People of Word (32)

Chronicle of human rights violations in the cultural sphere (November 15-30, 2022)

Repression in the sphere of culture persists. As of November 30, the situation is consistently bad: there are 27 Men of Letters in captivity; there are altogether 119 cultural figures in captivity at the moment.

In the period of November 15-30, 2022, a criminal case was initiated against a candidate of philological sciences, a former teacher of Homiel University Natallia Suslava; they started a trial in the criminal case of a culturologist Vatslau Areshka, the criminal case of this year’s Nobel laureate Ales Bialiatski has been transferred to the court. An organizer of cultural events, Valiantsina Bolbat has been arrested for 10 days. After a prison punishment cell, Maryia Kalensnikava was admitted to the intensive care unit. The policy of systemic de-Belarusization continues – in Orsha, a memorial sign dedicated to a writer Uladzimir Karatkevich was made in the Russian language.

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

  1. On November 24, the court of Frunzensky District of Minsk sentenced the guitarist of “Krambambulia” and Pomidor/off Uladzislau Pliushchau, who was charged under three articles of the Criminal Code: art. 369 (insulting a representative of the authorities); art. 188 (defamation); Part 3 of Art. 203-1 (unlawful actions regarding information about private life and personal data). Sentence: taking into account the previous punishment in the form of two years of imprisonment in a general regime colony with a fine of 200 base units, he will be finally sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 300 base units.
  2. On November 25, authorities initiated a criminal case against a candidate of philological sciences, former teacher of Homiel University Natallia Suslava, the mother of a killed member of Kalinouski’s regiment Pavel “Volat”, for an interview with “Belsat” television channel, according to art. 361-4 of the Criminal Code (facilitating extremist activities). During the 2020 protests, Natallia Suslava was imprisoned three times on administrative charges. On October 29, 2020, the assistant professor of the Department of Russian and World Literature of Homiel State University named after Frantsysk Skaryna resigned from the university. After the death of her son, Natallia Suslava left for Ukraine and joined the Belarusian volunteers fighting against Russian aggression.
  3. On November 25, there began a trial of REP trade union activists, who are accused according to Part 1 of Art. 361-1 (participation in extremist formation); Part 1 of Art. 361 of the Criminal Code (calls for actions aimed at harming the national security of Belarus); Part 3 of Art. 130 of the Criminal Code (inciting social enmity); Part 1, Art. 361-1 of the Criminal Code (Participation in extremist formation); Part 3 of Art. 361-1 of the Criminal Code (creation of an extremist formation and participation in it); Among the accused is Vatslau Areshka, a culturologist and archivist, who was detained on April 19, 2022.
  4. On November 28, the prosecutor’s office sent a criminal case against the representatives of the human rights center “Viasna” to the court. Three human rights defenders will be tried: Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich and Uladzimir Labkovich. They are accused of illegal movement across the customs border of the Eurasian Economic Union in a large amount of available cash by an organized group, 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. Among the accused is Ales Bialiatski – a Nobel laureate, chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, literary critic, researcher of the history of Belarusian literature, essayist, human rights defender, who was arrested on July 14, 2021 and since then has been held in the pre-trial detention center on Valadarski Street in Minsk. On December 10, 2022, a solemn ceremony will be held in Oslo to honor the imprisoned human rights activist with the Nobel Peace Prize.
  5. On November 29, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict in the criminal case against a literary critic, translator, publisher Aliaksandar Fiaduta – 10 years of imprisonment in a maximum security colony. On April 13, 2021, it became known that Aliaksandar Fiaduta, who was in Moscow at the time, was detained by the KGB of Belarus “on the immediate suspicion of committing a crime” (art. 108 of the CPC). A criminal case was launched against Aliaksandr Fiaduta under Part 1 of Article 357 (conspiracy or other actions committed with the aim of seizing state power). 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, Aliaksandar Fiaduta was convicted. He was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in a maximum security colony according to Art. 357 of the Criminal Code (conspiracy to seize power by unconstitutional means). During the trial, Aliaksandar Fiaduta partially admitted his guilt and did not agree with the motives stated in the accusation.

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

  1. On November 22, in Vierkhniadzvinsk, they arrested Valiantsina Bolbat for 10 days; she organized educational and cultural events, presentations of human rights films and books.
  2.   On November 28, an Orthodox priest Uladzislau Bahamolnikau was sentenced for the seventh time to 15 days without leaving the bars. Father Uladzislau Bahamolnikau officiated at the memorial service for the artist Raman Bandarenka who was killed during the post-election protests in 2020; he is a cleric of the Church of the Epiphany in Minsk, the head of the church-historical museum of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, a philosophy teacher at the seminary, son of a famous Belarusian archaeologist Uladzimir Bahamolnikau.

III. Conditions in places of imprisonment

  1. On November 28, the imprisoned public activist and flutist Maryia Kalesnikava was taken from the Homiel women’s colony to the intensive care unit, to the surgical department. Before that, Maryia Kalesnikava was placed in a punishment cell, where she was kept in cruel, inhumane conditions.
  2. On November 29, literary critic Siarhei Haranin, who was dismissed for his public position from the Academy of Sciences and sentenced to 10 days, reported on Facebook that an Orthodox priest Uladzislau Bahamolnikau is being tortured in the Isolation Center for Offenders of the State Department of the Minsk City Executive Committee on Akrestina Street. Siarhei Horanin, who was kept in the same cell with Uladzislau Bahamolnikau, wrote: “Akrestsina is not a prison, but a detention center. That is why the conditions there are extremely harsh, much worse than in all other Belarusian prisons and zones. It’s like the guardhouses of the former Soviet army. But they don’t stay at Akrestsina for a long time! A person cannot physically withstand such conditions. He will die. Yes, I know about “carousels”. And I also know about the fact that they stay at Akrestsina for many, many weeks. And I saw such. But three months. In addition, the state of health of Father Uladzislau has worsened. Even when I was leaving, and he shook my hand, his hand was weak, his fingers were thin, all the bones in them could be felt. In addition, he was on hunger strike. They can’t do anything to him. It is also impossible to charge him with anything. Well, he served at the burial of Raman Bandarenka – so what? It is a pastoral duty… so THEY ARE KILLING HIM. Physically.” Priest Uladzislau Bahamolnikau performed a memorial service for the artist Raman Bandarenka who was killed during the post-election protests in 2020.

IV. Repression in the book sphere

The prosecutor’s office of Soviet district of Minsk “discovered the facts of the offer to citizens to purchase book editions included in the Republican list of extremist materials.” According to the prosecutor’s office, bookstores sold “extremist” books “Military history of Belarus. Heroes. Symbols. Colors”, “Agrarian policy of the Nazis in Western Belarus: Planning. Provision. Realization (1941-1944)” and “The Ballad of the Little Tugboat”.

V. Dismissals from state institutions of culture for civil position

Maryna Kazlouskaya, a teacher of Belarusian literature, was dismissed from the BSU Lyceum. She left Belarus because her freedom was threatened.

VI. DeBelarusization

On November 25, in Orsha at school No. 3, where a writer Uladzimir Karatkevich studied, a memorial sign with a Russian-language inscription was fixed – another evidence of the policy of systemic de-Belarusization and Russification.