People of Word (32)

Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in the Cultural Sphere (August 15-31, 2022)

Political repression against men of letters and cultural figures persists. The prosecutor requested 12 years of prison for a literary critic Aliaksandar Fiaduta. In Brest, a criminal case has been initiated against a musician Siarhei Nikitsiuk. In Hrodna, police detained Pavel Mazheika, the head of the “Center For Urban Life”, journalist, and coordinator of the “City Library” publishing initiative. A tour guide and blogger Sviatlana Hryshkevich was detained in Minsk. The authorities are destroying World War II memorials that do not fit into the official ideological doctrine and the state’s version of national memory. Under the pressure of the authorities, two independent publishing houses, “Haliyafy” and “Limaryus”, stopped their activities.

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

  1. Investigation of the criminal case of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, the chairperson of which is  Ales Bialiatski, a literary critic and human rights defender, was extended until October.
  2. On August 22, the court of Central District of Minsk convicted the commercial director of Silver Screen cinemas Aliaksandar Dziemidovich to 2.5 years of chemistry for part 1 Art. 342 (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them). Aliaksandar Dziemidovich was detained on May 25, 2022 in Minsk at his workplace.
  3. On August 25, it became known that police in Brest had detained a musician Siarhei Nikitsiuk .Pro-government Telegram channels report that Siarhei Nikitsiuk insulted Lukashenka in comments, and also sent a copy of his ballot from the referendum, which took place in Belarus on February 27, 2022, to “extremist channels”. A criminal case was initiated against Siarhei Nikitsiuk under three articles: Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting the president); Art. 361-1 of the Criminal Code (creation of an extremist formation and participation in it); Art. 361-4 of the Criminal Code (facilitating extremist activities).
  4. On August 30, the Minsk Regional Court continued the hearings of the “case of conspiracy to seize state power” in an open court session, in which one of the defendants is a literary critic, author of prose and poetry, publisher and political analyst Aliaksandar Fiaduta. The prosecutor requested a sentence of 12 years in prison for Aliaksandar Fiaduta according to part 1 of Art. 357 of the Criminal Code (conspiracy to seize state power by unconstitutional means). The verdict will be announced on September 5.
  5. On August 30, in Hrodna police detained Pavel Mazheika, he was taken to the detention center on Hay street. Pavel Mazheika is the head of a cultural space “Center For Urban Life”, journalist, coordinator of the “City Library” publishing initiative, which specializes in publishing books by authors from Hrodna and books about Hrodna. On August 30, Pavel Mazheika’s house was searched, the search lasted more than six hours. Pavel Mazheika is one of the first political prisoners in Belarus, in 2002 he was sentenced to two years of chemistry for “slandering” Lukashenka in his material in the newspaper “Pahonia”. In March 2021, Pavel Mazheika was detained together with an artist Ales Pushkin, who exhibited a portrait of an anti-Soviet saboteur Yauhien Zhykhar in the “Center For Urban Life”; the artist was accused of “rehabilitating Nazism”. On March 26, the “Center For Urban Life” was searched. On March 26, 2021, Pavel Mazheika was detained and recognized as a suspect in a criminal case. He was placed behind bars, but released after 72 hours with the wording “there are no grounds for detention”. On May 12, 2021, the Economic Court of Hrodna Region decided to liquidate the “Center for Urban Life”, which had been operating for five years and hosted exhibitions, concerts, discussions, and book presentations.

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

  1. On August 22, it became known that singer Meriyem Herasimienka, who had been detained after a performance in the Banki-Butelki bar, was not released after 15 days of arrest. On August 3, in Minsk bar “Banki-Butelki” police detained a singer Meriyem Herasimienka after a concert. Among the songs performed by her was a work by a Ukrainian band “Okean Elzy” – “Obiymy”. The video was published on social networks, which caused indignation among state propagandists. On August 6, a trial was held in the court of Central District of Minsk; Meriyem Herasimienka was initially sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest.
  2. On August 27, in Navapolatsk police detained Zakhar Sabin, a guitarist of “Detroit Hills” rock band. The reason for the detention could be reposts of music from channels recognized by the authorities as “extremist”.
  3. On August 30, a tour guide and blogger Sviatlana Hryshkevich was detained in Minsk. As a pro-government Telegram channel reported, she “distorted historical facts and cited historical parallels according to her own beliefs.” In the “repentant” video, the detainee says that during the excursion “she made an inappropriate remark regarding the head of our state.” She also admits that she participated in the protests.

III. Trials and arrests for Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols

  1. On August 25, the Kastrychnitski district court of Vitsiebsk sentenced journalist Tatsiana Matsveyeva to 8 days of administrative arrest. She was accused of “posting on her Facebook page a photo with a white-red-white flag without the permission of the District Executive Committee, thus expressing her social and political position.” The court regarded it as “illegal picketing”, Article 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. During the search of the journalist’s apartment, they confiscated some equipment – a laptop, two phones, a flash drive, as well as white-red-white and blue ribbons, a white-red badge, a postcard commemorating the 100th anniversary of the BNR, books and letters from political prisoners.
  2. On August 26, it became known about the arrest of a businessman Vadzim Slivinsky who took a white-red-white flag with him on his travels, got photographed with the flag on Elbrus, as well as in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
  3. On August 25, the police in the courtrooms of Kastrychnitski district of Vitsiebsk detained an activist and distributor of Belarusian books Barys Hamaida, who acted as a witness in a case; the reason for the detention was a medallion with the coat of arms “Chase”. Police officers filed an administrative report against 74-year-old Barys Hamaida for “unauthorized picketing” for a medallion with the emblem “Chase”. The court of Kastrychnitski district of Vitsiebsk did not accept the administrative case, and Barys Khamaida was released and told to wait for the summons.

IV. Conditions in places of imprisonment

  1. Literary scientist and human rights defender Ales Bialiatski is kept in pre-trial detention center-1 in Minsk in the “special corridor” – in the basement of the prison built in the 19th century. At the same time, Ales Bialiatski is restricted in correspondence.
  2. In Hrodna, in prison No. 1 they continue pressurizing Mikola Dziadok. He is the author of a book “Colors of the Parallel World”, blogger, author of the newspaper “Novy Chas”, activist of an anarchist movement. Since August 3, Mikola Dziadok has been kept in a Penal Detention Center of the prison. Before that, at the end of July, he had already been placed in a Penal Detention Center for a week. As Mikola Dziadok writes, the reason was “violation of dress code and refusal to report”. “At 6:30 in the morning, when I was having breakfast, they entered my cell. The employee demanded to stand facing the wall in a position for a search (on a stretcher) and introduce himself (to the wall). Then it started: why didn’t he introduce himself on time, why was he wearing a T-shirt, why was he barefoot, etc. “You feel too free here.”
  3. In colony No12, in Orsha, blogger and internet non-fiction author Pavel Vinahradau was placed in a Penal Detention Center (SHIZA). Three reports were made against Pavel Vinahradau, one of them was for him lying down on a bunk, feeling weak. During his imprisonment, Pavel Vinahradau fell ill with tuberculosis and lost 35 kilograms of weight. On December 22, 2021, Pavel Vinahradau was detained in his home in Bierazino. Pavel Vinahradau was charged for one post on Facebook. Charges were brought under three Articles of the Criminal Code: art. 342 (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them), Art. 130 (incitement of racial, national, religious or other social enmity), Art. 367 (slandering the President of the Republic of Belarus). On March 6 2022, Pavel Vinahradau was sentenced to 5 years in prison.

V. Repressions against book industry

  1. On August 24, the director of an independent publishing house “Haliyafy” Zmitser Vishniou informed about the initiated liquidation of the publishing house. In April, the Ministry of Information suspended the activities of the Haliyafy publishing house. According to the Ministry of Information, the publishing house “violated the deadlines for applying to the Ministry of Information with a notification about the change of information that is subject to inclusion in the State Register of Publishers, Producers and Distributors of Printed Publications.” “Haliyafy” specialized in publishing books by contemporary authors in the Belarusian language, children’s literature, and books on art.
  2. On August 25, the director of the independent publishing house “Limaryus” Maryna Shybko reported that she is starting the liquidation process. On May 13, the Ministry of Information suspended the work of the publishing house for three months. The Ministry cited the violation of Clause 3 of Article 28 of the Publishing Law as the reason. According to the notification of the Ministry of Information, “Limaryus” violated the deadlines for notification of changes in information to be included in the State Register of Publishers, Producers and Distributors of Printed Publications. The publishing house “Limaryus” specialized in publishing non-fiction: memoirs, archival materials and studies on the history of literature.

VI. State vandalism in relation to places of memory

On August 26, with the participation of police and representatives of local government, the cemetery of the soldiers of the Home Army was destroyed in Surkonty of Voranava district of Hrodna region. The road to the place where the vandalism was taking place was blocked by police. Local residents who tried to record the crime were threatened with imprisonment. Against the background of the declared “Year of Historical Remembrance”, there are more and more cases of state vandalism against places of memory. There were destroyed places of memory of Polish soldiers in Ashmiany, Iuye, Yodkavichy, Bahdany, Stryieuka, Vaukavysk, Mikulishki, Kachychy.

VII. Dismissals for civil position

On August 29, in Babruisk, Larysa Siekiarzhytskaya, didn’t get her labor contract extended. Larysa Siekierzhytskaya was a history teacher in school #27 in Babruisk, who came to school on March 4, 2022 with a yellow-blue ribbon in her hair. The court fined her for “unauthorized picketing” for 70 basic units – 2240 Belarusian rubles. “Teacher of the highest category, with 17 years of experience, did not get her contract renewed and was referred to the court ruling on my administrative case (yellow and blue ribbons in my hair). In the spring, they said that they were to extend the contract, because according to the law, if you have children under the age of five, you cannot be deprived of the opportunity to support the family. But in the second half of the summer, as I understand it, other laws began to apply. The result is that I am looking for a job,” Larysa Siekiarzhytskaya wrote on social networks.