As of 30 June 2023, at least 132 cultural figures, including not less than 31 People of the Word, were behind bars.
A criminal case was opened against folklore singer and performer Patrycyja Svicina.
A court ruled to change the imprisonment routine for writer and politician Paval Sieviaryniec (serving a seven-year sentence) from the corrective colony regime to the prison regime for three years.
Activist, journalist and essayist Andrej Pačobut (Andrzej Poczobut) was moved to the penal colony No 1 in Navapolack to serve his term.
The prosecutor asked for ten years in a medium-security penal colony for the cultural manager, former head of Ulej and MolaMola crowdfunding platforms Eduard Babaryka.
Writer Aliaksandr Fiaduta was deprived of parcels in the penal colony No 15 in Mahiloŭ.
Activist and organiser of cultural events Valiancina Bolbat was sentenced to 30 days of administrative arrest.
Bard, a former worker of the drama theatre in Mahiloŭ, author of the song about political repressions “There is trouble in my Homeland”, Aliaksandr Bal, was arrested for 15 days.
Musician and folklore collector Vasil Škindzier was arrested for 15 days.
A Union of Poles activist, former principal and teacher of a Polish school, Anžalika Arechva, was not allowed to exit Belarus.
Ten teachers were sacked from the Lyceum of the Belarus State University (BSU).
I. Politically motivated criminal cases against cultural workers, authors and performers
1. On 1 June, a criminal case was initiated against the singer and folklore performer Patrycyja Svicina under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them). Patrycyja Svicina is in prison No. 8 in Žodzina. She was detained in Minsk on 16 May 2023.
2. On 21 June, a trial was held in the Škloŭ penal colony No. 17 about the change of the imprisonment routine for writer and public figure Paval Sieviaryniec. The court ruled to transfer Paval Sieviaryniec from the corrective colony regime to three years of the prison regime. Before the trial, he had spent several months in punitive confinement and three more months in a ward-type room. All this led to the deterioration of his health. The prison regime is the most severe type of imprisonment routine because a person is constantly in a cell, around the clock and for years, often with the same people, and does not have the opportunity to work and walk around the territory of the colony, to live the “social life” such as to learn a new profession or participate in interest groups. On 7 June 2020, Paval Sieviaryniec was detained after holding a “people’s picket of freedom and solidarity” in the square in front of the Kamaroŭski Market in central Minsk next to the pickets of activists collecting signatures for the nomination of alternative presidential candidates. Paval Sieviaryniec was charged under Article 293 (2) of the Criminal Code (participation in riots) and kept in custody. On 25 May 202, the Mahiloŭ Regional Court sentenced Paval to seven years in a medium-security colony. The trial took place behind closed doors.
3. On 21 June, it became known that the public figure, journalist and essayist Andrej Pačobut (Andrzej Poczobut) was moved to serve his imprisonment term in colony No. 1 in Navapolack. On 8 February 2023, the Hrodna Regional Court sentenced Andrej Pačobut to eight years in a medium-security penal colony, having found him guilty under Article 361(3) of the Criminal Code (calls for restrictive measures (sanctions) aimed at harming national security) and Article 130 (3) of the Criminal Code (inciting national, religious and other social enmity). On 26 May 2023, the Supreme Court dismissed Andrej Pačobut’s appeal and left the verdict unchanged. On 23 June 2023, the Ministry of Internal Affairs added Andrej Pačobut to the so-called list of Belarusian citizens, foreign citizens or stateless persons involved in extremist activities.
4. On 27 June, Hrodna’s Leninski District Court began a criminal trial of Andrej Niesciarovič, the owner of the Cudoŭnia ethnic store, under Article 295 (2) of the Criminal Code (illegal actions concerning firearms, ammunition and explosives). The Cudoŭnia ethno shop has operated in Hrodna since 2015. In 2020, the shop’s employees supported peaceful protests against the falsification of the election results. On 26 October 2020, Cudoŭnia remained closed in solidarity with the all-Belarusian strike declared by Sviatlana Cichanoŭskaja. As a result, the store was subjected to repression and fines. On 3 December 2020, it lost its premises.
5. On 28 June, the prosecutor demanded ten years in a medium-security penal colony for the cultural manager, former head of the Ulej and MolaMola crowdfunding platforms Eduard Babaryka. The Minsk Regional Court began the trial of Eduard Babaryka on 22 May at the extramural session in the premises of the Minsk District Court. Eduard Babaryka faces charges under Article 130 of the Criminal Code (inciting racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord), Article 235 (2) of the Criminal Code (legalisation of proceeds from crime), Article 243 of the Criminal Code (tax evasion), Article 293 (1) of the Criminal Code (organisation of riots). Eduard Babaryka Eduard Babaryka was arrested on 18 June 2020 with his father, Viktar Babaryka, when he went to the Central Election Commission to file the signatures collected for his nomination as a presidential candidate. Financial Investigations Department (FID) agents of the State Control Committee carried out the detention. Lawyers were not allowed to visit the detainees all day under the pretext that “drills were in progress” in the FID. On the same day, Eduard Babaryka was placed in the KGB pre-trial detention centre. The verdict in the criminal case of Eduard Babaryka is expected on 5 July.
II. Politically motivated administrative detentions and arrests of cultural workers, authors and performers
1. On 15 June, Aliaksandr Bal, a bard, a former employee of the Mahiloŭ Drama Theatre, from which he was fired for participating in the peaceful protests of 2020, and the author of the song about political repressions, “There is trouble in my Homeland” was detained in the town of Haradok, Viciebsk region. On 16 June, the Haradok district court ordered the musician’s arrest for 15 days for allegedly distributing extremist materials.
2. On 15 June 15, it became known that Vasil Škindzier, music and folklore collector and the owner of the Paŭsviž farmstead, was detained in the Lepel district. On 14 June, the Lepel district court sentenced him to 15 days of administrative arrest.
3. On 19 June, Valiancina Bolbat, a civic activist and organiser of cultural events from Vierchniadzvinsk, stood trial in Navopolack. A local court sentenced her to 30 days of administrative arrest under Article 19.11(2) of the Code of Administrative Offences (distribution of information products included in the list of extremist materials, as well as production, publication, storage or transportation for distributing such information) and Article 24.23 (3) of the Code of Administrative Offences (violation of the procedure for organising or holding mass events). On Valiancina Bolbat’s page in the Odnoklassniki social network, police officers found a video from a website designated by the authorities as extremist. Hence, she was charged with the distribution of extremist information products. The police also found an image of the national white-red-white flag. Posting it is recognised as holding an unauthorised picket. Valiancina Bolbat tried to appeal the decision of the Navapolack court in the higher Viciebsk Regional Court, but the ruling was left unchanged. In 2023, Valiancina Bolbat was tried six times under Articles 19.11 and 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offences. Being behind bars took a toll on her health. Valiancina Bolbat suffered a hypertensive crisis while in the Navapolack detention centre.
III. Trials and arrests for using Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols
1. On 1 June, in Orša, an employee of the Orsha Flax Plant was sentenced to three days of administrative arrest for using a thermos cup at work with the image of the coat of arms “Pursuit” and the inscription “Long live Belarus!” The court designated using the cup as an unauthorised picket at the workplace and ruled under Article 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offences. It also ordered the destruction of the cup.
2. On 13 June, a court in Hlybokaje ruled to sentence Andrej Hutar to 15 days of administrative arrest over two publications on the social network “Vkontakte” containing the images of the national white-red-white flag. Andrej Hutar was tried under two articles of the Code of Administrative Offences – Article 19.11(2) (distribution of information products included in the list of extremist materials, as well as production, publication, storage or transportation for distribution of such information products) and Article 24.23(1) (violation of the procedure for holding a meeting, rally, street procession, demonstration, picketing, another mass event).
IV. Conditions in places of detention, tortures of prisoners
1. Aliaksandr Fiaduta in correctional colony No. 15 in Mahiloŭ was deprived of parcels until October. He is only allowed to receive medication. Aliaksandr Fiaduta is a writer, editor, journalist, translator, literary critic (doctor of humanities, majoring in Literary Studies), publisher, and political analyst. On 5 September 2022, the Minsk Regional Court handed down verdicts in the criminal case on “collusion to seize state power,” convicting Aliaksandr Fiaduta, among other defendants.
He received ten years in a medium-security correctional colony under Article 357 of the Criminal Code (conspiracy to seize power by unconstitutional means).
2. On 15 June, Aliaksandr Franckievič’s term in punitive confinement (since 28 March) was extended until 6 July. Aliaksandr Franckievič is an activist of the anarchist movement, writer, and author of prison prose. He was repeatedly subjected to administrative and criminal prosecution for his civic stance and protest participation. Aliaksandr was twice recognised as a political prisoner. On 6 September 2022, the Minsk City Court sentenced Aliaksandr Franckievič to 16 years and nine months in a maximum-security penal colony. In March 2023, he was transferred to colony No. 5 in Ivacevičy.
V. Repressions in the book and publishing sector
On 28 June, publisher Hienadź Viniarski wrote on his Facebook page: “The liquidation of the Knihazbor publishing house is on final. Little by little, I have started collecting unsold books from online bookstores. One can still order them at knihi.by, kniganosha.by, tn.by.” It became known on 22 January that the Ministry of Information shut down the Knihazbor publishing house. On 26 January, Hienadź Viniarski, the director of the publishing house, wrote on his Facebook page that he had submitted his publisher’s certificate to the Ministry of Information: “My publishing epic is over. 27 years of work, about 3000 book titles, presentations, exhibitions. Today, I have returned the publisher’s certificate to the Ministry of Information. Soon, we will start the process of liquidating the Knihazbor company. Seize the opportunity to buy books from our publishing house in bookstores. They are still available.” The Telegram channel of the Ministry of Information reported that the reason [for the closure] was a “violation of the deadlines for applying to the Ministry of Information with a notification about the change of information to be included in the State Register of Publishers, Producers and Distributors of Printed Publications.” Knihazbor was one of the oldest privately-owned publishing houses in Belarus.
VI. Politically motivated dismissals
1. No less than seven employees were fired from the Polack State University, including the secretary of the dean’s office of the Faculty of History and Philology, Kaciaryna Šaŭliuha, professor of the Department of World Literature and Foreign Languages Anastasia Mazho, teacher of the Department of Foreign Languages Sviatlana Panimaščanka.
2. Ten teachers (geography, history, Belarusian language and literature) were dismissed from the Belarus State University’s Lyceum.
VII. Violation of the right to freedom of movement
On 23 June, Anžalika Arechva, an activist of the Union of Poles, former principal and teacher of a Polish school, was not allowed to exit Belarus. At the border, border guards stamped “Departure Denied” on her passport. They did not inform her about the reasons for the refusal; they advised her to contact the local police department. In 2022, Anžalika Arechva was convicted under Article 19.11(2) of the Code of Administrative Offences (distribution of information products included in the list of extremist materials; production, publication, storage or transportation for distribution of such information products).