her trial. Based on the case file, the convict posted a comment that allegedly violated established rules of communication and universal morality. The comment also humiliated the honor and dignity of Police Colonel Zh. in connection with his performance of official duties. The prosecution believed the comment was motivated by a dislike for representatives of the authorities. The publication said that the police chief engaged in abusing prisoners. The court found Alena Kaspiarovich guilty of insulting a public official and sentenced her to home confinement for one year and six months, as well as a fine of $610.

On March 4th, the Brest Regional Court sentenced 36-year-old Luniniec resident Aliaksandr Paliuka. He was charged with five crimes related to his comments on social media: encouraging the imposition of sanctions (part 3 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code), creating or participating in an extremist formation (part 3 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code), insulting a public official (Article 369 of the Criminal Code), insulting Aliaksandr Lukashenka (part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code), and libeling him (part 2 of Article 367 of the Criminal Code). The case was considered by Judge Sviatlana Kramianeuskaya. Belaruskaje Radio Racyja reported that the sentence is seven years of imprisonment in a correctional facility with a reinforced security level.

In special proceedings, there are 13 charges under Articles 368 and 369 of the Criminal Code. Thus, a criminal case has been opened against Ilona Rudzenia under several articles of the Criminal Code, including Article 369. The special proceedings lasted only seven business days, making it the shortest in the procedure's history.

On March 14, it was revealed that special proceedings had been initiated against Ihar Kazmerchak, a human rights defender and editor of the independent website He is set to be tried in absentia. Ihar is accused of insulting Aliaksandr Lukashenka, as well as promoting extremist activity, according to part 1 of Article 368 and parts 1 and 2 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code.

It has also been revealed that journalist and human rights activist Uladzimir Khilmanovich, as well as activist Siarhei Verameyenka, are currently undergoing special proceedings. Both are charged with part 1 and part 2 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code (promotion of extremist activity).

On March 3, the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that a criminal case had been opened against Andrei Savitski, 54, for denying the genocide of the Belarusian people (Article 130-2 of the Criminal Code). The man was charged under three more articles of the Criminal Code: part 1 of Article 342 (active participation in actions that grossly violate public order), Article 368 (insulting Lukashenka), and 130-1 (rehabilitation of Nazism). Human rights activists have pointed out the questionable nature of the act that holds individuals accountable for denying the genocide of the Belarusian people.

Administrative prosecution continues to be actively used to exert pressure for political reasons. In March, Viasna registered at least 416 cases of politically motivated administrative proceedings in court. The judges administered at least 82 administrative detentions and 86 fines; one person was punished with community service. The results of the remaining hearings are unknown.

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.

In total, we have been informed about at least 6 charges in March under articles 361-1, 361-2, and 361-4 of the Criminal Code.

According to Viasna's calculations, 66 people have been convicted for donating to various initiatives recognized as extremist formations or terrorist organizations since the beginning of the post-election repression.

On February 29, the Minsk City Court considered the criminal case of truck driver Andrei Burak. The man was initially accused of disorderly conduct (part 3 of Article 339 of the Criminal Code) and creating or participating in an extremist formation (part 3 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code). The trial began on February 15, and the case was considered by Judge Yauhen Khatkevich.

According to the prosecution, on the evening of May 11, 2023, "the driver of a DAF car detonated an unknown self-made device made from pyrotechnic products while passing by a halted military transport convoy at M-5 Minsk-Homieĺ motorway. The device was thrown in the direction of soldiers and military equipment". After being detained, it was discovered that the man had activated the Victory Plan bot. This formed the basis of the charge of participation in an extremist formation. Andrei Burak was found guilty by the court and sentenced to five years in prison. The court did not find any indicia of a crime in the firecracker explosion.

On March 15, 2024, the Brest Regional Court passed a sentence on political prisoner Vital Maksimchuk. He was convicted under several articles of the Criminal Code, including participation in mass protests (part 1 Art. 342), creation or participation in an extremist formation (Art. 361-1), and promotion of extremist activity (Art. 361-4). He was sentenced to six years of imprisonment in a reinforced security level facility and a fine of $12,220.

In March 2024, 31 charges were filed in a special proceeding for aiding and financing extremist activities, as well as for establishing and participating in extremist formations under articles 361-1, 361-2, and 361-4 of the Criminal Code. The largest number of charges – at least 17 – was filed under Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code.

The list of extremist formations has been expanded to include 11 new groups, such as the Golos platform, the Fund of Belarusian Friends, and the Association of Belarusians in America (ABA Together).

The National List of Extremist Materials has been updated with information on resources recognized as extremist based on over 125 court decisions.

At least 314 cases of administrative conviction for disseminating information materials recognized as extremist were registered in March 2024.

The List of Citizens of the Republic of Belarus, Foreign Nationals, or Stateless Persons Involved in Extremist Activities was extended to 113 people, including 2 citizens of the Russian Federation and 1 citizen of Ukraine.

Torture and inhumane treatment

Torture and inhumane treatment continue to surface, both related to 2020 events and the present.

Dzmitry Khadarovich described the brutal detention and torture he endured at the Minsk TDF in 2020. As a result, he spent nearly two months in a hospital and rehabilitation center. Plastic clamps, instead of handcuffs, were used and caused his hand to break. Additionally, braces pierced his lips and he suffered a torn knee ligament from a blow.

Meriem Herasimenka, a former political prisoner, shared the story of her partner Anton's cruel treatment. He was detained in 2023 to obtain evidence against her. He was beaten and forced into a torture position with his hands twisted behind his back. This position involves pulling a person by their hands and feet.

Several people who were arrested and administratively detained in the fall and winter of 2023 have reported brutal treatment by GUBOPiK officers. Similar torturous practices still used at Minsk Temporary Detention Center, including beatings and the use of torture methods such as stun guns, suffocation with a plastic bag, chlorine poisoning, and sleeping on metal bunk frames. In addition to politically motivated detainees, other vulnerable or marginalized groups of people, such as the homeless, are also subjected to common practices of inhumane treatment and denial of medical care.

In December 2023, Katsiaryna Eudakimava, a former political prisoner, spoke out about the discriminatory and inhumane conditions at the Smaliavičy detention facility. She reported that the cell was under constant surveillance by cameras and male staff and that there was no isolated toilet, only a bucket.

Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, a former political prisoner, reported that during his detention in January 2024, investigator I.E. Bakau hit him on the jaw with a plastic bottle, causing him to lose his front teeth. Mikhail asked for paper to make a complaint about torture, which was refused and he was forced to write a statement on a towel he had on him.

In early March, Vital Chopik was detained in a criminal case for attending court hearings in politically motivated criminal cases to record their progress and outcome. He was then taken to the emergency hospital with signs of severe beatings and a yellow complexion, which may indicate damage to internal organs.

Authorities often use disciplinary sanctions to punish political prisoners by placing them in a punishment cell or SHU for an extended period. This involves imposing one sanction after another, creating immense pressure on the prisoners. Thus, political prisoner Vadzim Hulevich was kept in the punishment cell for 2.5 months in a row (from November 10 to the end of January).

Political prisoner Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk faced this form of pressure throughout her imprisonment. In late January to early February, she was once again placed in a punishment cell. Palina has been held incommunicado for at least 2.5 months. On March 13, the prison administration once again denied her lawyer's visit. Her family received the last letter from her in January 2024. On March 19, 2024, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) urged Belarus to take immediate interim measures to safeguard political prisoner Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk. This is the first instance of such a case in the history of Belarus' relations with this institution.

On March 22, following the request by the Committee, the state TV channel 'Belarus 1' aired a propaganda documentary featuring the political prisoner who appeared to have been coerced into participating.

The practice of forcing detainees in politically motivated criminal and administrative cases to record apology videos ("penitential videos") continues. Detainees occasionally appear on these videos with signs of physical abuse. For instance, Kiryl Haurylau was detained on March 29 for taking photographs of military facilities and is shown in the video with a bruise on his left eye.

Pavel Malyshchyk appeared in a video recorded under duress, with bruises on his face, including his right eye, and a bandaged right ear. He was detained in March for commenting on a terrorist attack in Russia. According to a video description published in a pro-government media outlet, the detainee experienced hearing problems. This refers to the video of the brutal arrest of a suspected terrorist attacker in Russia, during which his ear was cut off.

Viasna sent an appeal to the UN Special Rapporteurs regarding the deterioration of Pavel Kuchynski's health. Political prisoner Pavel Kuchynski has a first-degree disability – he suffers from stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma. Despite having cancer, he has been held in custody for over two years. In June 2022, he received a five-year prison sentence, which was reduced by only three months on appeal. However, the court did not consider imposing a milder punishment that is not connected with imprisonment. Pavel was sent to the prison hospital in Kaliadzičy instead of the correctional facility. He is currently undergoing treatment, but it is not effective, and his disease is progressing.

The Viasna Human Rights Center received the University of Graz Human Rights Award for documenting gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity as part of the International Accountability Platform for Belarus.

Harassment of journalists

Thirty-four journalists and media workers are currently in detention.

On March 21, Homieĺ Regional Court sentenced freelance journalist Andrei Tolchyn for promoting extremist activity (part 1 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code) and libel against Aliaksandr Lukashenka (part 2 of Article 367 of the Criminal Code). The case was considered by Judge Dzmitry Kazlou. Andrei Tolchyn was found guilty in the trial that lasted from March 5 and was sentenced to two years and six months of imprisonment in a general security-level facility.

On March 22, Minsk City Court passed a sentence in the criminal case of blogger and journalist Ihar Karnei. He was accused of "participation in an extremist formation" under Part 3 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code. The case was considered by Judge Siarhei Katsar. The prosecution accused Ihar Karnei of writing "negative materials that insulted the head of state, government officials, journalists, and citizens who do not support the unconstitutional change of power. In his articles, he presented a false picture of the economic, social, military, and international situation of the Republic of Belarus". The punishment is three years of imprisonment in a general security-level facility and a fine of $6,100.

The journalists were recognized as political prisoners by the human rights community.

Harassment of lawyers

On February 28, 2024, several lawyers were detained en masse, prompting Belarusian human rights organizations to issue a statement on March 12. The project 'Right to Defense' and the human rights and legal communities emphasized that mass detentions and raids on lawyers directly contradict the guarantees of lawyers' activity and violate citizens' right to qualified legal assistance. This precedent highlights the pressure on the lawyers' community.

Currently, 6 lawyers are imprisoned for political reasons, and 134 have been disbarred since 2020.

On March 14, 2024, the Qualification Commission for Practice of Law in the Republic of Belarus conducted a regular attestation of lawyers. As a result, the Commission made decisions regarding the professional qualifications of lawyers A.S. Halavach and I.A. Shabanava. Due to insufficient qualifications, lawyer A.S. Halavach was deemed unable to perform her professional duties, and the Commission has decided to terminate I.A. Shabanava's license. The decision was based on the lawyer's inability to perform her professional duties due to insufficient qualifications, as confirmed by the Qualification Commission's decision of 15 February 2024. This is regarded by human rights defenders as inadmissible interference in the activities of the Bar.

Latest news