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Human rights situation in Belarus. June 2024

2024 2024-07-09T20:03:08+0300 2024-07-09T21:10:17+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”


  • The human rights situation in Belarus has been defined by widespread and systematic violations of binding international law, persecution of political opponents of the regime and dissidents, and arbitrary criminal and administrative persecution, including heavy sentencing, for four years since the beginning of the last presidential election campaign.

  • Torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment are still employed by law enforcement agencies in Belarus on a daily basis. This practice has become increasingly prevalent due to the all-encompassing atmosphere of fear and helplessness among the general public, compounded by the lack of accountability for the authorities' unpunished crimes.

  • The freedoms of assembly, association, opinion, and expression are constrained arbitrarily and comprehensively, thereby negating the essence thereof. Some reductions in repression indicators compared to 2020-2021 are attributable to a decline in the number of instances in which citizens openly exercise their rights and freedoms in the face of inevitable repression.

  • The right not to be subjected to forced labor is universally violated, particularly in contexts of deprivation of liberty, including in occupational therapy detox centers.

  • The human rights community has identified 3,330 individuals, including 595 women, as political prisoners in Belarus since the inception of the 2020 presidential election campaign. Of these, 1,413 political prisoners, including 168 women, were in detention at the conclusion of June 2024. During the month, the human rights community recognized 58 individuals as political prisoners and called for the rehabilitation of 51 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 Stefanovic, lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich, volunteer service coordinator Maria Rabkova, volunteer Andrei Chapiuk, and Human Constanta human rights activist Nasta Loika.

  • As of the end of June, 38 journalists and media professionals have been subjected to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

  • The repression of civil rights continues unabated. In June 2024, Viasna received information about at least 222 cases of administrative and criminal persecution (trials and arrests), including at least 220 administrative proceedings on political grounds. Of the total number of cases, 135 were related to the distribution of content that had been designated by the authorities as extremist.

Political prisoners. Persecution of human rights defenders

As of the end of June, there were 1,413 political prisoners in Belarus, 168 of whom were women. Over 1,917 individuals, including 427 women, have been released due to completing their sentence, change of restraining order, non-custodial sentence, amnesty, or pardon. Consequently, the aggregate number of individuals incarcerated for political reasons, including those who have completed their sentences, is on the rise. As of the most recent tally, this number stands at 3,330, with 595 of them being women.

In March, human rights activists recognized 58 individuals as political prisoners. Thus, 26 individuals were designated as political prisoners (as stated in the statements of June 6 and June 20) since their detention, restriction of freedom, imprisonment, and referral to compulsory treatment were found to be inextricably linked to exercising the right to participate in peaceful assemblies. 

Ten individuals were designated as political prisoners due to their detention and imprisonment being directly related to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. All of them are persecuted on defamation charges.

Five individuals were identified as political prisoners because their detention and imprisonment were based on charges of extremism. An overly broad and vague notion of extremism provides opportunities for arbitrary persecution of individuals and their associations that criticize the actions of the authorities and demand changes in the state and its policies.

Fifteen individuals were designated as political prisoners due to the egregious violations of fundamental fair trial principles and procedural rights inherent to their custodial restraint and imprisonment. These violations included the unjustified restriction of the right to a public trial.

Catholic priest Andrzej Juchniewicz, who has been subjected to the abusive practice of being held in captivity for a period exceeding 45 days through the imposition of successive administrative detentions, has been designated a political prisoner.

Alena Tsimashchuk, a journalist sentenced to five years on charges of defamation and extremism, has been designated a political prisoner.

In addition, human rights activists have called for the rehabilitation of 51 former political prisoners (statements of June 3 and June 24). The identities of the individuals in question and the circumstances surrounding their cases were only made available following their release. These individuals were incarcerated as a consequence of exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. They have now been released.

It is known that six political prisoners have been detained as minors. At the time of publication, Maria Misiuk is 16 years of age, while Trafim Barysau is 17 years of age. The political prisoners Mikita Zalatarou, Pavel Piskun, Aleh Dabrydniou, and Mikita Brui reached adulthood while in captivity.

In June, it was revealed that at least 36 individuals who had been incarcerated for political reasons had completed their sentences and were released. Furthermore, the release of five Ukrainian citizens was reported, four of whom were identified by the Belarusian human rights community as political prisoners. This happened as part of a war prisoner exchange.

Both those who are incarcerated and those subsequently released continue to experience repeated instances of persecution. Siarhei Hniauko, previously sentenced to four years and six months on defamation charges, was once again convicted of several additional counts. Siarhei Dziatsuk was apprehended following his release from the correctional facility on charges of persistent disobedience to the prison administration (Article 411 of the Criminal Code). The dates for the commencement of trials on cases of persistent disobedience to the prison administration against Eduard Babaryka and Mikita Zalatarou have been set.

It has been revealed that Aliaksandr Hashnikau, a political prisoner, has been transferred to a high-security prison. Additionally, information was received regarding the forthcoming trials of Andrei Liubetski and Dzmitry Sluk. The court must determine whether the prisoners should be transferred to a high-security prison.

Political prisoners are subjected to prolonged interruptions and restrictions on communication with their families, including limitations on correspondence, telephone calls, family visits, and meetings with lawyers. It is currently known that eight political prisoners are being held in incommunicado detention for an extended period. These individuals are Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk, Maria Kalesnikava, Viktar Babaryka, Uladzimir Hundar, Mikalai Statkevich, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, Maksim Znak and Ihar Losik. It has been revealed that the administration of the women's correctional facility has instituted a policy prohibiting prisoners from contacting Maria Kalesnikava. It has been reported that there has been no communication with Yauhen Afnahel for over a month.

Political prisoner Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk has been subjected to a fourth psychological and psychiatric examination during her period of incarceration. Since the beginning of 2024, she has spent a total of 70 days in a punishment cell.

Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova, and Andrei Chapiuk, as well as human rights activist Nasta Loika, remain behind bars.

Torture and ill-treatment

The Civic Solidarity Platform's Working Group on the Fight Against Torture, which includes representatives of human rights and public organizations from seven countries in the OSCE region (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine), presented the annual results of measuring the Prohibition of Torture Index in these countries. The results indicated that Belarus is in last place for the fifth consecutive year.

Following the mass detentions of protest participants in 2020, the prevalence of torture and ill-treatment in Belarusian penitentiary institutions increased significantly and has not declined to this day. According to human rights defenders, the most common forms of torture include beating, strangulation, and forcing detainees to remain in a static body position. For an extended period, prisoners were forced to stand on their toes, with outstretched arms, in unnatural bent postures. They were subjected to a variety of sensory stimuli, including bright artificial lighting at night. Tasers were also used. Sexualized violence was another form of abuse. In addition, prisoners were placed in overcrowded cells and subjected to prolonged solitary confinement in punishment cells, where they were isolated and unable to communicate with others.

Those detained on politically motivated charges continue to be subjected to the active use of the pejorative practice of forcing them to apologize and confess on camera, commonly referred to as "penitential videos."

One of the most striking examples of mistreatment is the practice of locking inmates in a metal cage in the courtyard of Women's Correctional Facility No. 4 in Homieĺ.

Additionally, information was reported regarding limitations on the number of parcels containing hygiene products, including pads, that female inmates may receive at Correctional Facility No. 4 and Correctional Facility No. 24. Under the revised regulations, it will be permissible to send hygiene products to inmates on a biannual basis.

Lack of fair trial in politically motivated cases

The judicial system continues to be an instrument of repression against those who disagree with the incumbent authorities. This encompasses the continued aggressive convictions of those who participated in the 2020 peaceful protests.

Appeals remain an ineffective tool for protecting rights in politically motivated criminal cases. An appeal does not result in the annulment of a verdict or its substantial modification. Furthermore, it does not encompass the requirements of international human rights treaties of the Republic of Belarus.

Special criminal proceedings allow for trials in absentia, with 108 individuals having been prosecuted in that manner as of the date of publication. The OSCE/ODIHR has condemned this practice, stating that it violates the right to a fair trial and the rule of law. Franak Viachorka, a pro-democracy politician, was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment. Viasna human rights defender and former political prisoner Leanid Sudalenka was sentenced in absentia to five years of imprisonment and a fine.

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

Prosecutions for participating in peaceful protests over disagreement with the results of the 2020 presidential election continue.

It was not uncommon for defendants to be detained and placed in custody in the absence of justifiable reasons before a court ruling was issued. Thus, Alena Tserashkova, a two-time taekwondo champion of Belarus, a writer, and a surgeon, was detained on May 20 and remained in custody until the verdict was rendered. On June 20, the Minsk Centraĺny District Court sentenced her to three years of home confinement. The charges were filed over her participation in mass events in 2020, in violation of Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code. Alena Tserashkova was released from custody in the courtroom.

In June, individuals were prosecuted under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code, which carries a penalty of freedom restriction or imprisonment. On June 13, the Leninski District Court of Mahilioŭ found Andrei Tsimonin guilty of organizing and preparing actions that grossly violated public order, as well as actively participating in them. He was sentenced to two years of imprisonment.

Sentences under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code were also imposed on married couples. Thus, on June 13, the court of the Leninski District Court of Mahilioŭ sentenced Dzianis and Sviatlana Kotaus to two years and six months of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility and two years of house confinement, respectively. The couple has minor children. 

In June, Report A/HRC/56/65 of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus was released, and Anaïs Marin recommended, among other things, that the Belarusian government repeal articles 368 and 369 of the Criminal Code, which criminalize insulting the president and public officers. However, the practice of criminal prosecution for insulting the president or any other official continues. Thus, on June 17, the Leninski District Court of Mahilioŭ found Anton Puhach guilty of insulting Aliaksandr Lukashenka (Part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code) and insulting a public officer (Article 369 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to one year and six months in prison.

Administrative prosecution continues to be actively used to exert pressure for political reasons. In June, Viasna registered at least 220 cases of politically motivated administrative proceedings in court. The results of only a few of the court hearings have been made known: at least eight administrative detentions and two fines have been imposed. The outcomes of the remaining hearings are unknown.

The results of administrative prosecutions and the number of detentions related to criminal and administrative prosecutions are frequently not communicated to human rights defenders or are delayed due to the prevailing atmosphere of fear and the threat of further reprisals. The data cannot be evaluated as an indicator of changes in the level of repression, particularly over short periods and without consideration of the evolving circumstances surrounding the collection of information.

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

A multitude of repressive practices, which are designed to persecute individuals for expressing alternative opinions, are on the rise and becoming increasingly intense. These practices are presented by the state as a means of combating extremism and terrorism.

According to Andrei Maisiaykou, the head of the Department of Law Enforcement and Crime Prevention of the Directorate of Internal Affairs of the Homieĺ Regional Executive Committee, approximately 300 criminal cases and over 500 administrative reports for "actions related to extremism" have been filed in the Homieĺ Region since the beginning of 2024.

The list of extremist materials is frequently updated. In June, the courts in Belarus issued 100 decisions recognizing one to three pieces of information products as "extremist materials." In May, the number of relevant decisions issued was 65.

The designation of certain information sources as "extremist" in a legal context provides the authorities with the ability to pursue a policy of banning and censoring information. Concurrently, the practice of designating materials as extremist has already been mechanically polished and pipelined. 

The Partyzanski District Court of Minsk has classified as "extremist material" a post on the Belsat Telegram channel regarding the Minsk Saint Elisabeth Convent's support for the war in Ukraine. Previously, Belsat was designated as an "extremist formation" and its social media accounts were additionally identified as "extremist materials." This implies that any social media post can be considered extremist content and additional court rulings are not required in this case.

On June 12, the Miadzieĺ District Court identified ten videos created by the FreshMeatOMG vlogger as "extremist materials," including the video titled "In Belarus a man was detained for a video criticizing bad roads."

The fact that the classical works of Belarusian literature are recognized as extremist is of particular concern. On 24 May, the Žytkavičy District Court included Yazep Yanushkievich's preface to the collected works of Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkevich into the list of "extremist materials". Dunin-Martsinkevich's two-volume book was recognized as "extremist material" by the same Žytkavičy District Court in November 2023. Subsequently, on 11 March 2024, the decision of the district court was revoked by the presidium of the Homieĺ Regional Court. Now the same two-volume book of the Belarusian classic has reappeared in the corresponding list on the website of the Ministry of Information, but this time only the preface to it was recognized as "extremist".

Social media accounts managed by stores and national souvenir shops, such as the Kniaz Vitaut chain of stores, also get banned.

One of the purposes of identifying resources as extremist is to stifle attempts to discuss and collaborate in a free public forum. This is confirmed by the inclusion of the project and its social media pages in the list of extremist materials on June 17. This decision concerns the website, Instagram page, logo, as well as Telegram channels and chats, such as|center of youth rights, Postgraduate Work Assignment 2024 RB|Discussion, Draft 2024 RB|Discussion

In June, the list was also updated with the following new entries: Telegram channels and groups MOVA TUT, Mikałaj Łukašenka Ž # KryvijaTg, ShapitoDich, Narodny Reporter; YouTube channels BelDiasporaTV, Belarusian Americans Org; Facebook pages Belarusian National Congress, Siarhei Piatrukhin; VKontakte page NEXTA Belarus 97%. Support. Help; Odnoklassniki pages Belarus News from, Siarhei Piatrukhin; Instagram page kaciaberlin, and others.

As observed in Anaïs Marin's report on the human rights situation in Belarus from April 1, 2023, to March 31, 2024, "notwithstanding the ongoing crackdown, which has pushed the political opposition to self-censorship, prison or exile,4 and the ongoing purge of civic space, the Government seems keen on proofing itself against any future challenges to its rule. The period under review thus saw sustained governmental efforts to legislate to restrict human rights even more."

In accordance with Article 19.11 of the Administrative Violations Code (distribution, manufacture, storage, and transportation of information products containing calls for extremist activity or promoting such activity), the authorities are increasingly holding individuals accountable for such actions. One of the primary objectives of this approach is to instill fear and intimidation in the populace, thereby demonstrating the imminent punishment for those who do not adhere to the state ideology.

The identities of the detainees and the reason for the repression against them are frequently revealed through the dissemination of "penitential videos" on pro-government Telegram channels operated by law enforcement agencies. This practice contravenes the presumption of innocence and is a flagrant violation of the right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

The detainees include Stanislau Stsepchanka, a watchman at the Mscislaŭĺ Construction College, and Aleh Nasan, a teacher at the Belarusian State University. The repression also persisted against the Catholic priest Andrzej Juchniewicz, who was initially detained in early May and remained incarcerated for 45 days. He was subsequently detained for the fourth time in a row. 

Belarusian judges utilize the legal rationale of detention on suspicion of committing a violation under Article 19.11 of the Administrative Violations Code as a means of arbitrary detention of those deemed undesirable. Individuals may be tried on multiple occasions, with each trial resulting in a sentence that must be served in sequence. The detention period thus may last several months. This practice, which involves the imposition of penalties for multiple administrative violations, constitutes a direct violation of Article 7.4 of the Administrative Violations Code. This article stipulates that for the commission of several violations that constitute repetition, the penalty is imposed under the relevant article's sanction, and in the case of detention, may not exceed 30 days.

It is considerably simpler for the authorities to identify those who espouse views that diverge from those of A. Lukashenka's ideology and therefore prohibited through the inspection of smartphones, private correspondence on them, and subscriptions to Telegram channels. The distinctive feature of this approach is that each individual is subjected to a personal and individualized examination, with nobody being shielded from the infringement of their right to privacy by law enforcement agencies or from the examination of their smartphones for extremist materials.

It is even easier to prosecute individuals following an inspection of their smartphones when they are confined to one place, such as at workplaces or in a single town. This practice bears resemblance to the "purges" that can be carried out by police officers and by managers of enterprises targeting employees who have been punished by detention or a fine. For example, two oncologists, Siarhei and Volha Ivanous, were dismissed in Homieĺ.

Police raided the HaverBY gauze sieve factory on June 16, resulting in the detention of at least seven workers. The video, which was released by the security forces, depicts Interior Ministry representatives entering the workshops with automatic rifles and in full gear. They forcibly remove the workers from the machines, place them on the ground, and restrain them.

At least three residents were apprehended in Hlybokaje. In the "penitential video," the subjects collectively admit to having followed "extremist" groups on social media and shared content from those groups. One of the detainees is Ruslan Rahouski.

In June, the List of Organizations, Formations, and Individual Entrepreneurs Involved in Extremist Activities was augmented by at least one additional entity: the community Long Live Belarus on the social media platform VKontakte and the YouTube show Women of Hard Morals. The Interior Ministry has indicated that Anastasia Karasiova, Maryna Mentusava, and Katsiaryna Rayetskaya are implicated in the aforementioned project, which has resulted in criminal charges being brought against them for "creation or participation in an extremist formation." According to the project description, this show is "created by Belarusian women for Belarusian women" and "together with women from media, politics, science, and culture" discusses "what can be done to improve the lives of girls, teenagers, and women." It is therefore evident that the state is openly forbidding and willing to persecute women for their dissemination of feminist ideas.

The expression of opinions without the commission of violent acts is interpreted by the authorities following the provisions of the Law on Countering Extremism, which defines such actions as extremist crimes. In June, Raman Likhadziyeuski was detained after engaging in a chat-roulette conversation with an individual who was deemed to be a provocateur. During the conversation, Likhadziyeuski said "Glory to Heroes" and "Long Live Belarus" in response to the man's greetings. Raman also said that he would rather cut off his hand than go to war with the Ukrainians, judging by the context. Pro-government Telegram channels wrote that the individual was "inciting hatred" and "promoting extremism" by these actions.

As observed in Anaïs Marin's report on the human rights situation in Belarus, the population of the country does not influence the events related to Russia's aggression on the territory of Ukraine. Those who express opposition to the government's domestic and foreign policies are designated as "extremists" and subject to prosecution. The use of counter-terrorism and extremism legislation to punish and intimidate political opposition persists.

Actor Kiryl Allakhverdzian was apprehended for his collaboration with independent media outlets. The man is accused of "promoting extremist activity" (Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code) via appearing in a police uniform in Belsat TV shows.

The pressure on individuals who provided financial support to protest initiatives and to assist those subjected to repression by the regime, as well as to Belarusian volunteers in Ukraine, persists.

On June 6, another trial for donations commenced in Minsk City Court. The 56-year-old programmer Anatol Valadzko is accused of financing terrorist activity in violation of Article 290-1 of the Criminal Code and of financing the activity of an extremist formation in violation of Article 361-2 of the Criminal Code. The man faces up to 12 years in prison. Information obtained from Anatol Valadzko's cellmate indicates that the latter declined to make payments to KGB officers under duress, which is a usual practice employed by the police in similar cases. 

Concurrently, numerous individuals evade incarceration and criminal prosecution upon agreeing to the conditions proposed by KGB and Financial Investigations Department officers. These conditions entail the payment of an exorbitant sum proposed by the officers, often exceeding the initial donation to a specific organization, which means they are forced to donate to the public purse.

On June 19, it was revealed that an individual had been apprehended in Kalodziščy for taking down the red-and-green flag from a local establishment. On the same day, Hrodna handed down a one-year prison sentence to two 23-year-old women, who had been found guilty of violating Article 370 of the Criminal Code (desecration of state symbols). The case was heard in an extramural session at the Faculty of Law of Hrodna University.

Another university, the Francysk Skaryna Homieĺ State University, hosted a dialogue platform on preventing extremism among the youth. As is customary, participation was mandatory for young people and controlled by the administration.

The Homieĺ Regional Court handed down a sentence of 11 years' imprisonment to Vasil Prokharau. His wife, Larysa, and son, Pavel, were each sentenced to eight years in prison. In addition, Ruslan Prakharenka, a teacher of the Belarusian language, was sentenced to ten years in prison. The defendants were charged with various offenses, including high treason (Article 356, Part 1), incitement of hostility and discord (Article 130, Part 1), facilitating extremist activities (Article 361-4, Part 1), and failure to report a crime (Article 406, Part 1) as outlined in the Criminal Code. The case was considered in camera by Judge Vadzim Bobyrau. Those participating in the closed trial are bound by a non-disclosure plea. It has been revealed by an unconfirmed source that the criminal case concerns the photographing of various facilities in Belarus. It has also been established that the defendants had been under the surveillance of the special services for an extended period before their arrest.

In accordance with tradition, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus updated the List of Belarusian Citizens, Foreign Nationals, or Stateless Persons Involved in Extremist Activities every Friday during the month of June. An enforceable court ruling on "extremist" charges is the basis for inclusion in the list. The list was expanded to include Polesie freelance journalist Aliaksandr Ihnatiuk and Homieĺ cyclists rights activist Sviatlana Karol.

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