As of 31 October 2023, at least 124 cultural figures, including not less than 32 People of the Word, were behind bars.
Political prisoner, public figure and the author of prison literature Zmicier Daškievič was sentenced to another year in a high-security penal colony.
The Supreme Court upheld the rulings against Paval Mažejka and Julia Jurhilievič.
Philology researchers Nadzieja Staravojtava and Natallia Sivickaja were sentenced to three years of home confinement.
Verdicts were pronounced in the criminal cases against the Tor Band musicians: Dzmitry Halavač– nine years in a medium-security penal colony and a fine (100 base rates); Jaŭhien Burlo – eight years in a medium-security penal colony and a fine (100 base rates); Andrej Jaremčyk – seven and a half years and a fine (100 base rates).
The heads of the Kvartal dance studio, Aliaksandr Dušeŭski and Julia Šostak, were detained.
A criminal case over replacing the official red-and-green flag with the Ukrainian flag was initiated in the Svietlahorsk district.
A female schoolteacher was punished for keeping Anatol Taras’ book A Short Course on the History of Belarus in the 9th-21st Centuries labelled as “extremist.”
The Knihazbor publishing house was excluded from the Unified State Register.
In Brest, construction of a housing project continues on the site of the ghetto where the remains of 1214 executed Jews were unearthed.
The bus terminal in Hrodna and Minsk-Maladziečna commuter trains stopped making announcements in Belarusian.
- Politically motivated criminal cases against cultural workers, authors and performers
1. On 17 October, the Supreme Court of Belarus rejected in a closed-door session the appeals of Paval Mažejka and Julia Jurhilievič and upheld the verdict. Paval Mažejka and Julia Jurhilievič stood trial tried under Article 361.4 (2) of the Criminal Code, which deals with the “facilitation of extremist activity, committed repeatedly by a group of persons as part of a premeditated conspiracy.” According to the case file, Julija Jurhilevič revealed information to Paval Mažejka about the revocation of her lawyer’s license, her exclusion from the Hrodna Regional Bar Association, the criminal case against artist Aleś Puškin at the Minsk City Court and the verdict. Paval Mažejka was accused of passing this information on to unidentified persons for publication on the Belsat TV channel in February-March 2022. On 26 July, Hrodna Regional Court sentenced cultural manager, journalist and publisher Paval Mažejka to six years in a medium-security penal colony. Lawyer Julija Jurhilevič, the defence attorney of the artist and political prisoner Aleś Puškin, received six years in the low-security penal colony.
2. On 19 October, the Barysaŭ District Court sentenced Zmicier Daškievič, a public figure and author of prison literature, to another year in a high-security penal colony under fresh charges. On 14 July 2022, Minsk’s Maskoŭski District Court sentenced Zmicier Daškievič to one and a half years in a penal colony. His wife, Nasta Daškievič, received three years of home confinement. The spouses were charged under Art. 342 (1) of the Criminal Code (group actions that grossly violate public order) for participating in the 23 August 2020 protest action. 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).
3. On 31 October, Minsk’s Frunzienski District Court issued a ruling in a criminal case against teachers Natallia Sivickaja, Nadzieja Staravojtava and the head of the student dormitory Alena Drabudźka under Art. 342 (1) of the Criminal Code (organising and preparing actions that grossly violate public order or actively participating in them). Nadzieja Staravojtava and Natallia Sivickaja were sentenced to three years of home confinement. Alena Drabudźka received two and a half years of home confinement. Natallia Sivickaja is a lecturer at the Department of Belarusian and Russian Languages of the Belarusian State University of Physical Culture, candidate of philological sciences, author of the book “Names of Clothing in Speech of the Belarusian Language” (2011). Nadzeya Staravoytava is a writer, teacher of the Belarusian language, candidate of philological sciences, associate professor of the Department of Belarusian and Russian Languages of the Belarusian State Economic University, medievalist, populariser of the Belarusian language, author of the short novel Orthography without Rules” (2008), short stories, essays and poems. She is a researcher of the Belarusian Tristania – translations into Belarusian of the world-famous medieval legend about the love of Tristan and Isolde. Nadzieja Staravojtava taught Belarusian to Belarusian and international students and authored numerous articles on translations from and into the Belarusian language and on the methodology of teaching Belarusian as a foreign language. She was detained on 24 July 2023 and recognised as a political prisoner on 1 September 2023.
4. On 31 October, the Homiel Regional Court issued a verdict in the criminal cases of the Tor Band musicians. Songwriter vocalist Dzmitry Halavač was sentenced to nine years in a medium-security penal colony, a fine of 100 base rates, and confiscation of his laptop and phone. Jaŭhien Burlo received eight years in a medium-security prison, a fine of 100 base rates, and phone confiscation. Andrej Jaremčyk was sentenced to seven and a half years in a medium-security prison, a fine of 100 base rates, and phone confiscation. The Tor Band’s 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. II. Politically motivated administrative detentions and arrests of cultural workers, authors and performers
It became known on 20 October that the heads of the Kvartal dance studio, Aliaksandr Dušeŭski and Julia Šostak, were detained in Minsk for participating in the 2020 protests.
III. Trials and arrests for using Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols
1. The Rahačoŭ District Court fined Piotr Rusak BYN555 ($175) for the white-red-white colour of the reflector on his bicycle under Art. 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offences (violating the procedure to organise and hold mass events).
2. On 10 October, a truck driver, Dzmitry Tarbiejeŭ, was detained in Navapolack. On his Instagram account, police found subscriptions to the pages of Radio Svaboda, Belsat and Country for Life and a photo with white-red-white flags. Two administrative reports were drawn up against Dzmitry under Art. 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offences (dissemination of extremist materials), and under Art. 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offences (unauthorised picketing). On 11 October, a court sentenced Dzmitry Tarbiejeŭ to 30 days of administrative arrest.
3. On 19 October, police detained an employee of “Belspecenergo” in Minsk who had an avatar with Pahonia (Pursuit) national coat-of-arms. The authorities claim she was at work in August and took a Viber survey about the “New Belarus passport”. In the chatbot of the “Voice” initiative, she indicated the reason for obtaining a passport was “rejection of the regime and occupation symbols.” The police video shows screenshots.
4. In Orša, Alena Janušeŭskaja was sentenced to seven days of arrest for posting the Pahonia (Pursuit) and the slogan “Long live Belarus” on the VKontakte social network. The punishment came as Alena Janushevskaya was in custody serving her seven-day arrest for “dissemination of extremist materials” – information from independent outlets.
5. On 19 October, it became known that in Vierchniadzvinsk, a resident was fined for a “picket” allegedly held on Tinder. The man wore a Pahonia (Pursuit) T-shirt in his Tinder photo. The police drew up a report against him under Art. 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offences (violation of the procedure for organising and holding mass events) and was fined BYN3,330 rubles ($1,000). A court ordered the destruction of the T-shirt.
6. It became known on 15 October that the Svietlahorsk District Department of the Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case under Art. 370 of the Criminal Code (mockery of state symbols). On the night of 13-14 October, someone cut the wire from the flagpole, removed the red-green flag, and threw it into the trash can in the Sasnovy Bor settlement. The Ukrainian flag was raised instead of the official flag. Police officers reported that they detained a 41-year-old citizen of Belarus. During a search of his residence, the police found “extremism-leaning symbols.”
IV. Conditions in places of detention, tortures of prisoners
Andrej Pačobut (Andrzej Poczobut) is kept in punitive confinement; he does not receive the necessary medication. Andrej Pačobut is an essayist, journalist, publicist, blogger, poet, songwriter, and musician. He authored the 2013 book System Białoruś (System Belarus), commissioned by a Polish publishing house. It raises issues specific not only to Belarus but also to the countries of the post-Soviet space. On 8 February 2023, the Hrodna Regional Court sentenced Andrej Pačobut to eight years in a medium-security penal colony, finding him guilty under Art. 361 (3) of the Criminal Code (calls for restrictive measures (sanctions) aimed at harming national security), Art. 130 (3) of the Criminal Code (inciting national, religious and other social enmity or discord).
V. Ban on holidays
On 27 October, it became known that the Hrodna Regional Executive Committee circulated an order regarding the ban on Halloween. Officials stressed that “organisation of events and popularisation of the Halloween holiday are inadmissible.” All its paraphernalia are prohibited – pumpkins, cobwebs, masks on the doors, because Halloween “promotes violence, aggression, antisocial behaviour of children and youth” and contradicts “the historical, cultural and spiritual traditions of the Belarusian people.” Before Halloween, officials called private organisations that advertised themed parties and demanded that they remove notices about the celebration from social media.
On 20 October, the Vova Televerdok exhibition titled “The Forest” was banned in the “Vieršy” (Poems) cultural space in Minsk. “Vova Televerdok creates geometric compositions using pure colours, striving for universal harmony,” the abstract of the exhibition said. “Whoever wanted to see “The Forest” should hurry, as the works will be removed today,” the author wrote on social media.
VII. Repressions in the book field
1. On 20 October, a female schoolteacher in Slonim was punished for keeping books on history. She was sentenced to a fine of BYN370 ($112) and confiscation of her computer for keeping and trying to sell Anatol Taras’ book A Short Course on the History of Belarus in the 9th-21st Centuries, labelled as “extremist” in Belarus.
2. On 30 October, the Knihazbor publishing house was excluded from the Unified State Register. The director of the publishing house, Hienadź Viniarski, announced this on his Facebook page: “That’s it. There is no publishing house Knihazbor in a legal sense. Knihaznor’s Era (17.03.1995–26.10.2023)”. The Knihazbor publishing house operated for 28 years and published about three thousand books.
VIII. Destruction of memorial sites
In Brest, the city executive committee said that building a housing project would continue on the site of the ghetto, where 1,214 Jews were executed. In 2019, after the remains were unearthed, construction works stopped. Activists collected signatures to ban construction and create a memorial to commemorate the 30,000 Jews exterminated in the ghetto.
IX. Repressions in the language field
1. Voice announcements in Belarusian disappeared at the bus station in Hrodna. Notices in the Belarusian language also stopped in the Minsk-Maladziečna commuter trains.
2. In Hrodna and Minsk, education officials come to inspect Polish language courses. In Hrodna, the education departments require information about students of grades 9-11 who study Polish.