viasna on patreon

Four years since the day of mass detentions in Hrodna: what happened to the defendants in the Tsikhanouski case

2024 2024-05-29T17:54:03+0300 2024-05-29T17:54:04+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Four years ago, on May 29, 2020, during the collection of signatures of citizens supporting the nomination of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya as a presidential candidate, the head of the initiative group and blogger who created a popular YouTube channel Country for Life Siarhei Tsikhanouski and at least 15 other citizens who took part in that event were detained in Hrodna. Everything was happening live: thousands of spectators and dozens of participants of the signature collection event witnessed the provocation and detentions. Some of the detainees were later released, and some were detained in a criminal case. Those events on a square in Hrodna on May 29, 2020, can be called the beginning of mass persecution in Belarus, which continue to this time. Viasna reports what is happening now with the defendants in the Tsikhanouski case detained in Hrodna.

Сяргей Ціханоўскі і яго каманда на сустрэчы ў Гродне. Фота TUT.BY
Siarhei Tsikhanouski and his team at a meeting in Hrodna on May 29, 2020. Photo by Belsat

What happened at the signature collection event in Hrodna on May 29, 2020?

On the evening of May 29, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, the head of the initiative group, and his supporters were detained in Hrodna during a signature collection event for the nomination of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya as a presidential candidate. Then, during a live broadcast of Country for Life, a woman began to harass the blogger with intrusive questions and behavior. Later, journalists found out that she was a provocateur. When Tsikhanouski realized this, he began to walk away from them, a fuss began on the square, the Hrodna residents wanted to protect the blogger, as a result of which a young policeman ended up on the ground. He lay there until people in civilian clothes came up to him and helped him to sit on a bench. Very soon, riot police officers arrived and detained about 15 participants of the event, including members of the Country for Life team.

Initially, a criminal case was initiated under Article 364 of the Criminal Code (violence against law enforcement officers). However, after 10 days in Minsk pre-trial detention center No. 1, the participants of the event were charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization of group actions grossly violating public order and related to obvious disobedience to the legitimate demands of government representatives, and active participation in such actions). This case was called the Tsikhanouski case.

On May 31, 2020, the human rights community of Belarus issued a statement recognizing Siarhei Tsikhanouski and all those detained in connection with the incident as political prisoners.

Vasil Babrousku and Uladzimir Naumik were released after 40 days behind bars

Палітвязні Васіль Баброўскі і Уладзімір Навумік пасля вызвалення 9 ліпеня. Фота:
Political prisoners Vasil Babrouski and Uladzimir Naumik after their release on July 9, 2020. Photo:

Vasil Babrouski is 45 years old; on May 29 he was walking from one stop to another, where he was detained. And 36-year-old engineer Uladzimir Naumik went to get a cake for his daughter that day, but ended up in jail: when he saw the scuffle around Siarhei Tsikhanouski, he tried to film a video on his phone.

"I filmed the police minibuses and people in civilian clothes. Then I was grabbed and thrown into a minibus with my face on the floor. I asked why, and they said: "For filming." One pressed my head with his knee, and we drove this way half of the road to the police department," the man told Belsat journalist Katsiaryna Andreyeva after his release.

On July 9, 2020, after almost a month of detention in Minsk pre-trial detention center-1, Vasil and Uladzimir were released. They remained accused in a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions grossly violating public order). After a while, the charges against them were dropped.

Viarhilii Ushak was released after two months at Valadarka prison and then left Belarus

Вяргілій за 2 месяцы зняволення вельмі схуднеў. Цяпер штаны, якія насіў раней, падвязвае вяроўкай. Фота:
Viarhilii lost a lot of weight in 2 months of imprisonment. Now he uses a rope to keep the trousers he used to wear on. Photo:

Viarhilii Ushak is a cameraman who filmed the signature collection event in Hrodna on May 29, 2020. It was his first day with the team. He was detained and placed in custody under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions grossly violating public order). He spent two months at Valadarka prison. On July 29, 2020, he was released, but remained a suspect in a criminal case on his own recognizance. Shortly after his release, Viasna spoke with Viarhilii, and he talked about his detention, hunger strike, and imprisonment:

"I immediately went on a hunger strike to protest. The application to refuse the food was not accepted for a long time, only on the second day. I didn't know how to go on a hunger strike back then, so I neither ate nor drank. But they still brought me food and left it so that I could smell it."

After his release, Viarhilii left Belarus for security reasons.

Zmitser Furmanau was convicted in a criminal case, served time, and left Belarus

Уладзімір Кніга, Яўген Разнічэнка, Дзмітрый Фурманаў. Фота:
Uladzimir Kniha, Yauhen Raznichenka, Zmitser Furmanau at the trial. Photo:
Zmitser Furmanau, as a member of the initiative group for the nomination of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya as a presidential candidate, was detained right during the collection of signatures. When the incident with the policeman occurred, which was followed by the arrests of people from the crowd, Zmitser was sitting at the table, continuing to collect signatures. Then riot police came running to him, grabbed him by the arms right on the chair and dragged him across the square to the car in front of his parents, who were also present at the event. After Zmitser and other defendants in the case were transferred to the Minsk pre-trial detention center-1, his girlfriend Volha Karakina and his mother declared a hunger strike under the walls of Valadarka in order to free their loved one.

The next day, 35-year-old construction worker Yauhen Raznichenka, who was also on the square, was detained. On the evening of May 29, he recorded a voice message and posted it in the Telegram chat of Country for Life. He said that he was the one who put the policeman on the ground.

Zmitser Furmanau and Yauhen Raznichenka were tried together with former security officer and team volunteer Uladzimir Kniha, who was detained a few days later, on June 4, 2020.

On June 2, the court of the Kastryčnicki District of Hrodna handed down a verdict in this high-profile case. Zmitser Furmanau was sentenced to two years in a penal colony; Yauhen Raznichenka, to three and a half years of imprisonment; and Uladzimir Kniha, to four years in a high security colony.

On October 21, 2021, Zmitser was released and left the country. A criminal case has been initiated against him in Belarus.

Дзмітрый Фурманаў на судзе 19 студзеня. Фота:
Zmitser Furmanau in court on January 19, 2021. Photo:

The Hrodna resident notes that since then his life has changed very much:

"Now I have finished the school of human rights protection and expanded my knowledge on the topic of human rights. If this had not happened, would I have continued to work as an engineer and would not have been interested in human rights violations in Belarus. So I am currently working in the Volnyja initiative as a technical manager to help the released political prisoners in their re-socialization. And I also married my beloved girlfriend, who was waiting for me from prison. Now we are waiting for our son to be born, and we have opened a store+creative space KROPKA, where you can buy products from Belarusian craftspeople and hold meetings, events, and workshops."

Uladzimir Kniha was sent to serve time in penal colony No. 14 in Navasady. Uladzimir was convicted under Article 411 of the Criminal Code (malicious disobedience to the legitimate demands of the prison administration). He was sentenced to an additional year of imprisonment. He is currently held in prison No. 8.

Yauhen Raznichenka fully served his sentence in colony No. 17 and was released.

Aliaksandr Aranovich was sentenced to 6 years in a penal colony 

Палітзняволены Аляксандр Арановіч. Фота:
Political prisoner Aliaksandr Aranovich. Photo:

Aliaksandr, a 41-year-old motorhome driver from Staryja Darohi, traveled with the Country for Life team through the regions of Belarus on a branded motorhome. He was detained along with other participants of Country for Life, whom he joined for the signature collection. Aliaksandr was tried alone; the case against him was a separate proceeding. He was charged under Part 1 of Article 342 (organization and preparation of actions grossly violating public order) and Paragraph 13 of Part 2 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code (preparation for participation in mass riots).

On April 27, 2021, the Leninski District Court of Hrodna announced his sentence: six years of imprisonment.

Siarhei Tsikhanouski was sentenced to 18 years in a penal colony and is held in incommunicado mode 

Сяргей Ціханоўскі на судзе ў СІЗА
Siarhei Tsikhanouski on trial in a pre-trial detention center in 2021

Blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski was sentenced to 18 years of imprisonment. The cameraman Artsiom Sakau, who was detained two days after the provocation on the square, was sentenced to 16 years of imprisonment with him. Their case was combined with the cases of Dzmitry Papou, Ihar Losik, Ihar Tsyhanovich, and Mikalai Statkevich. The trial took place behind closed doors right in the building of the Homieĺ detention center. 

In detention, Tsikhanouski was under pressure from the very beginning. Shortly after his detention, the political prisoner was placed in a punishment cell, and lawyers went to him every day, in order to get him out of there for at least a few hours among other things.

"The punishment cell is almost the same size as Tsikhanouski himself. There is practically nowhere to sit, and instead of a chair there is a ledge in the wall. It is only possible to stand, or walk two steps in one direction and two steps in the other. Siarhei's leg hurt. It was very hot. And we tried to help him at least physically: to work with him longer so that he would be in the punishment cell less. And I think he appreciated our attention," said Natallia Matskevich, a former defender of the political prisoner.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has recognized Siarhei Tsikhanouski's imprisonment as arbitrary, accompanied by a violation of a number of his fundamental rights. 

The political prisoner has been held incommunicado for 445 days. A former political prisoner told Radio Svaboda that at the beginning of 2023 he heard rumours that Tsikhanouski was constantly in solitary confinement or punishment cells.

"We believe in his ideas. We go by his word. And we continue his work and his struggle," Sviatlana said on the fourth anniversary of her husband's detention.

Latest news