As of 28.02.2023, 135 cultural workers, including 28 People of the Word, were behind bars.
The criminal trial of Paviel Bielavus, culture manager and the founder of the Symbal.by shop, began behind closed doors at Minsk City Court.
Siarhiej Cichanoŭski, already serving an 18-year jail sentence, received additional 1.5 years in prison. In Pinsk, blogger Mikalaj Klimovič was sentenced to 1 year in a penal colony for posting a caricature of Lukashenka on social media.
Methodologist and philosopher Uladzimir Mackievič was transferred from colony No. 17 in Škloŭ to a medium-security prison No. 4 in Mahilioŭ.
“The Miracle on the Vistula” wall painting was painted over at the Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in Soly, Smarhoń district.
I. Politically motivated criminal cases against cultural workers, authors and performers
- On 20 February 2023, Minsk City Court started the criminal trial of Paviel Bielavus, culture manager and the founder of the Symbal.by shop. Paviel was charged under four articles of the Criminal Code: Article 342 (organisation and preparation of actions which gravely violate public order or active participation in them), Article 361 (appeals to actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus), Article 361-1 (establishment of an extremist formation or participation in it), and Article 356 (treason). The Investigative Committee claims that Paviel Bielavus “under the disguise of cultural and historical development… disseminated the ideas of Belarusian nationalism aimed at changing the state power in Belarus, stimulated hostility of his countrymen towards the homeland in various publicly available social networks and on the websites” and “by his criminal actions… had been threatening the external and internal security of the state for ten years”. Paviel Bielavus has remained behind bars since 23 December 2021.
- On 27 February 2023, a court in Žodzina heard a new criminal case against Siarhiej Cichanoŭski, charged with malicious disobedience to the demands of the colony administration. The court sentenced him to another 1.5 years in prison in addition to the 18 years of imprisonment he is currently serving. A politician, who attempted to run for the presidency in 2020, a blogger and the author of the YouTube channel “Country for Life”, an advertiser and performer of the song “Mury” (“The Walls”), Siarhiej Cichanoŭski was in December 2021 sentenced to 18 years in a medium-security colony under four Criminal Code articles: Article 293 ( 1) (organization of mass riots), Article 342 (organization and preparation of actions gravely violating public order or active participation in them), Article 191 (obstruction of voting rights), Article 130 (inciting hatred or discord).
- On 28 February 2023, Pinsk District and Pinsk City Court pronounced the verdict in the criminal case of blogger Mikalaj Klimovič who received one year in a penal colony under Article 368 of the Criminal Code (insult of the President of the Republic of Belarus) for posting a caricature of Lukashenka on social media.
II. Conditions in places of detention
- On 13 February 2023, philosopher and methodologist Uladzimir Mackievič was transferred from colony No. 17 in Škloŭ to the stricter-regime prison No. 4 in Mahilioŭ following a court decision. The trial took place on 13 February on the territory of colony No. 17. Uladzimir Mackievič is the founder and head of the Agency of Humanitarian Technologies and the founder of the “Flying University” programme that aimed to create a modern university in Belarus. He was arrested on 4 August 2021 on charges under Article 342 of the Criminal code (organisation and preparation of actions gravely violating public order or active participation in them). On 23 June 2022, Minsk Regional Court found Uladzimir Mackievič guilty and sentenced him to 5 years in a high-security regime colony. The trial took place behind closed doors.
- On 23 February 2023, it became known that the administration of penal colony No. 15 in Mahilioŭ deprived journalist Aleś Lubiančuk of parcels and visits for three months for ‘violating the internal regulations’. Aleś was detained on 26 May 2022 in the village of Kryvičy, Iŭje district, on charges of establishing or participating in an extremist organisation. On 27 October 2022, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison. In February 2023, Aleś Lubiančuk was sent to colony No. 15.
- On 28 February 2023, it became known about the conditions in which political activist and musician Maryja Kaliesnikava is serving her prison term in the women’s penal colony in Homiel. Maryja Kaliesnikava is forbidden to do what other prisoners are entitled to: she can only have one phone call a month, and not all letters reach her. On 6 September 2021, Minsk Regional Court found Maryja Kaliesnikava guilty of committing crimes under Article 357 (1), Article 361 (3), and Article 361-1 and sentenced her to 11 years of imprisonment for conspiracy to seize power unconstitutionally, establishment and management of an extremist formation and public calls to seize power.
III. Repressions in the book and publishing sector
- On 24 February 2023, professor Ivan Danilaŭ said that the state-owned Belarusian book retailer Belkniga had terminated the contract with him, and he had to remove his books from the bookstores. Ivan Danilaŭ is a Doctor of Medical Sciences and author of non-fiction books such as Notes of a Western Belarusian, Surviving Regimes: Notes of a Participant and Witness, and Trap: the Variety of Bolshevik Terror.
- On 26 February 2023, a Belarus-based website organising book auctions had to remove, at the request of the Minsk Central district’s prosecutor’s office, Viktor Suvorov’s “The Shadow of Victory” and Vadzim Dzieružynski’s “Forgotten Belarus”. The former dissects the personality of Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov; the latter exposes historical myths about Belarusian history during the Russian Empire and the USSR. Both books were included in the “National List of Extremist Materials” in January 2023.
IV. Reprisals for the use of Belarusian national symbols (the white-red-white flag and the coat of arms “Pahonia”)
- On 22 February 2023, information about brutal detentions in the “Filial” car repair shop in Salihorsk emerged. According to the police officers, they received a complaint from a pro-Russian activist who did not like the presence of Belarusian and Ukrainian symbols, white-red-white and blue-yellow ribbons and images of the Pahonia in the shop. Anatol Karpovič, an employee of Autokrama, who had a “Pahonia” sticker on his car, was detained. The police found Belarusian and Ukrainian symbols in his house during the search. According to the police officers, he had books on the history of Belarus at home. The director of the car repair shop was detained.
- On 23 February 2023, in Minsk, police officers raided the flat of Jelizavieta and Vital Prynieslik, members of the New Life Church, accused of participating in the 2020 peaceful protests. Vital was arrested, and Jelizavieta remained free, but the authorities restricted her right to leave the country. Jelizavieta Prynieslik is a blogger who runs the Visual Academy course on Instagram, where she teaches how to create photo and video content.
- On 23 February 2023, paintings of artist Andrej Smaliak were removed from the exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the People’s Artist of Belarus Leanid Ščamialioŭ held at the Palace of Arts in Minsk. The works of art were removed from the exhibition by order of the Ministry of Culture.
- On 28 February 2023, it became known that the wall painting “The Miracle on the Vistula” (Cud nad Wisłą) at Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in Soly, Smarhoń district, was painted over. The painting depicts the Battle of Warsaw when Poland halted the advance of the Red Army and achieved a turning point in the 1919-1921 Soviet-Polish war, retaining its independence. Some participants in the battle claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in the sky above the Polish trenches, helping them to fight against the Bolsheviks. The wall painting was restored after the collapse of the USSR.