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Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in the Cultural Sphere (September 15-30, 2022)

Last update: 3 October 2022
Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in the Cultural Sphere (September 15-30, 2022)

The machine of repression does not stop. The authorities are intensifying the fight against dissent, the manifestations of which are severely punished. The article upon which the authorities charged writer and human rights defender Ales Bialiatski was reclassified to a more severe one, now he faces from 7 to 12 years of imprisonment. Criminal cases have been initiated against singer Meriem Herasimenka and artist Henadz Drazdou. Journalist and writer Anatol Sanatsenka and children’s writer and teacher Dzmitry Yurtayeu have been arrested. A book by Anatol Taras “A short course of the history of Belarus of the 9th – 21st centuries” was added to the Republican list of extremist materials. Authorities continue to persecute for Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols, for anti-war actions and statements.

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

  1. The article of the Criminal Code, upon which writer and human rights defender Ales Bialiatski is charged, was reclassified to a tougher one. Now Ales Bialiatski is accused of smuggling (illegal movement of a large amount of available cash by an organized group across the customs border of the Eurasian Economic Union) according to Part 4 of Art. 228 of the Criminal Code and financing group actions that grossly violate public order, according to Part 2 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code). According to these articles, Ales Bialiatski faces from 7 to 12 years of imprisonment. Ales Bialiatski was arrested for human rights activities on July 14, 2021 and has been in custody since then – in a pre-trial detention center No1 on Valadarski Street in Minsk. Ales Bialiatski is a literary critic, researcher of the history of Belarusian literature, essayist, human rights defender, and the chairman of the Viasna Human Rights Center. Ales Bialiatski is the author of books “Literature and Nation” (1991), “Jogs on the Shore of Lake Geneva” (2006), “Enlightened by Belarusianness” (2013), “The Mercurial Silver of Life” (2014), “The Cold Wing of the Homeland” ( 2014), “Fight with Yourself” (2016), “Prison Notebooks” (2018). Five of these books were written behind bars.
  2. On September 18, it became known that the authorities initiated a criminal case against artist Henadz Drazdou. This became clear from a video that appeared on the pro-government Telegram channel on September 18: in the video, the artist says that he was detained “for an unknown reason”. They also showed footage from his apartment, with national flags and white-red-white ribbons visible, books scattered around and a portrait of Nina Bahinskaya in it.
  3. On September 23, the Minsk City Court started a trial over a criminal case against Siarhei Satsuka, a journalist, editor of “Yezhednevnik” and writer. Siarhei Satsuk is charged under three articles of the Criminal Code: Part 2 of Art. 430 (receiving a bribe), Part 2 of Art. 130 (incitement of other social enmity), Part 2, Art. 426 (exceeding power or official powers). Siarhei Satsuk is a fiction writer, investigative journalist, editor-in-chief of “Yezhenedelnik” electronic newspaper. He worked as an editor of the journalistic investigation department of “Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta”, the editor-in-chief of the “Ezhednevnik” portal. In 1998-1999, he published fiction novels in Russian “Peacekeepers of Cone” and “Special Unit of Purge” under the pseudonym Siarhei Barnatsin.
  4. On September 27, it became known that a criminal case had been initiated against singer Meriem Herasimenka. Propagandists began to distribute on their channels a so-called “penitential” video, in which the singer says that she participated in the protests of 2020, and part of her income is directed to the purchase of drones for Ukraine. Meriem Herasimenka was detained on August 3 in Minsk after a concert at the Banki-Butelki bar. Among the songs performed by the singer at the concert was a work by a Ukrainian band “Okean Elzy” – “Obiymy”. The video was published on social networks, which caused an indignation of state propagandists.
  5. On September 30, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal submitted by the lawyers of philosopher Uladzimir Matskevich, and upheld the previously announced verdict. After the judgment enters into force Uladzimir Matskevich will be transferred to the colony (according to preliminary information, in the city of Shklou). On June 23, 2022, the philosopher was sentenced to 5 years in a maximum security colony. Uladzimir Matskevich was convicted under three articles of the Criminal Code: Part 1, Art. 342 (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them). 361-1 (“creating and leading an extremist formation”) — refers to the platform of people’s representatives “Zykhod”; Part 1, Art. 368 (“insult to the head of state”). Uladzimir Matskevich is the author of a large number of journalistic articles and about 50 scientific works on philosophy, politics, culture and transformation of education. Co-author of a series of books on issues of civil society, dialogue and values “Belarus for Beginners” (2006-2009). Author of several video courses on philosophy and transformation of society.
  6. On September 21, it became known that poet-beekeeper Mikola Papieka refused to write a petition for pardon. Journalist and non-fiction author Aleh Hruzdzilovich, who had been released, told about it; “I know for sure that in our colony three people were offered to write a petition, I am one of them. One man agreed and pleaded guilty. I agreed but pleaded not guilty. But there is still a third one, Mikola Papieka from Brest region, who completely refused. He said that he has 3 months left and he is ready to serve his time till the end”. Mikola Papieka is a poet, beekeeper, founder of literary “Honey Prize” and social activist. In 2000, he was awarded the “Hliniany Viales-99” award for the “Drafts” collection. In 2001, he founded an annual “Honey Award” (a pound of honey). Only writers connected with Brest region can become laureates of the award. Mikola Papieka was detained on November 30 at home in the village of Linava, Pruzhany district.On June 8, 2021, Mikola Papieka was convicted in the “criminal case” (art. 342, Part 1 and Art. 75, part 1). The “Karahod” case (“Round dance” case) is one of the largest criminal cases related to the post-election protests in Brest. On September 13, a march was held in Brest as a sign of protest against election falsification and violence. The participants of the peaceful protest marched to the intersection of Masherau avenue and Kasmanauty boulevard. People sang songs, waved flags, until the water cannon arrived, and the police officers started detaining the protesters.

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

  1. On September 12, in Babruisk a journalist and writer Anatol Sanatsenkawas arrested for 15 days. On September 19, the Babruisk Courier website (babruysk.by) stopped opening both in Belarus and abroad, the reasons for blocking the site are unknown. Anatol Sanatsenka was supposed to be released on September 27. On September 27, Anatol Sanatsenka was sentenced to 14 days of administrative arrest in the court of Babruisk district and the city of Babruisk, while he was not allowed to use the services of a lawyer. Anatol Sanatsenka is a poet, novelist, playwright, translator, editor, editor-in-chief of “Babruisk Courier”. He has published five books of poems in Russian, at the age of 41 he started writing in Belarusian. “Return to the Motherland” is Anatol Sanatsenka’s first book in the Belarusian language.
  2. On September 21, Dzmitry Yurtayeu (pseudonym is Zmitrok Burachok), a children’s writer, teacher of Minsk private school “Smart School”, was detained in Minsk. In the “penitential” video, he says that he had taken part in the protests because his “heart ached for the country.” Dzmitry Yurtayeu was forced to read his own poems on camera and justify himself. Also, screenshots from his social networks criticizing the actions of the authorities appeared in pro-government channels.
  3. On September 22,  Antoni Bokun, the pastor of an Evangelical church “Jan Pradvesnik”, translator of the Bible into the Belarusian language, was detained in Minsk. On September 23, according to the court’s decision, the pastor was fined 3,200 rubles.
  4. On September 28, in Minsk police detained Aleh Samsonau, musician from the SamsonRock project, for participating in the 2020 protests and distributing “extremist materials.”

III. Trials and arrests for Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols

  1. On September 27, it became known that Yauhen Hanulia was detained and sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest in Mahiliou for tattoos with Belarusian national symbols. In the “penitential video” Yauhen Hanulia shows his tattoos – a fist with a white-red-white ribbon and the coat of arms of “Pahonia”, as well as a large portrait of Kastus Kalinouski.

IV. Conditions in places of imprisonment

  1. On September 21, Aleh Hruzdzilovich, a journalist, author of non-fiction books, was released after 9 months behind bars; in March 2022, he was sentenced to 1.5 years in prison. Aleh Hruzdzilovich told his colleagues what the conditions are like in the prison and what the yellow tag means: “I had a yellow tag on me. It means that I am prone to extremism and other destructive activities. For a prisoner, the yellow tag brings many additional household and organizational problems. You must be visible all the time, in the front rows of the colony. You cannot move around the colony on your own. Your bed is in the passage, and there is always an open window, a draft, you are cold. If you walk around with a tag, you will be additionally criticized for not buttoning your shirt or not wearing your shirt properly. They were singling me out this way, and I was threatened with a punishment cell. Here this shirt has a pocket where this tag goes. And you have to go with it all the time. Even if you do physical training, you must have such a thing. Everything is sewn there, it is of very poor quality, the buttons are weak, they do not fasten, the prisoners themselves sew, it goes without saying. And this tag is inserted there.”
  2. Local historian Uladzimir Hundar was in a prison punishment cell for 10 days. As a sign of protest against the unjust punishment with placement into a penalty cell, Uladzimir Hundar went on a hunger strike. All 10 days he drank only water. Uladzimir Hundar has disability of the 2nd group, because he has an amputated leg. Uladzimir Hundar was arrested in the “Autukhovich case”. He is accused of creating a criminal organization and attempting to conspire to seize state power by unconstitutional means. In addition, political prisoner Hundar was sentenced to three years in a general regime colony for allegedly threatening an investigator during a search of an apartment.
  3. On September 27, it became known that an activist of the anarchist movement, author of the book “I’m Going to Mahadan” Ihar Alinevich had announced a hunger strike in the colony. His mother, Valiantsina Alinevich, announced this on her Facebook page. “In addition to the previous post, I would like to add that Ihar stopped taking food from September 20ish as a sign of protest against the actions of the prison administration. His demands are absolutely clear, guaranteed by law, including that his complaints are not sent to their destination. Both he and all of us understand that there is no law in the country.”

V. Repression in the book sphere

On September 16, it became known that the book by Anatol Taras “A short course in the history of Belarus of the 9th – 21st centuries” was added to the Republican list of extremist materials. On September 12, the court of Kastrychnitski district of Vitsiebsk issued a corresponding decision. This is the second book by Anatol Taras, classified as “extremist”. In May 2022, “extremism” was found in the collection of his articles “Belarus at the Crossroads”. In 2022, a book “Military History of Belarus: Heroes. Symbols. Colors” by Viktar Liakhor was recognized as “extremist” in Belarus, a collection of Zmitsier Lukashuk and Maxim Harunou “Belarusian National Idea” and a novel “Dogs of Europe” by Alhierd Bakharevich.

VI. Censorship

On September 23, a premiere of an operetta by a Hungarian composer Imre Kalman “A Duchess from Chicago” was canceled at the Music Theater in Minsk. It had been planned for September 23 and 24 in Minsk, but it was only viewed by officials from the Culture Department of the Minsk City Executive Committee. It seemed to the culture officials that “America is shown in a positive sense” in the performance. After that, the theater announced the cancellation of the show “for technical reasons”. The show scheduled for October was also canceled. The next performance in Minsk is scheduled for November 11, before which the play must be brought into a form that corresponds to the ideas of culture officials about America.