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Chronicle of human rights violations in the sphere of culture (15-31 August 2023)

Last update: 2 September 2023
Chronicle of human rights violations in the sphere of culture (15-31 August 2023)

As of 31 August 2023, at least 127 cultural figures, including not less than 32 People of the Word, were behind bars.

The populariser of Belarusian culture, Larysa Ščyrakova, was sentenced to 3.5 years in a minimum-security penal colony and a fine of 3,500 BYN ($1,386).

PhD in geographical sciences, urban planner Hanna Skryhan received two years in a mimimum-security penal colony.

The criminal trial of entrepreneur and dancer Viktoryja Haŭrylina began behind closed doors.

The KGB added researchers Valeryja Kasciuhova and Tacciana Kuzina to the list of “persons involved in terrorist activities.”

The Ministry of Information included the works of the 19th-century Belarusian literature classic Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič and four more books from the Knihazbor publishing house (Lidzija Arabiej, Larysa Hienijuš, Natallia Arsiennieva, Uladzimir Niakliajŭ) in the so-called list of extremist materials.

Popularisers of Belarusian culture, Aleh Rudakoŭ and Volha Rudakova (Golanova), were arrested for 30 days.

At least seven employees of the National Historical Archive of Belarus in Minsk were detained. Eight people face dismissals.

Authorities continue repression for the use of Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols.

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

1. On 18 August, the KGB added researchers Valeryja Kasciuhova and Tacciana Kuzina to the list of “persons involved in terrorist activities.” Prisoners from this so-called’ list of terrorists’ are prohibited from receiving money transfers in pretrial detention centres and penal colonies. Valeryja Kasciuhova is the founder and editor of Our Opinion website of the experts’ community, the editor and author of the collection of annual analytical reviews about the development of the situation in Belarus Belorusskiy ezhegodnik, the head of the Belarus in Focus monitoring group of experts. She was detained on 30 June 2021, after a search of her apartment, and placed in a pretrial detention centre on Valadarskaha Street in Minsk. The trial of Valeryja Kasciuhova and Tacciana Kuzina began on 6 February 2023 in the Minsk City Court in an open mode. Valeryja Kasciuhova was charged under Art. 361(3) of the Criminal Code (calls for actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus), Art. 357 (1) of the Criminal Code (conspiracy to seize power by unconstitutional means), Art. 130 (3) of the Criminal Code (inciting social enmity or discord). On 17 March 2023, Valeryja Kasciuhova and Tacciana Kuzina were each sentenced to ten years in a minimum-security penal colony.

2. On 23 August, the Mahilioŭ Regional Court sentenced a Ph.D. in geographical sciences and an urbanist, Hanna Skryhan, to two years in a minimum-security penal colony. The trial was held behind closed doors. Hanna Skryhan is the head of the Mahilioŭ branch of the “Ekoproekt” international association, participating in public actions and scientific research related to ecology and urban planning.

3. On 24 August, the Mahilioŭ Regional Court rejected the appeal of Professor, Doctor of Sociological Sciences, former head of the Humanities Department of the Belarusian University of Food and Chemical Technologies Yury Bubnoŭ. On 26 May 2023, Mahilioŭ’s Kastryčnicki district court sentenced him to two years of imprisonment. Yury Bubnoŭ was detained on 12 January 2023 at his workplace. On 21 January, he was charged under Art. 367 of the Criminal Code (defamation against the president). The criminal case was based on a scientific publication about the 2020 protests in Belarus – the article “Prerequisites of the Belarusian protest in 2020” in the scientific almanack Youth Galaxy. In the article, Yury Bubnoŭ wrote that the Belarusians who protested in 2020 were united not by “some puppeteer or charismatic revolutionary, but by Aliaksandr Lukašenka.” “I was fulfilling my professional duty as a sociologist. Sociology is often associated with a mirror. And the mirror must reflect the objective reality and not distort it,” Yury Bubnoŭ told the court in his last words.

4. On 25 August, Homiel Regional Court began the criminal trial behind closed doors of entrepreneur and dancer Viktoryja Haŭrylina. She is accused of financing extremist activities via donations under Art. 361.2 of the Criminal Code. Other charges include illegally collecting and distributing information about private life under Art. 179 (1) of the Criminal Code and illegal actions regarding personal data, under Art. 203.1 of the Criminal Code.

5.. On 30 August, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict against journalist, historian, and populariser of Belarusian culture Yaŭhien Merkis. On 30 May, the Homiel Regional Court found him guilty under Art. 361.1 (3) of the Criminal Code (creation of an extremist formation or participation in it), under Art. 361.4 (1-2) of the Criminal Code (facilitating extremist activities). He was sentenced to four years in a medium-security penal colony. Police detained Yaŭhien Merkis in Homiel on 13 September 2022. His and his father’s houses were searched, and equipment was seized.

6. On 31 August, the Homiel Regional Court sentenced Larysa Ščyrakova to three-and-a-half years in a penal colony and a 3,500 BYN ($1,386) fine. Larysa Ščyrakova is a journalist, local historian researcher, documentary filmmaker, populariser of history and culture, folk singer, reconstructor of folk rites, and coordinator of the project to honour the memory of the repressed “Killed and Forgotten”. She performed the role of the repressed and executed Belarusian political figure Paluta Badunova in Valer Mazynski’s film “Paluta Badunova: Remember and Not Forget.” The trial of Larysa Ščyrakova began on 27 July at Homiel Regional Court behind closed doors under charges in Art. 369.1 of the Criminal Code (discrediting the Republic of Belarus) and Art. 361.4 of the Criminal Code (facilitating extremist activities). According to the investigation, Larysa Ščyrakova “took advantage of the tense situation in the society and tried to destabilize the situation in the country, presented for posting and placed on the Internet, including on destructive websites, information materials with deliberately false data that discredited the Republic of Belarus”, “carried out the collection, creation, processing, storage and transfer of information for “Viasna” and “Belsat.”

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

1. On 16 August, at the National Historical Archive of Belarus in Minsk, KGB officers detained at least seven people, including the deputy director for science and several heads of departments.

2. On 24 August, police detained popularisers of Belarusian culture Aleh Rudakoŭ and his wife Volha Rudakova (Golanava) in the village of Biazdziedavičy, Polack district. The Polack district court ruled to sentence Aleh and Volha to 30 days of arrest under Art. 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (dissemination of extremist materials). Aleh Rudakoŭ lived in Russia for more than 30 years, created and for 17 years headed the Jan Čerski Society of Belarusian Culture in Irkutsk. In 2020, he and his wife returned from Irkutsk to Belarus, where they engaged in cultural activities, participating in festivals preserving and reviving traditional Belarusian crafts. Volha Rudakova led master classes at the Paazierje Museum of Traditional Hand Weaving in Polack.

III. Trials and arrests for using Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols

1. On 16 August, the Polack District Court arrested Vadzim Bierdnikoŭ, a resident of Harany, for 25 days over a tattoo with the coat of arms “Pahonia” (Pursuit).

2. On 17-18 August, dentist Aliaksandr Hrudnicki was arrested in Navapolack for 30 days over his activity on social media. On 17 August, he was sentenced to 15 days under Art. 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (unauthorized picketing) for an Instagram photo taken on 8 August  2021 while on vacation in Georgia against the background of mountains and the flags of Georgia and Ukraine. On 18 August, he was sentenced to another 15 days of arrest for liking the posts of the Charter 97 community in Odnoklasniki under Art. 19.11 (2) of the Code of Administrative Offenses (distribution of extremist information products).

IV. Conditions in places of detention, tortures of prisoners

Andrej (Andrzej) Poczobut was placed in a cell-type room in penal colony No. 1 in Navapolack. He does not receive medicines for heart and blood pressure normalization. He does not have the possibility of calling home.

V. Repressions in the book-publishing sector

1. On 17 August, according to the statement of Minsk City Prosecutor’s Office, “informational products in the form of Jazep Januškievič’s preface to the book, as well as the texts of the works Winds Blow, Old Man’s Conversation, attributed to V. Dunin-Marcinkievič and included in the final part under the name DUBIA , books from the series “Belarusian book collection” Selected works /Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič are designated as extremist materials.” The texts were written in the 19th century during the anti-Russian uprising led by Kastuś Kalinoŭski. Vincent Dunin-Marcinkevič (1808–1884) is a classic of Belarusian literature.

2. On 17 August, the Ministry of Information added four books published in the “Belarusian Book Collection” series to the List of Extremist Materials.

In addition to the preface to Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič’s book and two of his poems, the following editions were included in the list, according to the ruling of Minsk’s Central District Court:

Selected works / Lidyja Arabiej; preface by L. Savik. – Minsk: Book Collection, 2013.

Hienijuš Larysa. Selected works / Compilation, preface and commentary by M. Skobla – Mn.: “Belarusian Book Collection”, 2000.

Natallia Arsiennieva. Selected works / Compilation, commentary by L. Savik; preface by A. Siamionava. – Mn.: “Belarusian Book Collection”, 2002.

Niakliajeŭ Uladzimir. Selected works / Uladzimir Niakliajeŭ; contribution, commentary by V. Boldyrava; preface by R. Baradulin – Minsk: Book Collection, 2009.

VI. Dismissals from cultural and scientific institutions

1. Eight people were dismissed from the National Historical Archive of Belarus in Minsk.

2. Animator and TV presenter Michail Tumielia was dismissed from the Belarusian State Academy of Arts.