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Chronicle of human rights violations in the sphere of culture (1-14 November 2023)

Last update: 16 November 2023
Chronicle of human rights violations in the sphere of culture (1-14 November 2023)

As of 14 November 2023, at least 146 cultural figures, including not less than 32 People of the Word, were behind bars.

Rehijanalnaja Hazieta publisher and chief editor Aliaksandr Mancewič was sentenced to four years in a minimum-security penal colony and a fine. 

Repressions intensified against the People of the Word’s families. The police raided the house of writer Saša Filipienka (Sasha Filipenko) ‘s parents; his father was arrested for 13 days. Political commentator Valer Karbalievič’s brother and brother’s wife spent three days behind bars.

Historian and civic activist Vasil Paliakoŭ was arrested for 15 days.

Author, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and human rights defender Aleś Bialiacki was placed into solitary confinement in the penal colony, with no access to a lawyer. 

Belarusian authorities labelled two books by Belarusian 19th-century literature classic Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič as “extremist.” 

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

1. On 3 November, the Maladziečna District Court sentenced the publisher and editor of Rehijanalnaja Hazieta Aliaksandr Mancevič to four years in a minimum-security penal colony and a fine of 400 base units, or BYN14,800 ($4,500), for “discrediting the Republic of Belarus.” On 15 March 2023, Aliaksandr Mancevič was detained after a search and placed in the pre-trial jail No. 8 in Žodzina. In his last words, Aliaksandr Mancevič said: Rehijanalnaja Hazieta was the only regular Belarusian-language local privately-owned publication in Belarus, first published in 1995 and remained so until recently, faithfully fulfilling its mission. In 2020, the year of the presidential elections and the aftermath, we followed the main journalistic principle – to show life as it is without giving it our assessments.”

2. On 8 November, cultural manager and publisher Paval Mažejka was transferred from prison into a penal colony. As of writing, the location remains unknown as his family is waiting for more information from him. 

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

1. On 1 November, historian and public figure Vasil Paliakoŭ was detained in Homiel. On 3 November, a local court found him guilty under Art. 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offences (dissemination of extremist materials) and sentenced him to 15 days of administrative arrest. Vasil Paliakoŭ, a former history teacher, was fired for political reasons.

2. On 1 November, information appeared that singer and TV personality Larysa Hrybaliova was detained in Minsk. In the evening of the same day, the singer wrote on social media that she was at home. She did not deny the fact of detention.

3. On 13 November, it became known that Mikita Siŭkoŭ, a History Faculty graduate of the Belarusian State University, and Maryna Vasilionak, an English teacher, were detained for allegedly distributing extremist materials in personal correspondence with several people.

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

1. On 3 November, “God’s Grace” Evangelical Church pastor Aliaksandr Cyrykaŭ and his wife, Nina Cyrykava, were detained in Rasony, Viciebsk region. Police officers found Belarusian national symbols in the pastor’s social media accounts. Aliaksandr Cyrykaŭ was tried and fined under Art. 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offences (unauthorized picketing). Nina Cyrykava was fined under Art. 19.11 (Part 2) of the Code of Administrative Offences (distribution of extremist materials).

2. A man was detained in Minsk driving around the city with a white-red-white ribbon and a ribbon in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

3. A resident of Navapolack was sentenced to 13 days of arrest for a hashtag with the words “Long live Belarus.” The court ruled it was unauthorized picketing.

IV. Conditions in places of detention, tortures of prisoners

1. Writer, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Viasna Human Rights Centre chairman Aleś Bialiacki was placed in solitary confinement (a cell-type room) in colony No. 9 in Horki. He has had no access to his lawyer for a long time, Aleś Bialiacki’s wife Natallia Pinčuk said, speaking at the World Forum for Democracy on 6-8 November in Strasbourg. The colony is also known as “ill-fed” or “hungry” because the food portions given to prisoners are insufficient for adults. On 3 March 2023, Aleś Bialiacki was sentenced to 10 years for human rights activism. He was moved to the penal colony in Horki in May 2023.

2. On 7 November, a package from Pen Belarus to the public figure and author of prison literature Zmicier Daškievič in a pre-trial detention centre was returned. According to the law, people in pre-trial detention can receive parcels not only from relatives. “And all our earlier parcels had arrived at the jail. Only one didn’t make it to Zmicier Daškievič in Žodzina. It came back with a note on 23 August 2023 that it was “not from relatives,” Pen Belarus chairwoman Tacciana Niadbaj wrote on her Facebook page.

V. Repressions against People of the Word’s family members

1. On 4 November, relatives of the political commentator Valer Karbalevič – brother Aleh Karbalevič and sister-in-law Jaŭhienija Karbalevič – were detained in Rečyca, Homiel region. The elderly couple spent three days in captivity behind the bars of the local detention centre. They were accused under Art. 19.11 (Part 2) of the Code of Administrative Offences (distribution of extremist products). On 10 November, the Rečyca City Court ruled to award a fine of 20 base rates, or BYN740 ($235), to Aleh Karbalevič and 15 base rates, or BYN555 ($175), to Jaŭhienija Karbalevič.

2. On 9 November, writer Sasha Filipenko wrote on his Facebook page about the persecution of his parents who live in Belarus: “My house was searched. Seven people with automatic rifles. They took Dad and told my Mom: “Say thank you to your son.” It is obvious that they are putting pressure on me to stop speaking out in the European press.” On 10 November, Sasha Filipenko reported: “Dad has been found. They gave him 13 days of arrest for reposting an article from Zerkalo. Strange times – how much joy, happiness and greetings in personal messages can a 13-day arrest for reposting can cause.”

VI. Censorship

On 3 November, it became known that the 4-6 November premiere of the interactive theatrical excursion based on Uladzimir Karatkievič’s “The Wild Hunt of King Stach” was cancelled in the “Grand Duchy of Sula” interactive history park. Park employees said the premiere was cancelled “for reasons beyond our control.”

VII. Repressions in the book sector

On 8 November, Žytkavičy District Court labelled as “extremist” two books by the classic of Belarusian literature, Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič: Collected Works. In 2 volumes, T. 1. Drama works, poetic stories and short stories / Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič; compilation, preparation, translation and commentary by J. Januškievič. – Minsk: Mast. Lit., 2007. – 494 p.: [16] l. ill.; A collection of works. In 2 volumes, T. 2. Versed stories and short stories, poems, essays, letters and messages, translations, Dubia / Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič; text, preparation and translation by J. Januškievič. – Minsk: Mast. Lit., 2008. – 598 p.: [16] l. ill.

In August 2023, literary critic Jazep Januškievič’s preface to the publication of Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič works and Dunin-Marcinkievič’s texts “The Winds Are Blowing” and “The Old Man’s Conversation” were designated as “extremist.”

Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič is a 19th-century Belarusian literature classic, the founder of national drama, and a participant in the 1863 liberation uprising.

VIII. Repressions in the language field

Signboards with Belarusian Latin characters continue to be destroyed and rewritten in the Minsk metro. Inscriptions in Latin are changed to Russian. Belarusian captions are left only in Cyrillic characters.