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Chronicle of human rights violations in the sphere of culture (March 1–15, 2023)

Last update: 16 March 2023
Chronicle of human rights violations in the sphere of culture (March 1–15, 2023)
Chronicle of human rights violations in the sphere of culture (March 1–15, 2023).

As of 15 March 2023, 137 cultural workers were behind bars, including 28 People of the Word.

Minsk’s Leninski District Court sentenced human rights defender, writer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aleś Bialiacki to 10 years and a fine of 5000 basic amounts.

Zmicier Kolas, a publisher and translator, was in KGB’s detention centre on 4-14 March.

Prosecutor asked for ten years in prison for researchers Valeryja Kasciuhova and Tacciana Kuzina.

The Zmicier Kolas publishing company announced on social media it had to suspend its operation.

Knihazbor publishing company is in the process of liquidation.

 I. Politically motivated criminal cases against cultural workers, authors and performers

  1. On 3 March 2023, Minsk’s Leninski District Court handed down a harsh and unfair sentence to human rights defender, writer, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aleś Bialiacki: 10 years in prison and a fine of 5000 basic amounts (185,000 BYN or almost 63,500 USD). Also convicted in the politically motivated “Viasna case” were Valiancin Stefanovič – to 9 years in prison; Uladzimir Labkovič – to 7 years in prison; Zmicier Salaūjoū – to 8 years in prison (in absentia). Each was sentenced to a fine of 3000 basic amounts (111,000 BYN or slightly over 39,000 USD). Human rights defenders were convicted for their activities in the protection of human rights and for helping the repressed on trumped-up charges – Part 4 of Art. 228 (smuggling by an organised group) and Part 2 of Art. 342 (financing of group actions that grossly violate public order) of the Criminal Code. During the open trial, human rights defenders were subjected to pressure, harassment and defamation in the pro-government media. In his last words at the court, Aleś Bialiacki called the “Viasna case” politically motivated and pointed at the violation of language rights in the court proceedings: “the prosecution and the court categorically refused to speak Belarusian, even though I, as the defendant, am a Belarusian-speaking person in everyday life. […] This put me in an unequal position with the prosecution. They deprived me of the opportunity to explain my position thoroughly and in detail, to challenge the unjust and senseless accusation”. Aleś Bialiacki and his fellow human rights defenders were arrested on 14 July 2021. Since then, they had remained in pre-trial detention centre No. 1 on Valadarski Street in Minsk until the trial.
  2. On 4 March 2023, publisher, translator from French, and literary scholar Zmicier Kolas was detained after a search of his apartment in Minsk and placed in KGB’s detention centre. He walked out free ten days later, on 14 March. On 5 March, the Zmicier Kolas publishing company wrote on its social media platforms that it suspended operation.
  3. On 6 March, during the trial in Minsk City Court, the prosecutor requested ten years in prison for researchers Valeryja Kasciuhova and Tacciana Kuzina The public trial of the researchers began on 6 February 2023. Valeryja Kasciuhova is the founder and editor of the expert community website “Our Opinion”, the editor and author of the annual collection of analytical reviews of the situation in Belarus “Belorusskiy ezhegodnik”, the head of the expert monitoring group “Belarus in Focus”. Valeryja was detained on 30 June 2021 after a search of her apartment and placed in a pre-trial detention centre on Valadarski Street in Minsk. She was charged under Art. 361 of the Criminal Code (calls for actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus) and under Part 1 of Art. 357 of the Criminal Code (conspiracy to seize power by unconstitutional means).
  4. On 10 March, Minsk Regional Court sentenced in a closed-door trial Natallia Dulina, a translator from Italian, to 3 years and six months in prison under Part 1 of Art. 342 (organisation, preparation of or active participation in actions that grossly violate public order, under Part 1 of Art. 361-4 (facilitating extremist activities) in the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. Natallia Dulina was detained in early October 2022 as part of a criminal case for participation in protests (Article 342 of the Criminal Code). Natallia Dulina is a former senior lecturer at the Italian Language Faculty of the Minsk State Linguistic University.
  5. On 10 March, Minsk’s Saviecki District Court opened a criminal trial of Litesound music band members Uladzimir and Dzmitry Karakin as well as their parents, Yury and Volha, charged under two articles in the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus: participation in protests (Part 1 of Art. 342) and illegal actions concerning firearms, ammunition and explosives (Part 2 of Art. 295). The Karakin brothers were detained on 13 October 2022. It became known later that their parents were also detained on the grounds of a family photo taken during the August 2020 peaceful protests against the presidential election falsifications.
  6. On 14 March, Minsk’s Mascouski District Court sentenced culturologist Aksana Zareckaja to 1.5 years in prison and the founder of Astronim Co. and the White Square Advertising and Marketing Festival Bahdan Karaviec to 2 years in prison. Aksana Zareckaja was detained in December 2022. Bahdan Karaviec was detained in October 2022. They stood trial on charges of gross violation of public order (Art. 342 in the Criminal Code).

 ІІ. Politically motivated administrative detentions and arrests of cultural workers, authors and performers

  1.  The former press secretary of Janka Kupala National Drama Theatre, Mikalai Zajac, was detained in Minsk on 13 March.
  2. Photographer, writer and author of the book of lyrical prose Scales (2012), Dzmitry Bajarovič, was detained with his wife after a search of their apartment in Minsk on 14 March.

ІІІ. Conditions in places of detention

  1. Bard Aliaksej Iljinčyk’s health in pre-trial detention centre No. 3 in Homiel has worsened. His right hand is almost inactive; he suffered a stroke shortly before detention. Aliaksej is a bard, a poet (also known under the pseudonym Leshiy) and the author of the books “From Leshki to Leshego” (2000), “FAS”, (2000), “Happy Man” (2002), “Leshiki forever! Part 1” (2002), “You know…” (2004).Aliaksei Iljinčyk was detained on 18 August 2022. A government-controlled Telegram channel claims the bard was detained for “creativity on the Internet.” He likely faces charges under Art. 130 in the Criminal Code (incitement to hostility), under Art. 363 (resisting arrest), and under Art. 369 (insult of a representative of the government). Aliaksej is currently being held at the pre-trial detention centre no. 3 on Knižnaja Street in Homiel.
  2. Journalist, poet and musician Andrzej Poczobut spent one week in solitary. He wrote about it in a letter.
  3. Pavel Mažejka’s wife, Iryna Čarniauka, said that during a meeting in the Hrodna prison, Pavel’s mother noticed traces of torture and inhumane treatment: “She noticed abrasions from handcuffs on his hands. We understand that detention was brutal. Six months later, there are still traces of handcuffs on the wrists; it certainly makes us all desperate that such things happen and that we can’t do anything to help. The most important thing is that we have almost no information”. Pavel Mažejka is the head of the cultural space “Urban Life Centre” in Hrodna, a journalist, and the coordinator of the publishing initiative “Hrodna Library”, specialising in publishing books about Hrodna by the authors from Hrodna. Pavel was detained on 30 August 2022 in Hrodna and placed in a detention centre. On 2 September, he was transferred to a pre-trial facility.

ІV. Repressions in the book and publishing sector

  1. On 5 March 2023, the Zmicier Kolas publishing company wrote on social media: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the publishing house suspends its operation until further notice.” On 4 March 2023, Zmicier Kolas – publisher, translator from French, and literary scholar – was detained in Minsk. His publishing house is known for books with translations of world poetry, prose, and drama, including the “Poets of the Planet” series, which published 100 books by outstanding authors. On 28 February, the Minsk Regional Library, named after Alexander Pushkin, held an event on the occasion of the 100th edition of the “Poets of the Planet”.
  2. On 6 March, Minsk’s Central District Court designated the novel Mr A’s Last Book by writer Alhierd Bacharevič as “extremist materials”. The book appeared on the list of extremist materials eight days later, along with nine issues of Our History magazine, three issues of Arche magazine and the 2021 calendar titled Don’t Be Silent in Belarusian.
  3. The Knihazbor publishing house is in the process of liquidation.

V. De-Belarusization

In the town of Orša, local authorities refused to change the language from Russian to Belarusian on the memorial plaque in honour of writer Uladzimir Karatkievič on the building of secondary school no. 3 named after Karatkievič since 1985. In the past, the plaque was in the Belarusian language, reading: “Famous Belarusian writer Ul. Karatkievič studied in this school between 1939 and 1941”. However, a new Russian-language plaque was unveiled in November 2022. More than 100 signatures were collected under the appeal to the town authorities.