The number of political prisoners in Belarus is growing with now near 1,450; up from 1,000 in February. The war in Ukraine and solidarity of Belarusians and civil society with Ukraine grant new reasons for the Lukashenka’s regime to target ordinary civilians. Even civic activism and basic right of freedom of expression online are under heavy scrutiny and prosecution.
Source — EUvsDiSiNFO — November 26, 2022 —
27 November marks the Global Day of Solidarity with Belarusian Political Prisoners.
The number of political prisoners remains one of the simplest indicators of a dictatorship. In Belarus now near 1,450.
We have provided regular updates, assembled here, on how the Minsk regime’s propaganda and manipulation distort and misrepresent its political opposition. We have featured overviews of developments in Belarus for human rights defenders with details here and here.
From bad to worse
The world’s focus has been on the war in Ukraine, including how Lukashenka has helped Putin stage Russian attacks. Meanwhile, the situation in Belarus has only gone from bad to worse. Lists of ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists’, state-sponsored lies, censorship and suppression of free media, ‘confession’ videos, mistreatment in detention, and the use of harsh imprisonment are the vocabulary of the dictatorship’s blunt, brutal language.
Talking about Belarus and political prisoners is about listing names. Flesh-and-blood individuals form these lists, just ordinary adults whose lives have been abruptly interrupted. Many are sentenced for ordinary activities: participating in online chats and debates, voicing their opinion in public, or participating in peaceful protests or gatherings. Lukashenka’s system is so paranoid that sometimes just wearing white and red colours (identical to the colours of the historic Belarusian flag) is enough to send someone to jail.
Political groups in prison
The regime forces virtually all opposition groups and members either into exile, prison, or to live under the permanent threat of persecution. This repression accelerated after the rigged 2020 presidential elections and hit opposition candidates such as Victor Babariko, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, and other prominent people. Since the end of October 2022, cases have been launched in absentia against Siarhei’s wife and the leader of the democratic opposition, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, as well as the Coordination Council.
Speaking out online
It was difficult enough in Belarus before 24 February 2022, the day of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But the war against Ukraine is far from popular among ordinary Belarusians and anti-war activities have become one of the main reasons for political persecution since February. Multiple political trials in Belarus concerned the actions of Belarusians to prevent the movement of Russian troops through the territory of Belarus, participation in anti-war protests, or merely critically speaking out online on the topic. Authorities have punished people with lengthy prison sentences, -not unlike in Russia itself.
Independent media outlets report that the Belarusian regime is broadening its online surveillance capabilities. The Minsk regime continues to target Telegram, YouTube, Instagram, Odnoklassniki, and TikTok bloggers, and it monitors virtually all popular social media for critical or simply unsanctioned content. Court trials continue against people who post anti-war content on their social media accounts. Regime-run Telegram channels repeatedly urge people not to engage with independent media and threaten them with prosecution and even capital punishment.
Building the wall with ‘black lists’, blocked websites, and jailed editors
Two lists determine the fates of Belarusian political prisoners: an ‘extremist’ list and a ‘terrorist’ list.
In recent months, the Belarusian regime has added around 1,000 new names to its list of alleged ‘extremists’. Around 1,900 individuals are on the list, managed by the Ministry of Interior, as of late November.
Another Belarusian KGB-run ‘terrorist’ list has around 1,000 individuals. People already arrested and imprisoned on political grounds are added to this list.
Authorities recently added two journalists from Tut.by, the largest online independent media outlet in Belarus, to the ‘terrorist’ list. They are Liudmila Chekina, the outlet’s former director general, jailed since May 2021, and Maryna Zolatava, the former editor-in-chief. Four other former Tut.by employees are also on the list.
In addition, the Minsk regime added the website of the Belarusian Investigative Center, the leading investigate journalism initiative, to a list of banned websites in Belarus. Aksana Kolb, chief editor of the Novy Chas (‘New Time’) newspaper, is also among the new additions.
A snapshot of other recent cases
With Perhaps the best way to observe the Day of Solidarity with Belarusian Political Prisoners is to take a snapshot of other cases from recent weeks and let them speak for themselves.
- Stanislau Kuzmitski was added to the ‘terrorist’ list and sentenced to 15 years in a high security prison for managing pro-opposition Telegram chats.
- Trade union activist Andrei Khanevich was sentenced to 5 years in prison for ‘discrediting Belarus’ and ‘contributing to extremist activities’. The case was started after Khanevich’s conversation with a journalist from Belsat TV, which operates from Poland.
- 27-year-old administrator Vadzim Vasilyeu was tried behind closed doors and sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment for managing Telegram channels popular among protesters.
- Already a political prisoner, Siarhei Hlebka was added to the ‘terrorist’ list and sentenced to an additional 11 years of imprisonment.
- Siarhei Satsuk, the already jailed editor-in-chief and investigative journalist of the Ezhednevnik newspaper, was handed an additional 8 years of imprisonment in a politically motivated trial.
- Aliaksandr Petushkou was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison and added to the ‘terrorist’ list over online comments concerning protests in Kazakhstan.
- 20-year-old Siarhei Rabtsau was sentenced to 6.5 years for comments on internet sites.
- Eduard Isayeu was jailed for 3.5 years for liking a post critical of the Belarusian regime on the Russian Odnoklassniki social network.
- Krystsina Charankova has been sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over comments, including those in opposition to the war in Ukraine, on her Instagram account.
- 68-year-old Aliaksandr Patapau, whose nephew was killed during the Russian shelling of Kyiv and nephew’s 3-year-old daughter was seriously wounded, he received 2 years in prison for posting two comments on the Odnoklassniki social network which were found ‘insulting’ against Lukashenko.
- Journalist Aliaksandr Liubenchuk has been sentenced to 3 years of imprisonment on ‘extremist’ charges, the Belarusian Association of Journalists reported.
- Political and military expert and blogger Yahor Lebiadok is in prison awaiting trial for his interview about the Russian invasion of Ukraine on charges of ‘contributing to extremist activities’.
- Darya Losik is the wife of blogger and political prisoner Ihar Losik, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in a politically motivated trial behind closed doors. She has been charged with ‘assisting extremism’ over providing a comment to the Belsat TV channel.
Ales Bialiatski, the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner, founded Viasna in 1996. He is also in jail in Belarus. Bialiatski was jailed a second time in 2021, after having already spent four years as political prisoner (2011-2014). As the date of 10 December is approaching when the Nobel Prize award ceremony will be taking place in Oslo, Ales Bialiatski will continue behind the bars, just as thousands of other Belarusian under political persecution.