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

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

The state does not stop its repressive attack on the sphere of culture and its figures. Aliaksandar Fiaduta, a literary critic, author of prose and poems, publisher and political analyst, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A criminal case has been opened against Pavel Mazheika, a journalist and head of cultural projects. Designers Anatol Lazar and Andrei Busiel, musician Ihar Bantser and tour guide Aksana Mantsevich were sentenced to administrative arrests. There persist trials and arrests for Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols and memorial sites that contradict the state historical narrative continue to be destroyed.

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

  1. On September 2, in Hrodna Pavel Mazheika was transferred from the detention center to the pre-trial detention center. This means that he has been charged and the measure of restraint has been chosen – behind bars. Pavel Mazheika is the head of a cultural space “Center for Urban Life” in Hrodna, journalist, coordinator of the publishing initiative “Haradzenskaia Bibliiateka”, which specialized in publishing books by authors from and about Hrodna. In March 2021, Pavel Mazheika was detained together with an artist Ales Pushkin, who exhibited a portrait of an anti-Soviet saboteur Yauhien Zhykhar at “Center for Urban Life”. On March 26, Pavel Mazheika was summoned to the Hrodna prosecutor’s office for questioning; he did not return home as he had been detained. Against Pavel, as well as against Ales Pushkin, they started a criminal case “for intentional actions aimed at the rehabilitation and justification of Nazism.” After 72 hours of detention, Pavel was released with the wording “there are no more grounds for detention”. Pavel Mazheika is one of the first political prisoners of Belarus: in 2002 he was sentenced to two years of “chemistry” for “slandering” the president in an article in the “Pahonia” newspaper. He served his sentence in Zhlobin in an open-type correctional institution – he worked at a sawmill as a manual laborer. 
  2. On September 5, the Minsk Regional Court, in a visiting open session, handed down verdicts in the criminal case “on conspiracy to seize state power”, according to which, among others, there was convicted Aliaksandar Fiaduta. He was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in a colony of the strengthened regime according to Art. 357 of the Criminal Code (conspiracy to seize power by unconstitutional means). Aliaksandar Fiaduta is a writer, editor, journalist, translator, literary critic (doctor of humanities habilitated in the specialty “Literary Studies”), publisher, and political analyst. Author of books: “American Poems” (2012), “My Little Paris” (2014). He is also the author of the book “Lukashenko. Political Biography” (published by a Russian publishing house “Referendum” in 2005). Translator of the memoirs “Memories of the Past” by a poet Antoni Edward Odyniec (2020). For the book “American Poems”, written in 2010-2011 in the KGB pre-trial detention center (“Amerikanka”), he became the laureate of the Ales Adamovich Prize of the Belarusian PEN Center. On April 12, 2021, Aliaksandar Fiaduta stopped responding to communications. On April 13, it became known that he had been detained in Moscow by the KGB of Belarus “on direct suspicion of committing a crime” (Art. 108 of the Criminal Procedure Code). During the trial, Aliaksandar Fiaduta partially admitted his guilt and did not agree with the motives stated in the accusation. 
  3. On September 5, Andrzej Poczobut finished familiarizing himself with the materials of the criminal case, and informed his relatives about it. The scope of the case is large, and only a month was allocated for him to get acquainted with it. In order to read as much as possible, the political prisoner even gave up having lunch and instead read materials from morning to night. Andrzej Poczobut is an essayist, journalist, publicist, blogger, poet, songwriter, musician, member of the Union of Poles in Belarus. The author of the book “System Białoruś”, 2013, which was commissioned by a Polish publishing house and raises issues characteristic not only of Belarus, but also of other countries of the post-Soviet space. He was detained on March 25, 2021 in Hrodna and brought to the Investigative Committee in Minsk for questioning. In the status of a suspect in a criminal case according to Part 3 of Art. 130 of the Criminal Code (commitment by a group of persons of deliberate actions aimed at inciting national, religious enmity on the basis of national, religious, linguistic affiliation and rehabilitation of Nazism). 
  4. On September 13, Homiel police detained Yauhien Merkis, a journalist, local historian, and popularizer of the Belarusian culture and history. Yauhien Merkis was arrested according to Part 1 of Art. 361 of the Criminal Code “Calls for restrictive measures (sanctions)” and put behind bars. Yauhien Merkis and his father’s house was searched and equipment was confiscated. 
  5. On September 13, it became known that a candidate of historical sciences Yauhien Hurynau had been arrested in Minsk in a criminal case. He had defended a PhD thesis on “County of Edessa in the system of the Crusader states (end of the 11th – mid 12th centuries)”. Yauhien Hurynau worked at the “Aniv” foundation, which supports projects related to Armenian history and culture. Among the recent projects of the foundation in Belarus there is a book “Armenian soldiers in the battles for Belarus (1941-1944)”.
  6. On September 15, the Maskowski District Court of Minsk handed down a verdict in the criminal case of five people – participants of a performance with the burning of an effigy of the president. They were detained on February 4, 2022 as part of a criminal case on group actions that grossly violate public order (art. 342 of the Criminal Code). Hanna Kisialiova, Viktar Khimaroda and Maksim Matsulevich were convicted under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus) for 1 year and 6 months in a general regime colony. Maryna Markevich was convicted under Art. 342 (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them) and Art.368 of the Criminal Code (insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus) for 1 year and 6 months in a general regime colony. Ilya Davydzenka was sentenced under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them) and Art.368 of the Criminal Code (Insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus) to 3 years of imprisonment in a general regime colony. 
  7. After the court of appeals, the sentence in the criminal case of Tatsiana Vadalazhskaya remained unchanged – 2 years and 6 months of imprisonment with referral to an open-type institution for allegedly organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them. Tatsiana Vadalazhskaya is a sociologist, methodologist, candidate of sociological sciences (PhD), expert of the Agency for Humanitarian Technologies, and coordinator of the Flying University. Author of books and articles on the following topics: methodology of humanities, cultural policy, and Belarusian modern thinking. On June 7, 2022, in the court of Zavodski District of Minsk, she was convicted on accusations according to Part 1 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Court (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them). Tatsiana was sentenced to restriction of freedom in an open institution for 2 years and 6 months. Tatsiana Vadalazhskaya is now waiting to be referred to the “chemistry”.

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

  1. On September 5, in Homiel, police detained and sentenced to 7 days of administrative arrest for “dissemination of extremist materials” Uladzimir Butskavets, administrator of community “For a single state language of Belarus!” in vk.com. In August 2022, the community was recognized as “extremist materials”, and later as an “extremist formation”. 
  2. On September 5, in the Central Court of Minsk, there was a third administrative trial held over Ihar Bantser within Art. 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (dissemination, production, storage, transportation of information products containing calls to extremist activities or promoting such activities). The court decision was 15 days of arrest. 
  3. On September 5, in Minsk, police detained Viktar Zharkevich, known under the creative pseudonym Maa, one of the founders and vocalist of the punk band “Hate to State”, founded in 1997. Viktar Zharkevich was subjected to torture and inhumane treatment by police officers – he was forced to carry a door torn from the refrigerator in the apartment, because the refrigerator had protest stickers from many years ago, and a construction helmet with a sticker of the “Pahonia” emblem was put on his head. 
  4. On September 8, in Minsk, police detained Andrei Busiel. The Frunzensky District Court of Minsk sentenced Andrei Busiel to 13 days of administrative arrest. Andrei Busiel is an artist and designer known for the projects of the “HutkaSmachna” studio. He was engaged in street art; his famous work in Minsk is the image of a train between the buildings of the “Haryzont” plant on Kuibyshava Street. 
  5. On September 11, in Minsk, police detained Anatol Lazar, his house was searched, during which equipment was confiscated. On September 12, Anatol Lazar was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest. Anatol Lazar, known under the creative pseudonym Wiecier Mechaniczny, is a designer, advertiser, and publisher. Co-founder and publisher of a music internet portal “Tuzin Hitou”, he was a partner and head of Minsk advertising and design studio “Adliha”, designer of a popular picture calendar “Don’t be silent in Belarusian”, published by the company “Let’s be Belarusians!”. 
  6. On September 14, a tour guide, Aksana Mankevich, was detained in Minsk. On pro-government Telegram channels there appeared a video, in which Aksana Mankevich says that she “took part in mass events in 2020, and also went out on the road with a white-red-white flag.”

III. Trials and arrests for Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols

On September 14, in Minsk, police detained five people who had hung out a white-red-white flag and a flag of Ukraine on a 19-story building on Lesia Ukrainka Street.

IV. Conditions in places of imprisonment

  1. Mikola Dziadok, author of the book “Paints of a parallel world”, has been kept in a penal institution (SHIZA) for 44 days in a row. Mikola Dziadok passed a message outside the prison: “I guess they don’t really want to release me from the SHIZA. Received another 7 days for the act on my BD. And on August 27, I practiced yoga, sat down to meditate, and a new act was issued to me – violation of the dress code – for another 7 days. I should have been out on September 13th. But 9 days before that, at 6:20 in the morning, they entered the cell again and all went according to the previous scheme. They told me to turn my face to the wall and make a report according to the form, and when I did, they issued an act that I refused to make a report. In general, I will probably be in the SHIZA in September as well. With the onset of cold weather, it has become a bit uncomfortable, but I’m holding on and will hold on.” 
  2. Author of poems and Belarusian-language blog for cyclists Andrei Kuznechyk was transferred from Mahiliou prison No. 4 to Navapolatsk colony, where he will serve a 6-year term. There, he was immediately given an “extremist” badge: this means that a long-term meeting with his wife will last only a day. It is known from the letter that the children’s poems that Andrei Kuznechyk wrote in prison were “put on hold.”

V. The state monopolizes activities in the sphere of culture

On September 2, Government Resolution No. 582 “On Excursion Service” was adopted, according to the National Legal Internet Portal. The document approved the procedure for passing professional certification and the procedure for forming and maintaining a register of tour guides and guides-translators, as well as the procedure for certification of audio guides. Certification of audio guides will be carried out by the Ministry of Sports and Tourism or a state organization authorized by it. Guides and guides-interpreters will be certified and entered into a special register. Without it, they will not be allowed to work. After attestation, they will be issued a certificate, a badge and a list of excursion topics.

VI. State vandalism in relation to places of memory

On September 12, it became known about the destruction of the place of commemoration of four partisans of the Home Army, members of the 8th personnel shock battalion,  near Pliabanishki. The partisans died in the battle with the fascists on September 24, 1943. The detachment, quartered in a forester outside the village, was attacked by a fascist task force after a denunciation, and the bodies of those killed were thrown into a well. The cross on the memorial site was installed in the 90s of the 20th century. The destruction of the memorial site in the village of Pliabanishki near Hrodna is the seventh known case of destruction of burials of soldiers of the Home Army in 2022.