Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in the Cultural Sphere (July 1–15, 2022)

In the period between July 1 and 15, 2022, there was a clear surge in repression against writers, cultural figures, book publishing industry; censorship and the state’s clampdown on the national symbols and the Belarusian language increased. Detentions took place with the use of torture and shooting at domestic animals. Under politically motivated criminal cases, the following people were convicted: Danuta Pieradnia, Ihar Faleichyk, Aliaksei Viacherni, Katsiaryna Andreyeva (the real surname Bakhvalava), Zmitser and Nasta Dashkevich, Ihar Halushka, Anastasiya Malashuk and her husband Aliaksei Kiedish. The state seeks to monopolize the right to determine the content of national memory and control the sphere of culture. Against the background of the announced “Year of Historical Remembrance”, state vandalism is taking place in relation to the places of remembrance and burials of the Second World War: in Vaukavysk, the cemetery of the soldiers of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) was destroyed, the graves of the soldiers of the Home Army were also destroyed near the village of Kachychy and the village of Mikulishki, Hrodna region. Politically motivated arrests of cultural figures and dismissals for civil stance continue.

  1. Criminal politically motivated cases against cultural figures, authors and performers
  2. On July 5, the court of Kirausk, Mahiliou region convicted Danuta Peradnia for 6 years and 6 months in a colony for “harming the national interests of Belarus” (Part 3 of Art. 361 of the Criminal Code) and “insults of the president” (Part 1 of Art. 368). Danuta Peradnia was detained on a route minibus on February 28 for reposting a text in one of Mahiliou chat rooms criticizing Putin and Lukashenka for the war in Ukraine, which also contained a call for street demonstrations and noted the lack of prospects of the Belarusian army should it join the war. Danuta Peradnia studied Romance-Germanic philology at Mahiliou State University named after Kuliashou, from which she was expelled after her arrest in February 2022. On June 10, the KGB updated the list of “persons involved in terrorist activities”, and 9 people were added to it, including Danuta Peradnia.
  3. On July 7, the Baranavichy district court sentenced DJ Ihar Faleichyk to 2 years in a general regime prison. Ihar Faleichyk was accused of insulting the president (Part 1. Art. 368 of the Criminal Code) for reposting comedy videos.
  4. On July 8, the Vitsiebsk district court issued a verdict on the criminal case of Aliaksei Viacherni, accused of insulting the president (Part 1, Article 368 of the Criminal Code). Aliaksei Viacherni wrote an anti-war poem about Ukraine being shelled from the territory of Belarus, recorded it on video and posted it on Tik-Tok. The court’s decision was 1 year and 9 months of imprisonment in a general regime colony.
  5. On July 13, in the Homiel regional court, a political prisoner, journalist and co-author of a non-fiction book “Belarusian Donbass” Katsiaryna Andreyeva (real surname is Bakhvalova) was sentenced to 8 years of general regime prison. Katsiaryna Andreyeva had already been behind bars for 1 year and 8 months, when a new trial began on June 4 under Part 1 of Art. 356 of the Criminal Code (“Treason against the State”). The trial was held behind closed doors, the case is shrouded in secrecy. Katsiaryna Andreyeva (real name Katsiaryna Andreyeuna Bakhvalava) is a co-author of a documentary book “Belarusian Donbass” (2020, written together with her husband, journalist Ihar Ilyash). The book reflects the results of a journalist’s investigation into the participation of Belarusians in hostilities in Donbass. The presentation of the book in Belarus took place on February 19, 2020 at the Embassy of Ukraine in Minsk. On March 26, 2021, the book was recognized as extremist in Belarus. On November 15, 2020, Katsiaryna Andreyeva was detained together with journalist Darya Chultsova while streaming from a peaceful rally “I’m getting out: the march in memory of Raman Bandarenka”. On that day, thousands of people came to the commemoration of the murdered artist Raman Bandarenka. On February 18, 2021, the Frunzensky district court of Minsk sentenced Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova to 2 years of imprisonment in a general regime prison. They were found guilty under Part 1 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order).
  6. On July 11, 2022, the trial of the criminal case of Zmitser and Nasta Dashkevich began in the Maskouski district court of Minsk. They  were charged with part 1 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (group actions that grossly violate public order)) and accused of participating in a protest rally on August 23, 2020. During the investigation, while Zmitser Dashkevich was behind bars, Nasta Dashkevich gave birth to their fourth child. In his final statement, Zmitser Dashkevich stated that police officers tortured him because he spoke in Belarusian: “When arresting me, they beat me in front of my pregnant wife and said: “What is this man saying? Make him speak normally. Make him talk normally.” On July 14, the Maskouski district court of Minsk announced the sentence: Zmitser Dashkevich got 1 year and 6 months of prison, Nasta Dashkevich – 3 years of “home chemistry”. Zmitser Dashkevich is a publicist, author of a book of prison literature “The Worm” (2014), for which in 2014 he received Frantsishak Aliakhnovich award, founded by the Belarusian PEN-Center jointly with “Radio Liberty” and given for the best work written in prison.
  7. On July 14, the Homiel regional court issued a verdict in the criminal case of a local historian, traveler, and developer of tourist routes Ihar Halushka, who is accused under Part 1 of Art. 368 “Insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus” and Part 1 of Art. 130 “Inciting social enmity”. Ihar Halushka was detained on March 1, 2022, held in the Homiel pre-trial detention center No. 3. The decision of the court is 2 years and 6 months of general regime prison.
  8. On July 15, in the Lenin district court of Minsk there was a trial of a ceramist, founder of the piuceramics brand, Anastasiya Malashuk and her husband Aliaksei Kedish, accused under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (participation in actions that grossly violate public order). The court verdict was 3 years for each without sending them to an open correctional institution (“home chemistry”).
  9. On July 15, the court of Zavodsky district of Minsk considered the lawsuit of “Minsktrans” against journalist and author of non-fiction literature Aleh Hruzdzilovich for participating in a peaceful march along Partyzanski Avenue on October 18, 2020, when participants of the march blocked traffic. Aleh Hruzdzilovich is currently serving a sentence in the Mahiliou colony for covering the 2020 actions. On July 15, “Minsktrans” actually waived part of the demand, as Aleh’s wife Maryana Hruzdzilovich, who was at the trial, told “Radio Liberty”. Aleh was charged 5,980 rubles and 11 kopecks. However, the plaintiff reported that this entire amount had already been fully paid by other persons. That is why the prosecutor asked to consider this claim fulfilled. The plaintiff repeated the same. The judge took this “into consideration” and announced that the meeting at which the final decision will be made will be postponed to August 25, 2022.”
  10. Politically motivated administrative detentions and arrests of cultural figures, authors and performers
  11. The soloist of the band “Varhan” Ksieniya Hlot, detained on June 30 in Polatsk, was sentenced to 15 days. Ksieniya Hlot’s husband reported on social networks: she went to the police station to give explanations in the case of “spreading extremist materials”, under Art. 19.11of Code of Administrative Offenses, but was not released from the police.
  12. On July 6, in Sianno, Vitsiebsk region, before a concert, policemen in civilian clothes detained Uladzimir Bulauski, a musician, art manager, organizer of concerts from Vitsiebsk. Uladzimir Bulauski planned to participate in the “Kupalskaye Kola” concert, which was held in Sianno, performing with a folkband “Huk”. He had announced his intention on social networks. On July 7, in Vitsiebsk, he was sentenced to 30 days of administrative arrest for “unauthorized picketing”.
  13. On July 6, a musician from Mazyr Artsiom Savitski was detained in the village Kozienki, Mazyr district; he was sentenced to 7 days of administrative arrest.
  14. On July 15, a Catholic priest Andrei Vashchuk, pastor of the parish of the Holy Spirit, was detained in Vitsiebsk; he was accused of “Violation of the order of organizing or holding mass events” (Part 1. Art. 24.23). The reason for the detention may have been a repost of Zmitser Dashkevich’s final statement in the trial.

III. Conditions in places of imprisonment

Non-fiction internet author, blogger and activist Paval Vinahradau in the Vaukavysk colony No. 11 was placed for 5 days in a penitentiary, where prisoners are kept in inhumane conditions.

  1. Arrests and torture for Belarusian symbols and statements
  2. On July 13 in Ivanava, Brest region, police detained Andrei Drazhin, he was sentenced to 25 days of administrative arrest. The trial was held behind closed doors under two articles, for picketing and for disobeying. The coat of arms of Pahonia (The Chase), painted on the garage gate, and included in the State List of Historical and Cultural Values, was interpreted as picketing. When detaining him, police officers beat Andrei Drazhin; in the “repent” video one can see his beaten face and blood bruises on his hands and legs.
  3. On July 13, in Ivanava, Brest region, police detained a former teacher of the Russian language Aliena Putsykovich, who is already serving a sentence, 2 years and 6 months of restriction of freedom without being sent to an open-type correctional institution (“home chemistry”) for two re-posts with information about a police officer. Police used weapons while arresting Aliena Putsykovich – police officers shot at her dog. The dog was rescued and survived.
  4. DeBelarusization

Banners dedicated to Belarusian writers, cultural figures and cultural events, such as Maksim Tank, Yakub Kolas, Yanka Kupala and Belarusian book printing, were produced in the Russian language. Installation of banners takes place all over Belarus. The Ministry of Culture has developed sketches of banners depicting the jubilee dates of 2022. These sketches are recognized as social ads, according to the conclusion of the working group of the Interagency Board on Advertising of May 4, 2022 No. 6-2022 , and can be used everywhere.

  1. VI. State vandalism in relation to World War II memorials and burials.

On July 8, in Vaukavysk, the cemetery of the soldiers of the Home Army was destroyed, as well as the graves of the soldiers of the Home Army near the village of Kachychy and the village of Mikulishki in Hrodna region.

VII. Repression in relation to the book industry

  1. On July 5, the Leninsky district court of Mahiliou considered the administrative case under Part 2 of Art. 19.11, Code of Administrative Offenses, against “Asvieta” bookstore. On June 8, the prosecutor’s office discovered a fact of offense, and later drew up a report under Part 2 of Art. 19.11 of Code of Administrative Offenses (dissemination of extremist materials). Bookstore was fined150 base units (4,800 rubles). In 2022, the following books were recognized to be “extremist” in Belarus: “Military history of Belarus. Heroes. Symbols. Colors” by Viktar Liakhor, a collection of articles edited by Anatol Taras “Belarus at the Crossroads”, “Belarusian National Idea” by Dzmitry Lukashuk and Maksim Harunou and a book of fiction “Dogs of Europe” by Alhierd Bakharevich.
  2. On July 9, it became known that the Ministry of Information had blocked the Arche publishing house website. The stated reason: “dissemination of extremist materials.” The editor-in-chief of the edition Valer Bulhakau reported it on Facebook. ARCHE is a Belarusian independent scientific, popular-science, social-political and literary magazine.