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Human rights situation in Belarus. April 2024

2024 2024-05-08T13:58:20+0300 2024-05-08T15:35:59+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”


  • Human rights in Belarus continue to be widely and systematically violated, and the level of repression against political opponents of the regime and dissidents remains critically high;
  • As of April 2024, Belarus had 1,386 political prisoners, including 166 women. The human rights community recognized 65 people as political prisoners during that month;
  • 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 Stefanovic, 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 April 2024, Viasna received information about at least 541 cases of administrative and criminal persecution (trials and arrests), including at least 531 administrative proceedings on political grounds. The judges administered at least 31 administrative detentions and 45 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 and imprisonment on political grounds;
  • The UN Human Rights Committee has issued a decision on an individual communication on behalf of Siamion Berazhny and Ihar Hershankou, who were sentenced to death and executed by the Belarusian authorities in 2018. The Committee identified several violations, including a violation of the right to a fair trial, and pointed out that no one may be killed arbitrarily, and that the Belarusian authorities must pay compensation to the mothers of the executed persons.
  • At its 55th session in Geneva on April 4, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the situation of human rights in Belarus. The Council resolved to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus for a period of one year, effective from the end of its fifty-sixth session (until 12 July 2025) and requested the Special Rapporteur “to continue to monitor developments and to make recommendations on ways to strengthen respect, protection, and fulfillment of human rights in Belarus, to hold consultations with all stakeholders, including civil society in Belarus and beyond.” Also, the UN HRC decided to “urgently establish a group of three independent experts on the situation of human rights in Belarus. The mandate of the group is to investigate and establish the facts, circumstances, and root causes of all alleged human rights violations and abuses committed in Belarus since May 1, 2020.” The newly established body, which has been endorsed by various human rights organizations in Belarus and internationally, is tasked with investigating serious violations, collecting and preserving evidence of international crimes, and identifying perpetrators. This initiative builds upon the United Nations’ work on human rights.

Political prisoners. Persecution of human rights defenders

As of the end of April, there were 1,386 individuals incarcerated for their political beliefs in Belarus, including 166 women. Over 1,760 individuals, including 394 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 3,150, including more than 550 women.

In March, human rights activists recognized 65 individuals as political prisoners.

Viasna has registered some 4,650 individuals who have been convicted in politically motivated criminal cases. In April, Viasna human rights defenders presented the results of criminal prosecutions in March. Their findings indicated a trend of increasing intensity in trials of politically motivated criminal cases. Viasna reports that at least 165 individuals were convicted in March, with 48 women and 117 men among them. Furthermore, mass trials for participation in the 2020 protests continue, with at least 85 individuals convicted under Article 342 of the Criminal Code in a single month, including 10 families.

On April 9, 2024, Aliaksandr Kulinich passed away in the Brest pre-trial detention center, as reported by Zerkalo. Kulinich was charged under Article 368 of the Criminal Code with insulting Aliaksandr Lukashenka. On February 29, the individual in question was apprehended in Brest. He has since been held in custody. His trial was scheduled to take place on April 16. The sources of the media outlet said that Aliaksandr Kulinich died as a result of coronary heart disease, as indicated on the death certificate.

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 (from April 26, 2023), and other political prisoners.

In addition, other political prisoners frequently endure prolonged periods of separation from their loved ones. They are severely constrained in their ability to communicate with their families and legal counsel through correspondence, telephone calls, and visits. This situation creates a fertile ground for impunity for the violation of political prisoners’ rights, including the right to be free from torture and other prohibited treatment. Elderly political prisoners, people with disabilities, and those with serious chronic illnesses are particularly vulnerable.

In collaboration with other civil society organizations, Viasna has compiled a list of political prisoners who are at heightened risk of dying and health deterioration in captivity. This list includes individuals with a range of health conditions, including serious general health concerns (93 known cases), disabilities (16 known cases), cancer (5 known cases), advanced age (63 known cases), mental health issues (10 known cases), and the consequences of excessive force during detention (4 known cases).

Human rights defenders and political prisoners Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovich, Maria Rabkova, Andrei Chapiuk, and Anastasia Loika, who were sentenced to imprisonment, are still in detention. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Natallia Pinchuk, the wife of Nobel laureate Ales Bialiatski, revealed that her husband has been held in solitary confinement for the past six months, despite his chronic illnesses. His health has deteriorated significantly during this period.

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

On April 15, Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk, who has been incarcerated and held incommunicado for four months, was once again unable to be visited by a lawyer.

One of the most brutal measures is the extension of the prison term: It has been revealed that on January 22, 2024, political prisoner Vadzim Huseu was sentenced to an additional year of imprisonment under Article 411 of the Criminal Code (persistent disobedience to the prison administration). This article and the criminal process that led to the sentence violate several fair trial guarantees.

In total, according to human rights defenders, at least 71 political prisoners have been transferred to high-security prisons as of April 23, 2024, and new criminal cases under Article 411 of the Criminal Code have been filed against another 37. Viasna reported on the methods of punishment used by correctional facility administrations against political prisoners and how one becomes a “persistent violator of the prison routine”.

The criminal case for “promoting extremist activities” (Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code) against former political prisoner and human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka was submitted to the Homieĺ Regional Court for consideration in absentia. This is part of a new practice under special proceedings law. It is known that the case file is comprised of two volumes, but the essence of the charges remains unknown to the human rights defender. The police recently paid a night visit to Leanid’s Belarusian apartment allegedly looking for him, even though he had left the country last summer.

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

The investigation into the 2020 mass protest participants is ongoing. The so-called Brest “round dance protest case” is one example. On September 13, 2020, a post-election protest march occurred in Brest. The participants took to the roadway and engaged in a round dance. The action was dispersed with the use of water cannon and other special means. The case represents the largest mass prosecution of post-election 2020 peaceful protesters in terms of the number of defendants. As of April 2024, at least 137 people have been convicted in this case.

In all instances, the actions of those detained and convicted under Article 342 of the Criminal Code for exercising their right to peaceful assembly were explicitly peaceful. For example, Daria Davydzenka, who was arrested in April, is accused of participating in unauthorized rallies, walking on the roadway, and taking pictures and selfies in 2020. On April 5, six individuals were convicted of participating in a protest action in Brest in 2020. They were sentenced to imprisonment or restriction of freedom for their actions, which included walking on the roadway, shouting slogans, and displaying the national flag.

On April 1, 2024, the Baranavičy District and Baranavičy City Court, in accordance with Article 342 of the Criminal Code, handed down sentences to eight individuals who had participated in the protests that took place in Baranavičy on the night of August 10-11, 2020. Judge Anastasia Paulechka sentenced all of them to imprisonment in a general or strict regime correctional facility.

On April 11, a second group of Baranavičy residents was convicted for their participation in post-election protests in 2020. The judge, Ina Paulouskaya, handed down a sentence of one to one and a half years in prison to the nine protesters, according to the Viasna Brest chapter. The convicts include two women.

On April 5, 2024, six individuals were convicted and sentenced at the Leninski District Court of Brest. They were found guilty under Article 342 of the Criminal Code for participating in the protests in Brest on the night of August 10-11, 2020. Five of them were sentenced to imprisonment.

Some of the criminal cases for participation in the protests after the 2020 elections include charges of acts of violence. For example, a protester arrested in Brest is accused of throwing stones at police officers. Another participant in the Brest protests was forced to confess on videotape after his arrest to shooting fireworks at police officers. One more Brest-based protester was forced to admit on camera that he had thrown stones, sticks, bricks, and dismantled billboard parts at police officers. A protester in Minsk was forced to confess on camera to participating in a nighttime barricade protest after being detained. However, such outbreaks of violence during the 2020 post-election protests, when they did occur, were not of a mass nature and were provoked by the abuses of the law enforcement agencies that dispersed the protests.

Dissidents are still being prosecuted for insulting representatives of the authorities and A. Lukashenka personally, as well as for slandering him and desecrating the state flag.

Thus, Dzianis Nikita was sentenced on April 2, 2024 to three years of imprisonment. He was found guilty of insulting Lukashenka under Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code. The proceedings were held by the Chairman of the Svislač District Court on the premises of the District Executive Committee.

Well-known public activist Nina Bahinskaya was fined in an administrative case for unauthorized picketing (Article 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Violations) that involved her wearing a pin resembling the white-red-white flag.

Viasna human rights activists have calculated the total number of arrests in the first quarter of 2024. From January 1 to March 31, 987 arrests were recorded in Belarus, of which one-third were women. The largest number of apprehensions (406) took place in January. It was at this time that the KGB launched a massive raid on beneficiaries of the food aid provided by the IneedHelpBY initiative. 65 detainees have minor children.

Human rights defenders are also aware of at least 1,602 administrative trials during this period. No less than 671 cases were considered by Belarusian courts in February alone. In that month, the authorities initiated legal proceedings against individuals accused of “using foreign aid to carry out extremist activities” (Article 24.15 of the Code of Administrative Violations). This article has not been used in Belarus before.

However, the figures may be higher than reported due to the lack of comprehensive data on human rights violations. A quarterly tally provides a more accurate representation of the data than a monthly tally, as it eliminates the impact of delayed information.

In April 2024, Viasna received information about at least 541 cases of administrative and criminal persecution (trials and arrests), including at least 531 administrative proceedings on political grounds. The judges administered at least 31 administrative detentions and 45 fines; one person was punished with community service.

Torture and inhumane treatment

It is a matter of concern that law enforcement agencies continue to conduct disproportionately harsh arrests in politically motivated criminal cases for non-violent acts and defamation offenses. A case in point is the video of the arrest of a man by ten law enforcement officers with guns for leaving negative comments about law enforcement online.

The practice of Belarusian law enforcement agencies to publish videos of detainees in politically motivated criminal and administrative cases pleading guilty and offering apologies under duress, commonly referred to as “penitential videos,” persists. In these videos, detainees are compelled to admit guilt for the violations attributed to them and to express remorse. To illustrate, on April 24, Katsiaryna Kastusiova, daughter of the political prisoner Ryhor Kastusiou, chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front party, was apprehended and compelled to appear in a “penitential video.” 

The practice of publishing apology videos recorded under duress is gradually becoming more prevalent, not only in the context of politically motivated detentions but also in the case of criticism of the authorities and expressions of dissent in a broader sense. In one case, an individual was apprehended and compelled to issue an apology in a televised interview for posting a video of a damaged roadway on TikTok.

The practice of placing political prisoners in punishment cells continues to be employed as a means of exerting pressure upon them. It became known that political prisoner Ihar Alinevich was once again put in segregation.

Information regarding the mistreatment of inmates at Correctional Facility No. 1 in Navapolack has recently emerged. According to a report from ABC-Belarus, political prisoner Tamaz Pipiya has been subjected to a ban on correspondence, cold torture, beatings, and a refusal to provide medical care. 

Additionally, it was revealed that the administration of Correctional Facility No. 1 in Navapolack has been deliberately creating conditions conducive to draughts and extremely low temperatures within the cells. Despite the frigid temperatures in punishment cells, inmates are prohibited from bringing warm clothing or engaging in physical exercise to warm up. It is known that an inspection was conducted in the facility by representatives of the authorities, which did not identify any violations.

A man who was administratively detained in January 2024 provided a detailed account of the conditions of detention in the punishment cell at the Minsk Temporary Detention Facility, where detainees in politically motivated administrative cases were placed. According to the subject’s account, the punishment cell was approximately 3 by 5 meters in size and could accommodate between six and 12 individuals at a time. Twice in the course of the night, the prisoners were woken up for a roll call.

Violation of the right to life. Death penalty

The UN Human Rights Committee has issued a decision on an individual communication on behalf of Siamion Berazhny and Ihar Hershankou, who were sentenced to death and executed by the Belarusian authorities in 2018. The Committee identified several violations, including a violation of the right to a fair trial, and pointed out that no one may be killed arbitrarily, and that the Belarusian authorities must pay compensation to the mothers of the executed persons.

Lack of fair trial in politically motivated cases

The judicial system in Belarus has a long history of being used as a tool for reprisals against political opponents of the authorities and dissidents.

Siarhei Melianets, who was administratively detained on March 19 and remained in custody for 25 days, stated after his release that during the trial, which was conducted via Skype, he was in the police station and police officers physically assaulted him after he attempted to object to the judge’s statements.

Several violations of fair trial guarantees have been identified in the context of preliminary investigations against political opponents and public activists who have left the country as part of special proceedings followed by a trial in absentia. As of April 30, special proceedings have been initiated against 94 people.

Viasna documented cases when criminal trials were conducted within detention centers, in a closed setting. These included the trial in the “Tsikhanouski case” in 2021, the trial in the “Autukhovich case” in 2022, the trial against former customs officer Yauhen Hurynovich in February 2024, and trials for disobedience to the prison administration.

In the Baranavičy pre-trial detention center, two criminal cases on charges of desecrating state symbols were considered in an extramural session. The defendants were placed in cages, and the convicts present in the audience were all wearing black.

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

On April 1, the Minsk Regional Court handed down a six-year sentence to 57-year-old Aliaksandr Verasovich for providing financial support to the Kalinouski Regiment and BYSOL. He 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 hearings started on March 19 and the trial was presided by Judge Uladzimir Areshka.

On April 8, the Homieĺ Regional Court handed down a 10-year prison sentence and a $1,225 fine to 28-year-old Pietrykaŭ resident Ivan Sukhamerau. He was indicted on 10 counts of criminal activity, including high treason, encouraging the imposition of sanctions, and participation in the activities of a terrorist organization. He was accused of making disparaging remarks about Lukashenka on his social media accounts, as well as publishing articles advocating for international sanctions against Belarus; joining BYPOL; intending to become a soldier in the Kalinouski Regiment; and donating to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The trial was held in camera since February 15. The sentence was handed down by Judge Siarhei Bahinski.

The List of Extremist Formations was expanded by nine items, including Deutsche Welle. According to the Interior Ministry, a group of citizens from among the creators, administrators, and other participants of Internet resources united under the common name “DW Belarus” is engaged in extremist activities. A total of 199 entities were declared extremist formations as of the end of April.

The National List of Extremist Materials has been updated with information on resources recognized as extremist based on over 140 court decisions.

The List of Citizens of the Republic of Belarus, Foreign Nationals, and Stateless Persons Involved in Extremist Activities was expanded by 79 persons. As of the end of April, the list contained the names of 4,011 individuals.

On April 5, the Viasna Human Rights Center presented the report “Restriction of Freedom of Expression under the Pretext of Fighting Extremism and Terrorism”. The report covers the period from March 1, 2023 to March 1, 2024.

Harassment of journalists and media

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

On 1 April it became known that the website of the Union of Poles of Belarus was recognized as an extremist formation. The decision to this effect was made by the KGB on 26 March. According to the agency, Andrzej Pisalnik and Inna Todryk-Pisalnik are involved in administering the site.

On April 19, 2024, the Minsk City Court announced the verdict in the case of Anastasia Matsiash. In accordance with the ruling, she was employed as a language consultant for the Belsat TV channel, which is recognized in Belarus as an “extremist formation.” Judge Sviatlana Makarevich found A. Matsiash guilty of providing language consulting services to Polish TVP, which encompasses the Polish TV channel BELSAT. The period of service in question spanned from June 19, 2021, to November 15, 2023. During her employment, she allegedly conducted language consultations, translated, proofread, and edited texts, which were subsequently used in BELSAT pieces. The court acknowledged the woman’s affiliation with an extremist formation and imposed a two-year prison sentence and a fine of $6,110 under Part 3 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code (participation in an extremist formation). Anastasia’s personal computer and cell phone were seized. Furthermore, the court ordered the seizure of $31,290 of the income received by the defendant through criminal means.

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