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Chronicle of human rights violations in the cultural sphere (December 15-31, 2022)


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As of December 31, 2022: there are 25 Men of Letters in captivity. A total of 117 cultural figures are in captivity.

On December 16, a writer and local historian Siarhei Chyhryn was detained in Slonim.

The trial in the case of the Viasna Human Rights Center will begin at 11:00 a.m. on January 5 in the court of Leninsky district of Minsk. Among the accused there is a Nobel laureate, the Chairman of the Viasna Human Rights Center and writer Ales Bialiatski.

On December 22, the Ministry of Information again suspended the activities of the Knihazbor publishing house.

On December 28, Dzmitry Halavach and Yauhien Burlo, the musicians of the “Tor Band” band, were not released after 60 days of administrative arrest. They are being tried separately for each song declared to contain “extremist material”.

On December 23, 18 employees of the National Art Museum were dismissed.

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

  1. On December 20, the Central District Court of Minsk handed down a verdict in the criminal case of a tour guide Aksana Mankevich, who was convicted according to Part 1 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (active participation in actions that grossly violate public order) and was sentenced to three years of restriction of freedom without being sent to an open-type correctional institution (“home chemistry”). Aksana Mankevich will no longer be able to work as a tour guide in Belarus, because according to the government’s decree of December 7, starting from the new year, those who have been tried under “protest” criminal articles will not be able to work as tour guides.
  2. On December 22, it became known when the trial on the Viasna Human Rights Center criminal case will take place. The trial will begin at 11:00 a.m. on January 5 in the Leninski District Court of Minsk. Human rights defenders have been in custody since July 14, 2021. They are accused of smuggling (illegal movement across the customs border of the Eurasian Economic Union of cash in a large amount 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 there is a Nobel laureate, the Chairman of the Viasna Human Rights Center and writer Ales Bialiatski.
  3. On December 27, the Minsk City Court postponed for an undefined period “due to newly disclosed circumstances” the trial of activists of independent trade unions, among whom there is Vatslau Areshka, an archivist and cultural researcher. Activists of Belarusian independent trade unions are accused of calling for restrictive measures aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus (Part 3 of Art. 361 of the Criminal Code),  inciting other social enmity (Part 3 of Art. 130 of the Criminal Code), and creating an extremist formation or participating in it (Part 1 and Part 3 of Art. 361-1 CC).
  4. On December 29, an historian Yauhien Hurynau was convicted in the court of Pershamaiski district of Minsk according to Part 1 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them). Yauhien Hurynau was detained on September 13, 2022 and sentenced to two and a half years of restriction of liberty without being sent to an open-type correctional institution – “home chemistry”. Yauhien Hurynau worked as a project coordinator of the “Aniv” Foundation for the Development and Support of Armenian Studies.
  5. On December 30, it became known that Pavel Mazheika, a publisher and cultural manager, had not been released from the pre-trial detention center – the period of investigation was extended for at least a month.

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

  1. On December 16, a writer and local historian Siarhei Chyhryn was detained in Slonim and sentenced to 7 days of administrative arrest. He was accused of reposting “extremist materials”. On December 23, Siarhei Chyhryn was not released, he was left in detention for the weekend, and on Monday, December 26, another trial was held – 15 days were added. Siarhei Chyhryn worked as the head of the literary department of the Slonim Drama Theater. On December 19, the management of the theater decided to fire him.
  2. On December 16, in Vitsiebsk, an Art manager Uladzimir Bulauski was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest. Apparently, according to article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Republic of Belarus – “dissemination of extremist materials”. Illia Kulman and Pavel Piatrunin, founders of a gastropub ROK’I PUB, who had been detained with him on December 14, were tried under this article.
  3.  On December 27, it became known that Uladzislau Chakhovich, a blogger, Wikipedian, architect, and creator of a telegram channel “Heritage”, had been detained in Minsk. Uladzislau Chakhovich is the author of numerous official appeals to the authorities of Mahiliou on the preservation of architectural heritage. In his blog, Uladzislau Chakhovich called himself a “warden of Mahiliou”. The telegram channel “Heritage” tells about historical and architectural heritage of Belarus, raises issues of preservation and restoration of monuments. More than 2,800 people have subscribed to it. Uladzislau has more than 1,300 followers on Twitter.
  4. On December 28, Dzmitry Halavach and Yauhien Burlo, the musicians of the “Tor Band” band, were not released after 60 days of administrative arrest. They are being tried separately for each song declared to contain “extremist material”. Information products, social networks and band logo TOR BAND have been recognized as “extremist”. Video clips for songs with millions of views have disappeared from the TOR BAND YouTube channel.

III. Sentences for Belarusian national symbols

On December 23, Piatro Piatrusha was convicted in the Biarezinski District Court according to Art. 341 of the Criminal Code (“desecration of buildings and damage to property”), he was accused of painting white-red-white flags in various places in Minsk from February 2021 to September 2022: “…11 times with the help of aerosol cans with white and red dyes he applied images in the form of white-red-white stripes to the surface of power lines support, walls of two public transport stops, and a road sign “Beginning of a settlement”. The sentence was 6 months of imprisonment.

IV. Conditions in places of imprisonment

Imprisoned historian Yauhien Merkis spent four days in the punishment cell of the Homiel pre-trial detention center-3. The political prisoner was punished with harsh conditions of detention for “not shaving”.

V. Dismissals from state institutions of culture for civil position

  1. On December 19, in Slonim, Siarhei Chyhryn, the head of the literary department of the Slonim Drama Theater was dismissed.
  2. On December 21, the director of the Homiel Youth Theater Alena Mastavenka was informed that her employment contract will not be renewed.
  3. On December 23, 18 employees of the National Art Museum were dismissed. Among those dismissed there was the deputy director for scientific and educational work Sviatlana Anieika, the head of the Department of Belarusian Art of XX-XXI Centuries Katsiaryna Izafatava, the deputy director of General Affairs and Restoration Siarhei Viechar, the head of the exhibition department Yauhieniya Sabaleuskaya, restorers Sviatlana Dzikut and Aliaksandar Lahunovich-Charapko, and the head of the accounting sector Tatsiana Martul.

VI. Repression in the book sphere

  1. On December 22, the Ministry of Information again suspended the activities of the Knihazbor publishing house. In May 2022, the activities of “Knihazbor” were suspended for three months, now – for one month. The formal reason is the same – “violating the deadlines of notifying the Ministry of Information of changes in the information required to be included in the State Register of Publishers and Producers of Printed Publications.” “Knihazbor” publishes books in the Belarusian language. At the same time, it was forbidden to sell books through the Wildberries website for three months.
  2. On December 30, Andrei Yanushkevich, a publisher, reported: “On January 4, 2023, a court hearing will be held in the Economic Court of the city of Minsk on the initiative of the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Belarus on the termination of the activity of the private enterprise of Andrei Yanushkevich, which essentially means the closure of the publishing house. We will not be able even formally to publish and ship books on the territory of the Republic of Belarus.”