As of 15 October 2023, at least 123 cultural figures, including not less than 30 People of the Word, were behind bars.
The Investigative Committee of Belarus has opened a criminal case against the participants of the We Care! online marathon of solidarity with political prisoners. The live stream on various independent media platforms featured numerous cultural figures – writers, artists, and musicians.
Singer Kaciaryna Šapavalava was detained in Minsk. On 13 August 2020, she performed the unofficial anthem “Mighty God” at the steps of the Philharmonic Society.
A new trial of public figure and prison literature author Zmicier Daškievič began in the Barysaŭ District Court.
The trial of the Tor Band musicians continues behind closed doors in Homiel.
Krumkač music band frontman Arciom Ramanaŭ was detained.
Local history expert and tour guide Aleh Dzjačkoŭ was detained and arrested for ten days.
Teacher, geographer and local history expert Ihar Šarucha was detained and arrested for 15 days.
Unknown perpetrators once again vandalized the crosses in Kurapaty, the site of mass executions during Stalin’s repressions, near the Minsk beltway. The targeted were the cross to political figure, historian and writer Vaclaŭ Lastoŭski and the crosses to executed Poles.
In Hrodna, authorities removed signs and signposts in the Belarusian Latin alphabet from the urban space.
I. Politically motivated criminal cases against cultural workers, authors and performers
1. On 3 October, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against the participants of the We Care! online marathon of solidarity with political prisoners. Among the marathon participants were many cultural figures – writers, artists, musicians. About 60 individuals have become suspects in the criminal case instituted under Art. 361.2 (2) of the Criminal Code (financing extremist activities). The article envisages a punishment of up to eight years in prison.
2. Singer Kaciaryna Šapavalava was detained on 10 October in Minsk. On 13 August 2020, she performed Natallia Arsenjeva’s unofficial anthem, “Mighty God”, at the steps of the Philharmonic Society in the Belarusian capital. Šapavalava was an employee of the Philharmonic and sang in a chamber choir. After her dismissal, she taught Brazilian couple dances. Pro-government information sources report about a criminal case opened against Kaciaryna Šapavalava.
3. On 11 October, a new trial of public figure and prison literature author Zmicier Daškievič began in the Barysaŭ District Court. After serving his imprisonment, Zmicier was to walk out free on 11 July 2023. However, authorities opened a new case against him under Art. 411 of the Criminal Code (malicious disobedience to the requirements of the penal colony administration Zmicier Daškievič is the author of the prison literature book Čarviak (Worm), for which in 2014 he became the laureate of the Francišak Aliachnovič Award, founded by the Belarusian PEN Centre jointly with Radio Liberty for the best work written in prison.
On 11 July 2022, Minsk’s Maskoŭski District Court started the trial of Zmicier and his wife, Nasta Daškievič, for participating in a street protest on 23 August 2020. They were charged under Article 342 (1) of the Criminal Code (group actions that grossly violate public order. During the investigation, while Zmicier Daškievič was behind bars, Nasta Daškievič gave birth to her fourth child. During his last word at court, Zmicier Daškievič stated that the police officers tortured him for using the Belarusian language: “…During the arrest, they beat me in front of my pregnant wife and said: ‘What is this person saying? Let him speak normally. Let him speak normally.” On 14 July 2022, Minsk’s Maskoŭski District Court sentenced Zmicier Daškievič to one and a half years in a penal colony. Nasta Daškievič received three years of home confinement.
4. The trial of the Tor Band musicians Jaŭhien Burlo, Dzmitry Halavač and Andrej Jaremčyk, which began on 14 September in the Homiel Regional Court, continues behind closed doors. 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 pretrial 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. Musician, founder and frontman of Krumkač band Arciom Ramanaŭ was detained on 5 October in Homiel.
2. On 9 October, local history expert and tour guide Aleh Dzjačkoŭ was detained in Mahiloŭ and arrested for ten days.
3. Zaryna Kanapackaja, a history senior researcher at the Institute of History at the National Academy of Sciences, was detained on 10 October in Minsk. In the video posted by the police, she says that she was only busy doing her scientific research, finished her doctorate and was preparing to defend her monograph about the Belarusian Tatars. Allegedly, she was at fault for subscribing to extremist channels to familiarize herself with their content.
4. Teacher, geographer and local history expert Ihar Šarucha was detained on 10 October in Mahiloŭ and arrested for 15 days under Art. 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offences (dissemination of extremist materials). Between 1993 and 2021, he worked at Arkadź Kuliašoŭ Mahiloŭ State University, where he headed the Department of Natural Sciences. Ihar Šarucha was fired for his civic activism.
III. Trials and arrests for using Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols
The Barysaŭ district court sentenced Uladzimir Tolkač to ten days of administrative arrest after the police had found white-red-white symbols in his phone.
IV. Conditions in places of detention, tortures of prisoners
1. In October, political prisoner, researcher and editor Valeryja Kasciuhova was deprived of phone calls and short meetings with her family members as the penal colony’s administration included her in the list of “terrorists.” 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. Local history expert Uladzimir Hundar, sentenced to 20 years in a penal colony, had his imprisonment routine changed to the stricter prison regime in Mahiloŭ.
3. The administration of Prison No. 1 in Hrodna refuses medication parcels for the cultural manager, journalist and publisher Paval Mažejka.
V. Destruction of memorials and cultural objects
1. Two icons were removed from the Pakroŭski Cathedral in Hrodna – the images of the holy martyrs Uladzimir, Metropolitan of Kyiv (tortured to death by the Communists in 1918) and Benjamin, Metropolitan of Petrograd (executed in 1922). The saints are depicted at the moment of their martyrdom, and their killers are dressed in the uniforms of the Red Army and the “Cheka” secret police force.
2. Inscriptions in Russian appeared on the crosses: the word ghoul on the cross in memory of Lastoŭski, and Sit in Kresy (Eastern Territories), Poles! Remember the executioner’s block on the cross in memory of the Polish victims of repression.
VI. Repressions in the language sphere
It became known on 9 October that in Hrodna, local authorities removed signs and signposts in the Belarusian Latin alphabet from the urban space.