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Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in the Cultural Sphere (August 1-15, 2022)

Last update: 17 August 2022
Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in the Cultural Sphere (August 1-15, 2022)

State control over the sphere of culture is getting tightened: starting on August 1, 2022, organizers who are not included in a special register will not be allowed to hold cultural and spectacular events. 

Repression began in the field of domestic tourism; tour guides who conducted tours in Belarusian and did not support the state ideology, deBelarusization and militarization were arrested. 

Authorities initiated a new criminal case for “treason against the state” against Pavel Belavus, cultural manager and founder of the Symbal.by store. 

There is a trial on the “case of conspiracy to seize state power”, among the accused there is a writer Aliaksandar Fiaduta. 

Singer Meriem Herasimenka was arrested for 15 days for having performed “Obiymy”, a song by a Ukrainian band “Okean Elzy”, in the center of Minsk. 

Imprisoned Pavel Vinahradau, an Internet author in the genre of nonfiction, was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease – tuberculosis. 

Trials and arrests for Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols continued. 

I. Criminal politically motivated cases against cultural figures, authors and performers

1. On August 8, it became known that the authorities had initiated a new criminal case for “treason against the state” against Pavel Belavus, culture manager and founder of the Symbal.by store. This was reported by a pro-government Telegram channel, according to which Pavel Belavus fulfilled tasks of foreign states, promoting the idea of a Polish world, distributed protest symbols through the Symbal.by store, and in 2020 helped coordinate activities aimed at a violent seizure of power. In June 2022, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against Pavel Belavus, accusing him of “creating an extremist organization” (Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code). Pavel Belavus was detained on November 15, 2021. Initially, he was sentenced three times to administrative arrest, and then accused according to Art. 342 of the Criminal Code — “participation in group actions that grossly violate public order.” Pavel Belavus is imprisoned in the Pre-trial Detention Center #1 in Valadarski Street in Minsk. 

2. On August 1-5 and August 15, the Minsk Regional Court continues to consider “cases of conspiracy to seize state power”, among the accused there is Aliaksandar Fiaduta , writer, editor, journalist, translator, literary critic (doctor of humanitarian sciences with a specialization in “Literary studies”), publisher, and political analyst. A criminal case was opened against Aliaksandr Fiaduta under Part 1 of Article 357 (conspiracy or other actions committed with the aim of seizing state power). The trial is open.

3. On August 12, in Minsk, the Supreme Court considered, in a closed session, the appeal of Andrei Kuzniechyk, journalist, author of poems and Belarusian-language blog for cyclists “BelaVela”. The sentence was left unchanged. Andrei Kuzniechyk is accused according to Part 1 of Art. 361-1 of the Criminal Code (creation of an extremist formation or participation in it). The verdict was handed down on June 8, 2022 in the Mahiliou Regional Court. Andrei Kuzniechyk was sentenced to 6 years in a maximum security colony. He was accused of “creating an extremist formation” (Art. 361-1 CC). The trial was held behind closed doors in Mahiliou. Behind bars, Andrei Kuznechyk writes poems for his children Yanina and Matsvei; other parents read these works to their children eagerly. 

II. Politically motivated administrative detentions and arrests of cultural figures, authors and performers

1. On August 1, police detained Halina Patayeva, the director of a travel agency “Viyapol”. Before the arrest of Halina Patayeva, a pro-government activist Bondarava called on the authorities to deal with “Viyapol” in her Telegram channel.

2. On August 2, it became known that Ihar Khmara, a tour guide and journalist, was detained in Minsk during a city tour. 

3. On August 2, a tour guide from Polatsk Stas Silka was detained. 

4. On August 2, Aliaksandar Kukharenka, an architect and musician, was detained in Minsk for reposting a video from a YouTube channel called “Roman Bondarenko. The Prosecutor General’s Office is hiding the perpetrators of the murder” in September 2021 in the social network “Vkontakte”. Raman Bandarenka is an artist killed during the 2020 protests. On August 4, in the court of the Moscow District of Minsk, Aliaksandar Kukharenka was found guilty under Art. 19.11 of the Administrative Code (distribution of extremist materials) and was arrested for 10 days of administrative arrest.

5. On August 3, Meriem Herasimenka, a singer, was detained in the “Banki-Butelki” bar in Minsk after a concert. Among the songs she performed was a song by a Ukrainian band “Okean Elzy” – “Obiymy”. The video of the concert was published on social networks, which appalled state propagandists. The singer was detained. On August 6, a trial took place in the Central District Court of Minsk, Meriem Herasimenka was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest. 

6. On August 4, the owner of the “Banki-Butelki” bar  Andrei Zhuk was detained in Minsk. It was in the bar “Banki-Butelki” that on August 3, Meriem Herasimenka performed the song by the Ukrainian band “Okean Elzy” – “Obiymy”. On August 5, it became known that Andrei Zhuk was sentenced to 30 days of administrative arrest. 

7. On August 4, Ihar Bantser, a musician, was detained in Hrodna with violence and inhumane treatment and taken to Minsk. A pro-government Telegram channel showed a video of the musician’s arrest: people in helmets and body armor with weapons crash the doors of Bantser’s apartment, who is shown lying face down on the floor dressed in shorts only. Security forces put his hands behind his back, and then cover him with a white-red-white flag. Ihar Bantser was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest. 

8. On August 13, it became known that Aliaksandar Vasilieu, the director of a printing studio “Marlen”, was detained in Minsk. In a video recorded by police officers, Aliaksandar Vasilieu says that in the fall of 2020, he was detained on Pieramozhtsau Avenue in Minsk and was convicted under an administrative article: “In 2020, I was approached by legal entities for the production of souvenirs with the emblem of the “Chase coat of arms”, a Belarusian ornament and so on. I am currently detained by the police for these actions.”

III. Trials and arrests for Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols 

1. On August 4, there appeared information that police detained Illia Dauhaliavets in Pinsk; he was detained because of a white-red-white ribbon hanging in his car, and at home he had an “opposition flag, a cap and stickers”

2. On August 9, the administrative case against journalist Tatsiana Matsveyeva, initiated allegedly for unauthorized picketing, was completed in the court of Kastrychnitski district of Vitsiebsk (Part 1 of Art. 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). According to the author of the administrative protocol, the journalist posted a photo with a white-red-white flag on her Facebook page without the permission of the district executive committee, which “expressed her social and political position.” Tatsiana Matsveyeva explained that in the spring of 2021, she decorated her personal image with a so-called “frame”: it had stripes of white and red colors and words from Yanka Kupala’s poem “To be called people”. The judge noticed inaccuracies in the report: the officer who compiled the protocol made a mistake indicating the place of birth of the journalist. The court returned the case to the police to correct the errors. On July 28, police officers searched Tatsiana Matsveyeva’s home, took her computer, two phones, a flash drive and other things for examination, and the journalist herself was put behind bars for 3 days. During her journalistic work, Tatsiana Matsveyeva wrote a lot about cultural topics, including about the classic writer of the Belarusian literature Uladzimir Karatkevich.

3. On August 9, Aliaksandar Baran, a Catholic priest, pastor of St. Andrei’s Church in Lyntupy, was sentenced to 17 days of administrative arrest in Pastavy; he was sentenced for placing the flag of Poland, Ukraine and white-red-white Belarusian national symbols on personal profile pictures in social networks . The court considered it a picket and convicted the priest for violating the law on mass events (art. 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offenses).

IV. Conditions in places of imprisonment 

1. On August 3, there appeared information that Pavel Vinahradau got the confirmation of tuberculosis diagnosis. Pavel Vinahradau is a blogger, nonfiction online author, and social activist. He wrote prose on Facebook about the everyday life of the city of Bierazino in Minsk region, where he had moved to live from Minsk. He kept a Telegram channel “Bierazino Chronicles”. On December 22, 2021, Pavel Vinahradau was detained in his home in Bierazino. Pavel Vinahradau was charged for one post on Facebook. On March 6, Pavel Vinahradau was sentenced to 5 years in prison. On July 28, 2022, Pavel Vinahradau was transferred to colony No. 12 in Orsha, where, among others, convicts with an active form of tuberculosis are kept.

2. On August 10, Marina Shybko, publisher, the wife of the imprisoned writer Aliaksandar Fiaduta, reported on his state of health: “He was very ill in the winter – he had pneumonia twice, he could not lie down, he could not sleep, he was even allowed to sit at night and lie down during the day. And now it is clear that he is not healthy.” During the trial, the consequences of arrhythmia and pneumonia were revealed. Literary scholar and writer Aliaksandar Fiaduta has been behind bars since April 2021. During his imprisonment, his health has deteriorated.

3. On August 10, it became known that the administration of the colony of Ivatsevichi “Wolf holes” punished artist Alies Pushkin with five months in room-type premises. Room-type premises are cells with a strict “prison within a prison” mode of detention, where prisoners are transferred to for violations of order in the colony. Prisoners transferred to room-type premises have severely limited rights, they have the right to: receive one parcel or small package within six months; take a daily walk of thirty minutes.

V. Repressions against book industry

The Prosecutor’s Office of Minsk managed to remove from online bookstores the publications recognized by the authorities as “extremist”. According to the announcement of the Prosecutor’s Office, claims were made against wildberries, booklover.by, bestbooks.by and oz.by regarding “a book publication included in the Republican list of extremist materials.” The name of the publication is not reported. The prosecutor’s office issued orders to the heads of organizations, in which they demanded to exclude offers for the sale of book publications. They have been removed from the storefronts. According to the facts of the distribution of the mentioned information products, the Prosecutor’s Office initiated the beginning of an administrative process under Part 2 of Art. 19.11 of the Code of the Republic of Belarus on Administrative Offenses,” the Prosecutor’s Office said. 

VI. Strengthening of state control over the sphere of culture

On August 1, a resolution came into force, according to which venues where artists perform, bars and restaurants must be included in the register of organizers of cultural and spectacular events. Organizers who are not included in the state register are not allowed to hold cultural and spectacular events. This requirement is the result of changes made to the Code of Culture and approved on July 25, 2022.