As of January 31, 2023, there are 25 Men of Letters in captivity, in total there are 115 cultural figures in captivity.
In the court of Leninski district, judge Maryna Zapasnik continues to violate language rights in the case of the human rights center “Viasna”, refusing outright to use the Belarusian language in court proceedings, as demanded by a human rights defender, writer, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski.
On January 16, in Hrodna, authorities started a closed court hearing on the criminal case of a journalist and essayist Andrei (Andrzej) Pachobut.
Criminal proceedings have been started against the following people: one of the initiators of Belarusian-language activity on LiveJournal Ivan (Yan) Marozau; a sociologist Yury Bubnou; a cultural manager Uladzimir Bulauski; an architect Mikita Kavalenka; three musicians from the band “Tor Band” Yauhien Burlo, Dzmitry Halavach and Andrei Yaremchyk; a vocal teacher Ladaryia Kuzniatsova; an actor Andrei Tryzubau; a former teacher of Homiel State University, mother of the deceased member of Kalinouski regiment Pavel Volat, Natallia Suslava; a children’s poet Dzmitry Yurtaeu; and a singer Aliaksandra Zakharyk.
Sentences have been passed in criminal cases of a researcher of Stalinist repressions and tour guide Valeryia Charnamortsava; a singer Meriem Herasimenka (Meriem Gery); a musician Yauhien Hlushakou and an English teacher Darya Tsyrkun.
The Ministry of Information stopped the activity of a publishing house “Knihazbor”.
І. Criminal politically motivated cases against cultural figures, authors and performers
- The trial in the case of the human rights center «Viasna» continues in the court of Leninski district of Minsk. Among the accused, there is Ales Bialiatski, writer, the chairman of «Viasna», Nobel Peace Prize laureate. During court hearings, the prosecutor reads written materials from the case – fragments of witness interrogations, reports of searches in «Viasna» offices and in defendants’ apartments, and correspondence taken from digital media. There are 284 volumes of written materials in the case. Judge Maryna Zapasnik continues to violate language rights. There is no translator from Russian into Belarusian in the court. On January 18, in the trial Ales Bialiatski’s request to ask a question in Belarusian, in a «clear language», was dismissed by the judge Maryna Zapasnik as “Beliatski’s whim” and she refused to speak even a single sentence in the Belarusian language. The accused are kept in a barred cage in the courtroom. Besides the head of «Viasna» Ales Bialiatski, among the accused there is his deputy Valiantsin Stefanovich and the coordinator of the campaign “Human rights defenders for free elections” Uladzimir Labkovich. Zmitser Salaviou, who is being tried in absentia, is outside the country. Ales Bialiatski and his colleagues were arrested on July 14, 2021, and since then they have been held in pre-trial detention center No. 1 on Valadarskaha Street in Minsk. Human rights defenders are tried under Part 4 of Art. 228 (“smuggling by an organized group”) and Part 2 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (“financing of group actions that grossly violate public order”). The trial is open.
- On January 9, it became known about the arrest of Ivan (Yan) Marozau, one of the initiators of Belarusian-language activism on LiveJournal. Now he is in pre-trial detention center No. 1 on Valadarskaha Street in Minsk. He is accused of participating in peaceful protests in Minsk in 2020, but it is not known exactly what article he is charged with.
- On January 16, in the Hrodna regional court, authorities started a closed trial in the criminal case of a journalist and essayist Andrei (Andrzej) Pachobut. Andrei Pachobut is accused of calling for sanctions under Art. 361.3 of the Criminal Code. He was also charged under Part 3 of Art. 130 of the Criminal Code (inciting racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord). According to these articles, the punishment is up to 12 years of imprisonment. The prosecution claims that Andrei Pachobut called the USSR’s attack on Poland in 1939 “aggression” and “incited anger” regarding the persecution of the Polish minority in Belarus.
- On January 16, Valeryia Charnamortsava, a researcher of Stalinist repressions and tour guide, was convicted in the court of Soviet district of Minsk, under Part 1 of Art. 342 (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them). Sentence: 2.5 years of restriction of freedom without referral to an open correctional institution (“home chemistry”).
- On January 19, in the court of Central district of Minsk, Meriem Herasimenka (Meriem Gera) was sentenced to 3 years of restriction of freedom under home confinement (“home chemistry”) according to Part 1 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (active participation in actions that grossly violate public order). Meriem Herasimenka was detained on August 4, 2022 in Minsk after a concert at the Banki-Butelki bar. Among the songs performed by the singer at the concert, there was a work by a Ukrainian band “Okean Elzy” – “Obiymy”. After the arrest, the singer was twice sentenced to 15 days under an administrative article, and then re-detained as part of the criminal case under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (active participation in actions that grossly violate public order).
- On January 20, the Homiel regional court in a closed session sentenced musician Yauhien Hlushakou, a resident of Ziabrauka village, to 9 years of imprisonment in a maximum security colony. Yauhien Hlushakou was convicted for taking drone photos of the military airfield in Ziabrauka and for having contacts with Ukrainians. He was charged with treason (Part 1 of Art. 356 of the Criminal Code) and promoting extremist activities (Part 1 of Art. 361.4 of the Criminal Code). Yauhien Hlushakou was detained in August 2022. Previously, he played in a Ukrainian rock band “Dity Neba” and performed on Ukrainian television.
- On January 21, in Mahiliou, a sociologist, the head of the department of humanitarian disciplines of the Belarusian University of Food and Chemical Technologies Yury Bubnou was charged with defamation of the president (art. 367 of the Criminal Code). He was detained on January 12 at work. Yury Bubnou is one of the founders of the Center for Urban Initiatives in Mahiliou and the “Dranik-fest” festival.
- On January 22, it became known that in Vitsiebsk a criminal case was launched against a cultural manager Uladzimir Bulauski. The grounds for the accusation could be photos on social networks from the peaceful protests of 2020.
- On January 24, Mikita Kavalenka, an architect, was detained in Fanipal. Police officers searched Mikita Kavalenka’s apartment and took away a computer and a phone. A criminal case has been opened against Mikita Kavalenka, but it is not yet known exactly which Article of the Criminal Code he is charged with.
- On January 24, it became known that the musicians of the band “Tor Band” Yauhien Burlo, Dzmitry Halavach and Andrei Yaremchyk were transferred to the Homiel pre-trial detention center; authorities launched a criminal case against them. It is not known exactly what article the musicians are charged with. On January 16, the band was recognized as an “extremist formation”.
- On January 24, police detained in Minsk a vocal teacher Ladaryia Kuznyatsova; she was charged with part 1 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Court (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them).
- On January 24, the court of Soviet district of Minsk passed a sentence in the case of an English teacher Darya Tsyrkun for participation in peaceful protests in 2020 (Part 1 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code). The court ordered to restrict her freedom without sending her to an open-type correctional facility for 3 years (“home chemistry”).
- On January 25, it became known that Andrei Tryzubau, an actor of “Pugovitsy” theater and music band, was transferred to the pre-trial detention center on Valadarskaha street. Actor Aliaksandar Zhdanovich (Maliavanych) reported this on his Facebook page. Andrei Tryzubau was detained on January 4 in Minsk.
- On January 26, authorities initiated a new criminal case against Natallia Suslava, a former teacher of Homiel State University, mother of a deceased member of Kalinouski regiment, Pavel Volat, under Art. 361.3 of the Criminal Code (participation in hostilities on the territory of a foreign state). Before that, on November 25, 2022, a criminal case was opened against Natallia Suslava for an interview with the Belsat TV channel, under 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 the 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.
- On January 26, it became known that a criminal case had been initiated against Dzmitry Yurtaeu for insulting the president, under Part 1 of Art. 368 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. Dzmitry Yurtaeu is a children’s poet (his pseudonym is Zmitrok Burachok), showman, and former teacher of Minsk private school “Smart School”. He writes children’s poems in Belarusian and Russian. The author of the collection of poems in Russian “Zhgi!”
- On January 30, in Minsk, police detained singer Aliaksandra Zakharyk. She is charged with Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them). At the moment, the singer is in Akrestsina. In 2009 and 2016, Aliaksandra Zakharyk reached the finals of the national selection for Eurovision. In 2016, she represented Belarus at the “New Wave” contest. She gained the greatest fame as a participant in the Russian television project “The Voice”.
- On January 31, the term of detention was once again extended for a month for Pavel Mazheika, the head of the cultural space “Center for Urban Life” in Hrodna, journalist, coordinator of the publishing initiative “Harodnia Library”, which specialized in publishing books by authors from and about Hrodna. On August 30, 2022, Pavel Mazheika was detained in Hrodna and taken to a detention center. On September 2, he was transferred from the pre-trial detention center to the investigation detention center.
II. Politically motivated administrative detentions and arrests of cultural figures, authors and performers
- On January 15, it became known about the details of the detention and administrative sentences of Valiantsina Bolbat, an organizer of cultural events from Verkhniadzvinsk. On January 13, another administrative trial was held; she was accused of “unauthorized picketing” under Art. 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for pictures in social networks. The court imposed a fine of 100 basic amounts (3,700 rubles) on Valiantsina Bolbat in addition to previous administrative arrests. Valiantsina Bolbat was detained for the first time on November 22, 2022; her three trials were held in a row. Valiantsina Bolbat was twice sentenced to administrative arrest for 10 days under Art. 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (dissemination of extremist materials), and for the third time a fine of 320 rubles was imposed. Valiantsina Bolbat’s health worsened behind bars, so she was released three days earlier. However, on January 11, she was summoned to the Verkhniadzvinsk Police Department and told to come to the police station in Navapolatsk. There she was immediately detained and sent to a detention center for three days. Then she announced a hunger strike. On January 13, when she was behind bars, the fourth trial took place, under Art. 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offenses.
- On January 24, a musician Illia Sazonau was detained in Mahiliou. He was accused of posting “extremist information” on his social networks.
- On January 25, in Hrodna, police detained Anton Yankouski, popularizer of Belarusian traditional culture, who worked in the board game development studio “Kubik”, where such games as “Rebels”, “Grand Duchy of Lithuania” and “Language” had been created. Anton Yankouski was detained for spreading extremist materials on social networks.
- On January 26, a musician Aliaksandar Burak was arrested in Mahiliou for 10 days for distributing extremist materials.
- On January 29, a poet, bard and traveler Andrei Melnikau was sentenced to administrative arrest for 10 days under Art. 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (dissemination of extremist materials).
III. Conditions in places of imprisonment
In the pre-trial detention center of Hrodna, where a cultural manager and publisher Pavel Mazheika is being held, the authorities stopped accepting vitamins and medicines from the relatives of prisoners. This order applies to all prisoners.
IV. Repression in the book sphere
On January 22, it became known that the Ministry of Information has stopped activities of a publishing house “Knihazbor”. On January 26, Hienadz Viniarski, the director of the publishing house, announced on his Facebook page that he had returned the publisher’s certificate to the Ministry of Information: “That’s the end of my long-lasting career as a publisher. 27 years of work, about 3 thousand titles of books, presentations, exhibitions. Today, I gave back the publisher’s certificate to the Ministry of Information. Soon we will start the process of liquidation of PUE “Knihazbor”, so buy books from our publishing house in bookstores while they are available.” The Telegram channel of the Ministry of Information reported that the reason was “violation of the deadlines for notifying the Ministry of Information of the change of information to be included in the State Register of Publishers, Manufacturers and Distributors of Printed Publications.” The publishing house “Knihazbor” was registered in 2006, the director was Hienadz Viniarski, the editor-in-chief was Kastus Tsvirka.
V. Repression for the use of Belarusian national symbols (white-red-white flag and coat of arms “Pahonia”)
- On January 24, Ihar Dziemidovich, a popularizer of the Belarusian language, history and culture, was fined 30 base units (1,110 rubles) in Sharkaushchyna, Vitsiebsk region. The administrative penalty was imposed by the court for an avatar with the image of a political prisoner, public figure and writer Paval Sieviaryniets and a white-red-white ribbon. Ihar Dziemidovich used to work as a history teacher in Sharkaushchyna, he organized the “Mova Nanova” courses (Belarusian language courses), which lasted until the fall of 2020.
- On January 26, pro-government Telegram channels reported the detention of Hanna Shurdziakova in Minsk for “keeping protest symbols at home” – a white-red-white flag.