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Chronicle of human rights violations in the sphere of culture (1-15 September 2023)

Last update: 18 September 2023
Chronicle of human rights violations in the sphere of culture (1-15 September 2023)

As of 15 September 2023, at least 128 cultural figures, including not less than 32 People of the Word, were behind bars.

The criminal trial of video operator Viačaslaŭ Lazaraŭ and Russian language teacher Tacciana Pyćko – the husband and wife – began behind closed doors in Viciebsk.

The criminal trial Zakon Huku music band’s frontman Aliaksiej Kuźmin began in a Minsk court. 

The populariser of Belarusian culture, Larysa Ščyrakova, decided not to appeal the ruling of the Homiel Regional Court at the Supreme Court. 

The trial of Tor Band musicians Jaŭhien Burlo, Dzmitry Halavač and Andrej Jaremčyk began behind closed doors in Homiel. 

A publicist, poet and prisoner of the Salaspils concentration camp, Anton Bubal (born in 1942), was detained. 

Librarian Tacciana Pabiaržyna was punished for an administrative offence. 

The Vaŭkavysk district court issued a verdict in the Vaŭkavysk District Culture Office vs philanthropist Paval Padkarytaŭ case to cancel a 2013 contract on purchasing an estate in Padarosk.

In Hrodna, ten tourist stands with information about the life of the writer Eliza Ažeška were removed from the streets.

Uladzimir Karatkievič’s novel Ears Under Your Sickle, dedicated to the 1863 uprising, was removed from the school curriculum. 

The authorities plan to eliminate Belarusian Latin writing in toponymic names by the end of this year.

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

1. On 5 September, the Viciebsk Regional Court opened a behind-closed-doors hearing of the criminal case against the husband and wife – video cameraman Viačaslaŭ Lazaraŭ and Russian language teacher Tacciana Pyćko. Viačaslaŭ Lazaraŭ is charged under Art. 361.4 (2) of the Criminal Code (facilitating an extremist activity committed repeatedly or by a group of persons through collusion). Tacciana Pyćko faces charges under Art. 361.4 (1) of the Criminal Code (recruitment or other involvement of a person in extremist activity, training or other facilitation of extremist activity).

2. On 11 September, the Minsk City Court opened the criminal trial of Aliaksiej Kuźmin, the lead singer of the Zakon Huku music band. He is charged under two articles of the Criminal Code: Art. 16 (6) and Art. 130 (3) (assistance in inciting enmity or discord) and Art. 342 (active participation in actions that grossly violate public order).

3. On 11 August, information appeared that Larysa Ščyrakova did not file an appeal to the Supreme Court against the ruling of the Homiel Regional Court. Larysa Ščyrakova was transferred from the pre-trial detention centre to the women’s penal colony in Homiel (Antoškina Street 4). On 31 August, the Homiel Regional Court sentenced Larysa Ščyrakova to three and a half years in a penal colony and a fine of 3,500 BYN ($1,386) under Art. 369.1 of the Criminal Code (discrediting the Republic of Belarus) and Art. 361.4 of the Criminal Code (facilitating extremist activities). Larysa Ščyrakova is a documentary film director, populariser of history and ethnography, performer of folk songs, reconstructor of folk rites, coordinator of the project to honour the memory of the repressed “Killed and Forgotten”, performer of the role of the repressed and executed Belarusian political figure Paluta Badunova in Valer Mazinski’s film Paluta Badunova: To Recall and Not Forget. 

4. On 14 September, the trial of Tor Band musicians Jaŭhien Burlo, Dzmitry Halavač and Andrej Jaremčyk began behind closed doors in the Homiel Regional Court. Tor Band is a Belarusian band. Its music videos for the songs “We are not a Little People”, “Viva!”, “Who, if not you?!” have gathered over a million views on YouTube. The musicians were detained on 28 October 2022 and sentenced to 15 days of arrest several times. In January 2023, Jaŭhien Burlo, Dzmitry Halavač and Andrej Jaremčyk were transferred to the pre-trial detention centre in Homiel and faced charges in a newly opened criminal case. While the musicians were behind bars, the authorities designated the band as an “extremist formation.”

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

1. On 1 September, Tacciana Pabiaržyna, the head of the central library’s customer service and information department at Talačyn, was punished for an administrative offence. She was fined 1,110 BYN ($435) for subscriptions to the independent news media Zerkalo and Belsat accounts on the Odnoklassniki social media platform. Tacciana Pabiaržyna was detained on 31 August.

2. On 7 September, the seller of the “extremist” book about the assassination of Wilhelm Kube was arrested for 13 days in Minsk under Art. 19.11 (2) of the Code of Administrative Offences (dissemination of extremist materials), the Office of the Prosecutor General stated. The prosecutor’s office of Minsk’s Pieršamajski district found the book “Who, how and why killed Wilhelm Kube” written by historian Aleh Usačoŭ and edited by Anatol Taras in the Wildberries online store. The name of the arrested person was not revealed.

3. On 11 September, police in Vierchniadzvinsk detained Anton Bubala (born in 1942), a publicist, poet (published in Narodnaje Slova and LiM newspapers), author of the collection of humorous stories “Let’s get going”, the poetry collection “Birch over the bay”, one of the authors of the book “Memory. Vierchniadzvinsk District”, local historian, populariser of Belarusian culture, honorary citizen of Vierchniadzvinsk, prisoner of the WWII Nazi concentration camp in Salaspils.

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

1. On 2 September, two people were detained for shouting “Viva Belarus!” in Lida at the LidBeer music festival, which resumed after a three-year break under the motto “Unifying the Variety.” 

2. On 11 September, it became known that Vital Krysiukievič was detained in Vaŭkavysk for allegedly distributing extremist materials. During the search, the police found a white-red-white symbol on him. Vital Krysiukievič was arrested for ten days under Art. 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offences.

3. In Mahilioŭ, the owner of a beauty salon was detained and fined 3,700 BYN ($1,465) for a manicure with white-red-white colours.

IV. Conditions in places of detention, tortures of prisoners

Andrej Aliaksandraŭ was deprived of parcels and Skype calls with relatives for seven months in the colony in Navapolack. Andrej Aliaksandraŭ is a journalist, media manager, poet, and author of song lyrics. On 6 October 2022, he was sentenced to 14 years in a medium-security penal colony.

V. Destruction of cultural institutions and objects

1. On 4 September, the Vaŭkavysk District Court issued a verdict in the Vaŭkavysk Department of Culture lawsuit against philanthropist Paval Padkarytaŭ. The court ruled to cancel the 2013 contract to purchase an estate in Padarosk. The contract was annulled for alleged “non-fulfilment of the conditions for putting the objects into economic circulation.” The estate in Padarosk was restored as a museum of the Belarusian nobility and a tourist centre for eight years. Paval Padkarytaŭ plans to appeal the verdict in a higher court.

2. On 8 September, it became known that the authorities in Hrodna removed tourist stands dedicated to the life of the writer Eliza Ažeška from the streets. Ten stands with information about Eliza Ažeška were installed in the summer of 2021 to mark the writer’s 180th birth anniversary. The project was designed by Janka Kupala Hrodna State University and funded by the European Union. The information on the stands was in Belarusian, Polish and English.

3. On 11 September, Aliaksandr Lukašenka signed decree No. 282 to complete the implementation of projects financed with loans and grants from international financial organizations.

VI. Repressions in the book and publishing sector

1. Libraries will issue the books labelled as “extremist materials” in Belarus to a “limited circle” based on “special permission,” Deputy General Director of the National Library of Belarus Viktar Pžybytka said in a state-TV channel Belarus 1’s broadcast. According to the official, destroying all books with “extremist content” is difficult, and “sometimes specialists turn to such literature when they do research, write scientific articles or investigations.”

2. Uladzimir Karatkevich’s novel Ears under Your Sickle, dedicated to the 1863 [anti-Russian] liberation uprising, was omitted from the school curriculum.

VII. Discrimination and repressions for language

1. In Belarus, only about 10% of schoolchildren study in the Belarusian language, Minister of Education Andre Ivaniec said in the Question Number One broadcast on Belarus 1 state-TV channel. At the same time, 40% of schools in Belarus are Belarusian language. “Probably, someone will say that it is a very large number and something is wrong here,” said Ivaniec. “Yes, if we talk about the number of children studying in these 40% of schools, it is about 10%. Why? Because these are mainly village schools, where education is traditionally taught in the Belarusian language.”

2. On 14 September, talking at the conference titled “State policy in the field of history: problems and prospects of preservation of historical truth and memory” in Minsk, the head of the Presidential Administration, Ihar Siarhiejenka, said that Lukašenka instructed the government to stop using Latin in the names of streets and geographical objects. By the end of this year, the authorities plan to have eliminated the Belarusian Latin letters in toponyms, which Lukashenka’s officials associate with “Western values.”