A review of the use of “anti-extremist” legislation in Belarus from April to June 2022 captures the main trends in the use of the markers “extremism” and “terrorism.” We analyze the publications of state media, pro-government Telegram channels, independent media, and human rights organizations. We received some of the information from the Telegram channel of the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK). This body is known for its repressive practices, including the use of “confession videos” (videos detainees, filmed under pressure, confessing guilt for the allegedly committed “offenses”). Because of the unacceptable content, Telegram blocked the GUBOPiK channel several times, so not all links in the review can be accessed. The new channel of the department is called by analogy with the profile Russian body “Center E.”
State bodies and state media often use the term “extremism” as an instrument of political pressure. In the period from April to June 2022, publications appeared on the platforms of state bodies about the need to expand the scope of the death penalty or about the importance of cooperation with Russia on the topic of “extremism.”
From April to June 2022, Human Constanta observed various repressive practices under the label of “extremism:” persecution for anti-war statements and actions continued; more criminal cases were initiated for “incitement to hostility” and “creation and participation in extremist formations,” articles on “financing of terrorist activities” and “participation in terrorist organizations” were used for the first time. People from the journalistic community are being tried for “treason to the state,” and there is no public information about many cases for “acts of terrorism.”
From April to June 2022, the Belarusian authorities made three changes to legislative acts directly and indirectly related to “extremism.” The changes affected the expansion of the grounds for the death penalty, children’s rights, and cooperation within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The Belarusian authorities continue to use law as a repressive tool, such changes being aimed at further oppression, intimidation, and persecution of dissidents.
On May 18, 2022, Alexander Lukashenko signed amendments to the Law “On the basics of the system of prevention of neglect and juvenile delinquency.” The law does not operate with the concept of “extremism” directly, but provides for a rule according to which children from the age of 10 can be placed in closed institutions for 4 involvement in educational measures, including under article 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (Administrative Code) “Violation of the procedure for organizing or holding mass events,” which since last year is also considered “extremism.”
On May 29, 2022, amendments to the Criminal Code came into force, providing for a possibility of applying the death penalty for “attempted acts of terrorism.” Previously, such a penalty could only be applied for a directly committed “act of terrorism” with aggravating circumstances (committed by an organized group, either with the use of nuclear energy facilities, or with the use of radioactive substances or nuclear materials, potent, toxic chemical or biological substances or involving with the murder of a person). Human Constanta has prepared a detailed comment about these changes. Please note that the changes are not retroactive and apply only to actions committed since May 29, 2022.
On June 16, 2022, the House of Representatives approved the bill “On ratification of the Treaty of the Member States of the Commonwealth of Independent States On countering the legalization (laundering) of proceeds from crime, the financing of terrorism and the financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” The Agreement establishes the areas of cooperation between the CIS countries in the fight against terrorism: harmonization of legislation, provision of legal assistance (search, arrest, freezing of assets), exchange of information and representatives, as well as recognition of people, groups, and organizations involved in terrorist activities and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Twice in the public space, officials voiced statistics on cases of “extremism” – in both cases, official information contradicts the data and interpretations of legislation from human rights organizations.
On April 18, 2022, the Deputy Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus representative stated in an interview that since August 2020, more than 8,500 “extremist crimes” have been recorded in Belarus, which is 5-6% of the total number of crimes. The majority of such crimes are slander and insults of officials, dissemination of information about private life and personal data (41%). Another 17% (1,465 crimes) are desecration of buildings and damage to property (here they mean graffiti and other protest-oriented actions, but the Law “On countering extremism” does not list such actions in the definition of “extremism” in Article 1). Most of the “crimes” (including incitement to enmity or discord, organization of mass riots, acts of terrorism) “were committed using information technology.”
On May 15, 2022, the head of the GUBOPiK department, Yuri Tkachuk, shared statistics on “extremist” cases of administrative offenses: in 2021, law enforcement officers detained 315 people under the article on the dissemination of “extremist materials” (Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code), and since the beginning of 2022, 237 citizens have been detained (according to the human rights center “Spring” (“Viasna”) with at the beginning of 2022, 455 people were tried for distributing “extremist materials”). Statistics on Telegram resources do not match either: according to GUBOPiK, 633 Telegram channels have been recognized as “extremist materials,” and according to the results of the analysis of the Republican List of Extremist Materials at the end of June 2022, the courts recognized 416 Telegram channels as “extremist,” teh total number of Telegram resources as of May 15, 2022 being 650.
“Extremism” and war in Ukraine
3.1. Cases of “acts of terrorism” for damaging railway tracks
On April 6, 2022, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Gennady Kazakevich reported two detentions – near Osipovichi and in the Borisovsky district. On March 30, 2022, employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, with the support of the State Security Committee (KGB) and a Special Rapid Response Unit (SOBR) detained three residents of Bobruisk “involved in the destruction of relay cabinets of the alarm system” near Osipovichi. The video published by pro–government sources shows that one of the detainees has been shot through the knees, the other has extensive wounds on his face. Kazakevich also said that on April 1, 2022, in the Borisovsky district, law enforcement officers with the use of weapons detained a fourth suspect in committing actions on the railway. The detainee was seriously injured.
On June 29, 2022, information appeared about the transfer to the prosecutor’s office of the case of three “Svetlogorsk partisans” who are accused of setting fire to a relay cabinet on one of the sections of the railway. For these actions, the detainees were charged under four articles of the Criminal Code, including Article 289 of the Criminal Code (“Act of terrorism”) with aggravating circumstances, where the death penalty is also provided as punishment.
3.2. Persecution of TikTok bloggers for their anti-war stance
On May 5, 2022, information appeared about the detention of a TikTok blogger for participating in the 2020 protests. In her videos, she spoke out against Russian aggression in Ukraine. According to the security forces, her videos “incite hostility.” In such a situation, there are risks of applying Article 130 of the Criminal Code (“incitement to hostility”).
On June 8, 2022, the court of the Frunzensky district of Minsk punished blogger Alexey Bondar and his wife Margarita with 10 days of administrative arrest. Representatives of GUBOPiK claimed that the blogger “hyped on a military conflict.”
3.3. Humanitarian economic assistance to Ukraine equated to extremism
At the initiative of GUBOPiK, a criminal case was initiated under part 2 of Article 361-3 of the Criminal Code (“Participation in an armed formation or armed conflict, military actions, recruitment or preparation of persons for such participation”) against Andrei Strizhak, head of the Repressed Aid Fund BYSOL. According to the Investigative Committee, this initiative “was reformatted to raise funds for financing and material support of the armed conflict and military operations on the territory of a neighboring state … the fund’s funds were used for material support of mercenaries, as well as Belarusians who went to fight on the territory of Ukraine on the side of the Ukrainian army.”
3.4. The transfer of information about Russian troops equated to the promotion of “extremism”
We are aware of 11 new cases about the transfer of information about military operations. In the Gomel region, 7 criminal cases were initiated under Articles 361-1 (“Participation in extremist formation”) and 361-4 (“Assistance to extremist activities”) for transmitting information to opposition resources about the location and movements of Russian troops on the territory of Belarus. Residents of the region aged 17 to 49 were detained, who sent photos and video files about the movement of military equipment, as well as information about the types of equipment and routes of its movement to independent media and the military activity monitoring channel Belaruski Gayun.
On April 4, 2022, information appeared about the detention of a resident of Borisov by GUBOPiK employees for a video with captured Russian soldiers in the bot of an “extremist resource.”
On May 4, 2022, it became known about the detention of a resident of the Pinsky district who filmed a military plane, and on May 16, 2022, a math teacher was detained who sent SMS messages about the movement of military equipment to the Belsat number.
A criminal case for “promoting extremism” was initiated against a taxi driver from Borisov for refusing to give a lift to a Russian serviceman. He sent a video of the conversation to the opposition Telegram channel, after which a case was opened against the man for “transmitting information about Russian military equipment.”
The investigation of the case against the correspondent of the Baranovichi edition of Intex-Press, Yuri Gontsarevich, who is accused of facilitating extremist activities according to Article 316-4 of the Criminal Code, has ended. The case was initiated based on photos of Russian military equipment for such independent media as Zerkalo and Radio Svaboda.
In June 2022, a court sentenced a woman to 4 years of restriction of liberty under part 1 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code for video of Russian equipment.
A resident of Baranovichi was punished with administrative arrest for transmitting information about the movement of military equipment, after searches and interrogations, he left the country.
3.5. Criminal cases against volunteers who expressed a desire to fight on the side of the Ukrainian army
Since April 2022, it is known about five cases of detention of men for registration in the Telegram bot of the Kastus Kalinovsky battalion. In four cases, the detainees were charged under Article 361-3 of the Criminal Code (“Participation in an armed formation or armed conflict, military operations on the territory of a foreign state, recruitment or preparation of persons for such participation”), in one – under Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code (“Participation in an extremist formation”).
3.6. Repression for expressing opinions about the war in other forms
On April 21, 2022, former journalist Arseniy Pakhomov was detained for “spreading destructive information about the war in Ukraine,” as well as for the fact that the man “pasted stickers with prohibited images at night.”
On April 22, 2022, information appeared about the detention of a teacher of the Borisov Medical College, who expressed his position in support of Ukraine at lectures, mentioned the importance of “unregistered Belarusian symbols,” and was also subscribed to “extremist” Telegram channels.
On June 3, 2022, GUBOPiK employees detained a Minsk resident for posting a drawing on Facebook depicting two balloons with Russian and Ukrainian flags. The drawing featured a swastika and satirical political inscriptions.
On June 28, 2022, a resident of Minsk was detained for anti-Russian songs in the courtyard of his house, which allegedly “contained calls to kill Russian soldiers.” The authorities are considering the initiation of a criminal case under Article 130 of the Criminal Code (“Incitement to hostility”).
Detentions for criminal cases occur on the daily basis: Belarusian authorities have opened 24 new cases and conducted 18 trials on charges of “inciting hostility” – this is more than at the beginning of the 2022 (according to our information, there were 17 detentions and 15 arrests in the first three months of 2022). Authorities continue to initiate cases related to actions conducted abroad. There were also recorded cases of detentions connected to “extremist cases” in Russia followed by extradition to Belarus. The instances of applying articles of the Criminal Code have become more frequent – the first cases of “creating terrorist formations” and “financing of terrorist activities” have been initiated. People with a journalistic background are being held accountable for “treason to the state.” Law enforcement agencies detained at least 26 people for “creating or participating in extremist formations.” Cases following the same actions are initiated under different articles of the Criminal Code.
4.1. Article 130 of the Criminal Code (“Incitement of racial, national, religious or other social enmity or hostility”)
As part of the “Zeltser case” that was initiated after insulting comments were made in regard to the murdered KGB officer Dmitry Fedosyuk, the courts passed sentences against online commentators under Articles 130 and 369 of the Criminal Code (“Insulting a representative of the authorities”). On April 4, 2022, Brest Regional Court sentenced a local resident to 2.5 years in a penal colony, and on April 14, the same court sentenced another Brest resident to 3 years in a prison colony and a fine of 100 basic units for three comments. On May 18, 2022, the Minsk Regional Court sentenced a political prisoner with epilepsy to two years in prison for videos and comments on TikTok, where she expressed her attitude towards the aforementioned incident. It is also known that the detention of another political prisoner, Kirill Suslin, has been extended in connection to this case. On June 29, 2022, a music school teacher was convicted for commenting on the death of a KGB officer – she received a sentence of 1 year and 2 months in prison. There is also information about new detentions for “insulting comments” regarding other deceased law enforcement officers – on June 13, 2022, GUBOPiK employees detained a young man for comments about the death of an employee of the Shklovsky district police department Dmitry Khodorenko, who died from burns during a fire, on the TUT.by portal.
The persecutions of journalistic organizations and employees of information portals have intensified. On May 18, 2022, KGB officers detained Konstantin Zolotykh, a director of the “Belarusians and the Market” periodical, and Yulia Kohno, an accountant, on suspicion of “inciting hostility.” The staff also questioned as a witness the editor-in-chief, Andrey Alexandrovich. On June 9, 2022, political prisoner and editor-in-chief of the “Daily” periodical Sergei Satsuk was charged with inciting hostility under Article 130 of the Criminal Code and abuse of power or official authority under Article 426 of the Criminal Code. On June 16, 2022, the editor-in-chief, the executive editor, and the host of the “AutoBusiness” social media site were detained for publishing messages “calling for violence against police officers” in a work chat in August 2020.
On April 14, 2022, GUBOPiK employees in the Gomel region detained a utility worker who “has shown violent activity in social networks with the goal of inciting social hostility, wrote insults with calls to radical actions, praised the Ukrainian Nazis.”
On April 18, 2022, the Minsk City Court sentenced the surgeon Andrei Lyubetsky to 5 years in prison for “public statements about his decision to violate his medical oath” and “hindering the provision of medical care to policemen and their family members,” and also allegedly urging his colleagues to perform the same actions.
On April 20, 2022, information about the beginning of a trial against a resident of Grodno appeared, who, according to the case materials, made posts on Telegram, “in which he incited illegal actions against representatives of state bodies.” In addition to the article on inciting hostility, he is charged with plotting a riot, as well as insulting state officials.
On June 1, 2022, a court in St. Petersburg decided on a preventive measure in the form of detention in a pre-trial detention center against a resident of Orsha, who now is to be extradited to Belarus, where he is charged under Articles 130 and 368 of the Criminal Code (“Insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus”).
Examples of cases incited for online comments on other topics: On June 1, 2022, the Department of the Investigative Committee for the Grodno region completed the investigation of the case “under articles of extremist character” against a local resident who posted “offensive” messages in Telegram. On June 8, 2022, a resident of Vitebsk was detained for “inciting hostility” in the comments. Not only Belarusian security forces and peacekeepers are mentioned as a vulnerable group, but also employees of the former Ukrainian Berkut unit and pro-government journalist Lyudmila Gladkaya. On June 9, 2022, police officers violently detained Dmitry Shabetnik, the son of an activist from Rechitsa. On June 22, 2022, security forces detained a senior lecturer at the Institute of Business of the Belarusian State University (BSU) in framework of “investigation of cases of extremism” for the comment “We will win or we will be avenged. By law or just like that. We have to try till the end.” On June 24, 2022, a “penitential video” with a schoolboy who is suspected of writing 604 offensive comments was published.
The transfer of personal data of security forces and government representatives to opposition resources continued to be interpreted as “inciting social hostility.” In this regard, it is known about the detention by GUBOPiK employees of a former employee of the Oktyabrsky district administration of Minsk, lawyer Anastasia Lazarenko, a woman who worked with information databases, an employee of an insurance company, an employee of a state company, and another unknown citizen.
On May 6, 2022, the Grodno Regional Court found Russian citizen Sofia Sapega guilty under Articles 130 of the Criminal Code and 179 of the Criminal Code (“Illegal collection or spread of information about private life”) and sentenced her to 6 years in prison. According to investigators, Sofia was the administrator of the Telegram channel “The Black Book of Belarus,” which publishes personal data of law enforcement officers who allegedly violated the rights of citizens. She was detained after the incident with the forced landing of a Ryanair plane at Minsk airport on May 23, 2021.
The practice of punishing people for the transfer of personal data of officials continues to be unsystematic. People can be charged under Article 130 of the Criminal Code (with a penalty of up to 12 years in prison) or under the “non–extremist” Article 203-1 of the Criminal Code (“Illegal actions with respect to information about private life and personal data” – up to 5 years in prison). Law enforcement officers detained a resident of Brest, who created a virtual button for the website “Black Map of the occupiers” and a citizen who sent the data of several security forces to the feedback bot. An employee of the state registration agency is charged simultaneously under Articles 130 and 203-1 of the Criminal Code (“Illegal actions with respect to information about private life and personal data”). A resident of Gomel was sentenced to 2.5 years in a prison colony, including under Article 203-1 of the Criminal Code.
A criminal case has been opened for actions carried out outside of Belarus: on April 11, 2022, the Prosecutor General’s Office initiated a criminal case for replacing the Belarusian state flag with a white-red-white one on the territory of the memorial complex on the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp during a commemorative event. According to the prosecutor’s office, such actions “are clearly cynical in nature, humiliate the honor and dignity of Belarusians.”
In three cases, the accusation of “inciting hostility” was charged together with Article 342 of the Criminal Code (“Organization and preparation of actions grossly violating public order, or active participation in them”). On April 6, 2022, activist Dmitry Dashkevich was detained (additionally charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code). A trial against a resident of Mogilev began on June 16, 2022, and an ex-prosecutor Yevgeny Babak was found guilty and sentenced to 4 years in prison on May 12, 2022 under the same articles,.
On June 16, 2022, Yuri Zhukovsky was sentenced to 8 years in a prison colony – he was found guilty of “mass riots” (Article 293 of the Criminal Code), “gross violation of public order” (Article 342 of the Criminal Code), “incitement of hostility” (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) and “insulting the President” (Article 368 of the Criminal Code).
The tendency to persecute people for critical comments on social networks simultaneously under Article 130 and defamatory articles of the Criminal Code continues to exist. On May 18, 2022, the Grodno Regional Court sentenced a local resident to three years in a prison colony under four articles of the Criminal Code: part 1 of Article 130 (“Incitement to social hatred”), Article 364 (“Threat of violence against a police officer”), Article 391 (“Insulting a judge”), Article 369 (“Insulting a representative authorities”). On June 10, 2022, a Minsk resident was sentenced to 4 years in prison under Articles 130, 368 (“Insulting the President”) and 369 (“Insulting a representative of power”) of the Criminal Code. Also, on May 24, 2022, the Investigative Committee announced the completion of the investigation of a criminal case of “extremist orientation” in relation to a resident of Bobruisk within the framework of 9 articles of the Criminal Code at once (including under Article 130 of the Criminal Code). On June 23, 2022, the Grodno Regional Court sentenced a local resident to 3 years in a prison colony under Articles 130, 368, and 369 of the Criminal Code. On June 27, 2022, the investigation of a criminal case against a resident of Mogilev, who is charged with Articles 130 and 368 of the Criminal Code, began behind closed doors.
There was information about the use of Article 130 of the Criminal Code to punish people for non-political reasons: on May 11, the court of the Mogilev region sentenced a local resident to 2 years of home probation for a racist comment “Death to black monkeys. Kill a n**** – save humanity.” Before the 2020 protests, similar publications were the ones most often judged under Article 130 of the Criminal Code, but now these are isolated cases.
4.2. Article 289 of the Criminal Code (“Act of terrorism”)
On April 15, 2022, the Minsk Regional Court sentenced a resident of the capital to 10 years in a prison colony on charges of “attempted act of terrorism” – for attempting to set fire to the summer house of the Chairman of the Supreme Court Valentin Sukalo. On May 30, 2022, the same court sentenced the resident of Pinsk Vyacheslav Maleychuk, who was accused of “preparing terrorist attacks in a military camp Pechy of the Borisovsky district and on Uborevich Street in Minsk in 2021,” to 22 years in a maximum-security prison. He was also found guilty of illegal actions with respect to explosives.
A trial behind closed doors against a resident of the Borisovsky district accused of setting fire to two portals of the BelToll toll collection system began on April 20, 2022.
On May 18, 2022, a hearing of the regional court concerning the case of “the Autukhovich group” began in Grodno prison No. 1 – 12 people were accused under 12 different articles of the Criminal Code, including articles on incitement to hostility, an attempt to seize state power unconstitutionally, calls to harm state security, illegal actions with weapons and an act of terrorism. Autukhovich himself is also accused of treason against the state. The participants of the “group” are charged with “arson of an Audi 80 car and a one-story house in Volkovysk belonging to a police officer, as well as explosion of a police officer’s car in Grodno.”
On April 22, 2022, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict of the Minsk Regional Court against four anarchists involved in the case of the “Olinevich group.”
On June 30, 2022, the Gomel Regional Court sentenced a local resident with Russian citizenship to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay damages in the amount of over 16 thousand Belarusian rubles (about $ 4,700). According to the prosecutor’s office data, a Homel resident “damaged and destroyed a crane and set fire to construction equipment in September 2019, punctured the tires of 39 trolleybuses in a transport depot, and later set fire to a car that belongs to a police officer in November 2021.” The man is also accused of “leading an extremist formation” (Telegram channel “Lukamem” with 900 subscribers).
On April 15, 2022, the director of the Vilnius printing center was detained as part of the case on “an act of terrorism by a group of people by prior agreement.”
On May 30, 2022, activist of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Gramada” Ivan Sautin was detained and placed in a pre-trial detention center in Kaliningrad. The request for his extradition includes four articles of the Criminal Code, including those related to “terrorism,” but charges under three of the four articles were dropped “as a result of verification by the Russian side.” The final charge remains unknown.
4.3. Article 290-1 of the Criminal Code (“Financing of terrorist activities”)
On April 27, 2022, a message appeared in a student chat concerning the detention of Dmitry Zhuk, a senior lecturer at the Department of Economic Theory and Marketing of the Belarusian State Technological University (BSTU), in regard to the case of “financing terrorism.” The specific charges against the teacher are unknown. This is the first time such a reason for detention was named. In section 8, we describe the changes in the List of those accused of “terrorism.”
4.4. Article 290-5 of the Criminal Code (“Organization of the activities of a terrorist organization and participation in the activities of such an organization”)
Since Belarusian opposition organizations and information resources started to be recognized as terrorist (for more information about changes in the List of those accused of “terrorism” see section 8), the first criminal cases for the leadership of such organizations also appeared. On May 20, 2022, it became known that the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against Stepan Putilo, Jan Rudik, and other people “for organizing and directing the activities of a terrorist organization NEXTA.” Media activists are called “terrorists” who “repeatedly called for inciting social hostility and enmity, blocking roads and coordinating street riots, committing terrorist attacks on the railway and sabotage at enterprises that could lead to man-made disasters.”
4.5. Article 356 of the Criminal Code (“Treason to the state”)
This article is not included in the description of the Law “On Countering Extremism,” but refers to “extremist activity” in Article 19 of the Law “On Citizenship.” The practice of applying the article and the interpretation of the legislator allows it to be used against the journalistic community, same as extremist articles.
In April 2022, the Belarusian authorities charged Belsat political prisoner Ekaterina Andreeva with “treason to the state.” The court hearing is scheduled for July 4, 2022.
On May 7, 2022, the final charge for the journalist of the “Novy Chas” periodical Denis Ivashin became known – “treason to the state” for alleged cooperation with Ukrainian intelligence. Denis participated in the Ukrainian initiative “Informnapalm.”
On June 6, 2022, the Minsk Regional Court began considering a criminal case against employees of the independent news agency BelaPAN behind closed doors. Journalists Andrei Alexandrov and Irina Zlobina are also accused of “treason to the state” for “providing assistance to a foreign organization “By_Help.” Also, together with another journalist Dmitry Novozhilov, they are accused of “creating an extremist formation” (Article 361-1) and “tax evasion” (Article 243 of the Criminal Code).
In June 2022, the case against three defendants who were charged with “treason against the state” in the case of “Rabochiy Ruh” was shelved.
4.6. Article 359 of the Criminal Code (“Act of terrorism against a state or public figure”)
On June 6, 2022, a trial against four alleged members of the informal opposition organization “Busly Lyatsyats,” recognized by the Belarusian authorities as a terrorist organization, began in the Minsk City Court. Andrey Budai, Alexey Gamezo, and Alexey Ivanisov are accused of damaging the car of a judge of the Borisovsky district in March 2021 and a window in the apartment of an employee of the Minsk prosecutor’s office in April 2021. They are charged with “inciting hostility” (Article 130 of the Criminal Code), “creating an organization to carry out terrorist activities or participating in it” (Article 290-4 of the Criminal Code), “an act of terrorism against a state or public figure” (Article 359 of the Criminal Code), and “calls to harm national security” (Article 361 of the Criminal Code) and according to some other articles of the Criminal Code. The fourth accused, Alexander Muravyev, is accused only under Articles 290-4 and 359 of the Criminal Code out of all the “extremist” articles.
4.7. Article 361 of the Criminal Code “Calls for restrictive measures (sanctions), other actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus”
On June 13, 2022, the case of the Soligorsk city coach who was detained for distributing opposition underground press, in particular, the “Honest Newspaper” periodical, was sent to the court. According to the results of the examination, the investigation found that the man “was involved in inciting hostility committed by a group of persons, as well as in appeals aimed at harming national security” and other articles. On June 17, 2022, it became known that Alexander Danilevich, a lawyer and BSU teacher, who was detained in May, was accused under this article. On June 21, 2022, it became known that a trucker from Lida was detained under the same article.
4.8. Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code (“Creation of an extremist formation or participation in it”)
Several cases of criminal prosecution are related to the registration in the Telegram bot “Peramoga” Plan (recognized as an “extremist formation” alongside BYPOL in November 2021). In some cases, people only registered or received a newsletter, and could also unsubscribe even before the security forces arrived. Often such detentions were accompanied by special units participation.
On May 18, 2022, a video depicting arrest of a climber who allegedly “offered BYPOL assistance in the form of training and providing equipment” appeared in pro-government sources.
On April 8, 2022, GUBOPiK employees opened a criminal case on creation of an “extremist formation” against the administrator of the REZYSTANS channel, which was originally a source of cultural and historical information, but acquired an oppositional character after the events of 2020. On the same day, the creator of the opposition channel “Community of Railway Workers of Belarus” was detained.
On April 22, 2022, the Minsk Regional Court appointed 4.5 to 5 years in a prison colony to anarchists accused of participating in the “extremist formation” “Pramen.” The participants were detained in the summer of 2021, and “Pramen” was only recognized as a “formation” in autumn.
On June 14, 2022, the Investigative Committee announced the completion of the investigation of the criminal case against the administrator of the “MAZ 97%” chat and one of the participants, who was charged under Articles 361-1, 342 of the Criminal Code (“Organization and preparation of actions grossly violating public order, or active participation in them”), and 361 of the Criminal Code (“Calls to the detriment of national security”). The channel was recognized as an “extremist formation” only in May 2022.
On April 21, 2022, it became known that in February, the Vitebsk Regional Court sentenced a resident of Polotsk to 7.5 years in prison for administering the Telegram channel “Polotsk Novopolotsk Country For Life Chat Freedom to Sergei Tikhanovsky.” In addition to Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code, he was charged with “inciting hostility,” as well as “training people to participate in mass riots” (Article 293 of the Criminal Code) for reposting a “memo for a protester” from the Telegram channel “NEXTA.” On May 20, 2022, the same court punished a resident of Polotsk with 4.5 years in prison for “participating in an extremist formation” and “mass riots.” On May 25, 2022, a local resident was sentenced to 11 years in a prison colony behind closed doors by the Minsk City Court, reasons including “creating an extremist formation – the Telegram channel of the Cascade area community.” On June 13, 2022, the former administrator of the area community chat “9th kilometer” was detained (absent from the lists of extremist materials and extremist formations), and on June 15, 2022, the administrator of the Vitebsk chat recognized as “extremist material” was detained.
On April 29, 2022, it became known that journalist Irina Slavnikova was accused of creating an “extremist formation Belsat” – she “formed the structure of the community, distributed roles, adjusted the news agenda, endowed and financed the activities of the criminal group.”
On June 8, 2022, Andrei Kuzhechik, a freelance employee of the “Radio Svaboda” publication, was sentenced to 6 years in a prison colony.
A criminal case was initiated against a resident of Stolin on participation in an unknown “extremist formation.”
On April 20, 2022, the owners of the real estate agency “KUB” Vasily and Alla Romanenko were detained, Vasily accused of “participating in an extremist formation.” On June 10, 2022, a criminal case was initiated against another businessman – the owner of the former online store of national symbols “Symbal.by ” Pavel Belous, although the store itself is not recognized as an “extremist formation.”
On June 2, 2022, the KGB completed a preliminary investigation into the cases of five defendants in the “coup case”: Yuri Zenkovich, Alexander Feduta, Grigory Kostusev, Olga Golubovich, and Denis Kravchuk, who are “involved in the attempted assassination of A. Lukashenko.” Yuri Zenkovich, among other things, is accused of creating an “extremist formation.”
On June 23, 2022, the Minsk Regional Court sentenced the philosopher and creator of the “Flying University” Vladimir Matskevich to 5 years in prison, reasoning including “creation of an extremist formation SCHOD.”
An investigation has been completed against an employee of a payment processing center in Vitebsk who “carried out extremist activities”: according to investigators, in 3 years he copied the personal data of almost 1.5 million citizens of Belarus from the information system and transferred it to opposition channels recognized as extremist. The man was charged under 6 articles of the Criminal Code: 203-1, 293, 342, 361-1, 368, 369.
On April 18, 2022, the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation approved the request of the Belarusian security forces for the extradition of a resident of Vitebsk, Yana Pinchuk, who is accused of leading three opposition channels in Telegram under Articles 130, 203-1, 361, and 361-1 of the Criminal Code in Belarus.
4.9. Article 361-2 of the Criminal Code (“Financing extremist activity”)
On June 20, 2022, a resident of the Minsk district, who “transferred about 800 US dollars to the organization BYPOL in May 2021” and is now charged with “financing extremist activity” (BYPOL was recognized as an extremist formation in November 2021), was reported to be arrested. A criminal case was also launched against Alexander Volchek for transferring cryptocurrency in the amount of 0.072 Ethereum to Kastus Kalinovsky’s regiment (Kalinovsky’s regiment is currently not classified as an extremist formation).
On May 17, 2022, political prisoner Yulia Syrykh was released from jail and the alleged offence, namely “financing extremist activity,” was substituted with a milder one (Yulia volunteered with the “Country for Life”(“Strana dlia zhizni”) movement – she was responsible for organizing care packages for political prisoners).
4.10. Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code (“Promotion of extremist activity”)
Most of the charges under this article are brought for cooperation with opposition Telegram channels, including in the form of dissemination of data.
On April 8, 2022, in Baranovichi, a railway employee was arrested for “sending shots of railway transport and his colleagues to one of the Telegram channels.” On April 20, 2022, Belarusian authorities charged a mother of many children from Pruzhany with violations of six articles, including “promotion of extremism” – she distributed information about “officials who carried out criminal prosecution against her family” in return for a fee. On May 12, 2022, an electrician working with one of the state-owned enterprises was arrested for sending photos via messenger. On April 29, 2022, an amateur photographer was arrested for sending his photos to resources recognized as extremist. On May 19, 2022, the Prosecutor General’s Office handed over to the court the case materials on charges against the son of an investigator from Zhodino, accused of distributing a copy of his father’s internal corporate document to NEXTA Telegram channel (the father was previously fired for his son’s actions).
It has also been reported about two prosecutions launched under the mentioned article for participating in the “Victory” (“Peramoga”) Plan: a man, charged with violation of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code, was arrested on May 15, 2022, and a resident of Brest was arrested on May 10, 2022.
On May 15, 2022, a former political prisoner, who was wanted by the police in Belarus, was arrested in Russia for “promoting extremism.”
4.11. Article 369-1 of the Criminal Code (“Discrediting the Republic of Belarus”)
On June 7, 2022, the court of the Novobelitsky district of the city of Gomel sentenced the political prisoner, a 68-year-old pensioner Nikolai Vitikov, to 8 months’ imprisonment for expressing opinion about amendments to the Constitution in a letter sent to the district newspaper “Lighthouse” (“Mayak”). The letter was regarded as “an attempt to disseminate false, offensive information about the activities of state bodies, law enforcement officers.”
On June 22, 2022, the Pruzhany District Court sentenced a 65-year-old activist Elena Gnauk to three and a half years’ imprisonment in a colony and a fine of 3,200 Belarusian rubles (equals about $ 1,000), for making Instagram and Facebook posts about Kurdish families and the migrant-related situation in Belarus in the fall of 2021. According to the court, “these publications contain false information about the legal status of foreign citizens in the Republic of Belarus, aimed at causing significant damage to the interests of the state.”
Over the analyzed period, we practicably witnessed “special operations” manufactured to bring people from various social groups accountable for committing administrative offences including both the dissemination of Nazi symbols (12 cases) and dissemination of “extremist materials” (32 cases).
5.1. Article 19.10 of the Administrative Code (“Propaganda or public demonstration, production, distribution of Nazi symbols or attributes”)
From April to June 2022, GUBOPiK employees detained alleged proponents of “nazi” and “fascist” ideologym, and “ultra-right” ideology. Records of detention of a total of 12 people became available in pro-government channels on May 9, 2022. 4 people were detained for making thematic tattoos (“Nazi tattoos,” “extremist body inscriptions”). 2 of them, as evidenced by their “confessional videos,” promised to remove these tattoos after serving the penalty. In some cases, the ground for detention related to literature “propagating threatening ideologies,” as well as the dissemination of extremist materials and propaganda of Nazism.
5.2. Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code (“Distribution, manufacture, storage, transportation of information products containing calls for extremist activities or promoting such activities”)
Over three months, cases of 32 detentions became known to us (55 cases were recorded in the last period), but details of most of the cases are not publicly available, so we cannot claim that the number of cases of repressions declined.
On May 31, 2022, a resident of Vitebsk approached the police to testify about his neighbors, but was arrested for “being subscribed to extremist materials.” On June 23, 2022, a “confessional video” with an associate professor of BSU, arrested for subscribing to “extremist” channels, was released where the professor “promised to unsubscribe from them.” Another case, related to the distribution of extremist materials in print format, related to the arrest of a resident of Grodno by GUBOPiK on June 5, 2022.
Three catholic priests were fined: on April 28, 2022, a priest from Stolbtsy was fined 960 rubles for making reposts of materials from Belsat and Radio Liberty, on May 12, 2022, a priest from Gorki was fined 640 rubles, and on May 14, 2022, the Postavsky District Court fined a priest Andrzej Bulczak 960 rubles.
Four representatives of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Gramada” were fined. On April 5, 2022, Roman Rozhdestvensky was fined 640 rubles in Cherikov for reacting with “like” to a Facebook post in 2020, on May 17, 2022, Dmitry Ivanov was fined 240 rubles, and on June 20 and June 21, 2022, Anna Skachak was fined 1920 rubles in total for making reposts on “VKontakte,” and “Facebook.”
On June 14, 2022 in the morning, 5 lawyers of the Minsk Regional Council were arrested for posting “extremist materials” in a private chat of a legal consultation in Smolevichi.
On June 14 , 2022 , the prosecutor ‘s office of the Sovetsky district of Minsk detected that books, listed in the Republican list of extremist materials, are available on kufar.by website, as well as in online stores OZON and Bestbooks.by. The Prosecutor’s Office issued an order to remove the ads and launched an administrative case under Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code.
Amendments to the Republican list of extremist materials
Over April-June 2022 the Republican list of extremist materials, available on the website of the Ministry of Information, was supplemented with records of 99 recent court decisions on the recognition of materials as extremist (compared to 198 decisions as of the beginning of the year). A total of 235 informational materials were banned (470 over the last three months), 122 items of which are Telegram resources.
The list includes chats of strike committees (“Belarusian Railway for Life” (“BelZhD dlia Zhizni”), “INDEPENDENT AZOT CHAT,” “BelAZ Movement” (“RUKH BelAZa”), university opposition movements (“Solidarity of the BSPU” (“Salidarnasts BDPU”), “Law Verum,” “BSEU | INITIATIVE,” “PSU AGAINST VIOLENCE”). On April 1, 2022, the court of the Central District of Minsk recognized Telegram channel “Kastus Kalynoyski Batallion” and the respective Telegram chat “Belarusian Volunteers Chat” (“Chat Belaruskikh dabraahvotnikay”) as “extremist materials.” The channel of the movement “Young Front,” the chat of the initiative “Cyberpartisans,” the resources of the opposition activist Olga Karach were listed as well. Repressions against NEXTA media resource continues: its Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Facebook, VKontakte, and YouTube accounts were labeled “extremist materials” on June 1, 2022.
Compared to the previous periods, the analyzed period is marked by a larger number of TikTok accounts recognized as “extremist materials” (12 accounts in total). These channels hosted various videos criticizing both the Belarusian and Russian regime, as well as cartoons with the character of A. Lukashenko.
Social networks accounts are increasingly recognized as extremist: 20 Facebook accounts, 16 VKontakte accounts and 5 Odnoklassniki accounts became listed. The list also started to encompass three videos covering the protests in Borisov, as well as 14 YouTube channels.
During the analyzed period, four books were recognized as “extremist materials”: “The Belarusian National Idea” by Dmitry Lukashuk and Maxim Goryunov, in which civil society representatives express their views on the self-consciousness of Belarusians; the fiction novel titled “Dogs in Europe” (“Sabaki Jeuropy”) by Olgerd Bakharevich, which touches upon the topics of nationality, state, dictatorship; a collection of articles titled “Belarus at the crossroads” by Anatoly Taras; a book devoted to Belarusian military symbols titled “Military history of Belarus. Heroes. Symbols. Colors” by Viktor Lyakhor (according to pro-government activists, the book “praises collaboration and police regime in its perverted form”).
A number of independent media resources were listed as “extremist materials”: the website and social media accounts of “Mediazona,” “Media-Polesie,” “Bridge” (“Most”), the Telegram channel of the “Brest Newspaper” (“Brestskaya Gazeta”), the Instagram account of “Hrodna.Life” and its logo, as well as the channel of underground media resource “ByProsvet.” For some reason, two videos posted on Belsat YouTube channel were recognized as “extremist,” though YouTube channel itself was previously already labeled extremist. The Telegram channel “HARBACEVIČ,” managed by the journalist of “Nasha Niva” Artem Gorbatsevich, was recognized as “extremist” as well. The list started to encompass a popular YouTube channel, posting interviews with representatives of civil society, called “Life is Raspberry” (“Zhyzn-malina”), its chats and logo. Independent analytical resources – Telegram channels “Belarusian Order” and “Economy of Belarus” – were also listed as “extremist.”
The list was supplemented with the accounts of foundations designed to help the repressed and solidarity initiatives (“By_help,” “BYSOL,” “Media Solidarity Belarus,” “Voices From Belarus”), as well as accounts of their founders and leaders (Andrei Strizhak, Alexei Leonchik, Alexandra Zvereva, Maria Zabara, Yaroslav Likhachevsky and others).
The application of the “Digital Solidarity” initiative, available on AppStore and GooglePlay, was recognized as “extremist material.” The list started to encompass human rights-related resources: website dissident.com and the respective Telegram account, as well as the channel of the Mogilev human rights organization MAYDAY.TEAM. “Mirror” website of the unregistered Union of Poles in Belarus was also listed.
The list was also replenished with neo–Nazi content: Vadim Shilko’s VKontakte account (a neo-Nazi quote was posted in “status” field), “Wolfsangel Shop” online store account (sells fascist symbols and literature), as well as the inactive “WHITE H8CORE 88.Chat” channel with only one subscriber.
Changes in the List of Organizations, Formations, Individual Entrepreneurs and Citizens Involved In Extremist Activities
7.1. “Extremist formations”
To date, there are 69 formations included in the List of Organizations, Formations, Individual Entrepreneurs and Citizens Involved In Extremist Activities by the Ministry of Internal Affairs or KGB. Over a period of three months, 20 entries were added to the List. The criminal liability for creation, management, or participation in an “extremist formation” is up to 6 years of imprisonment under Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code.
There are two independent media in the List, “Flagshtok” and KUKU.ORG. As of the end of June, 2022, there were seven regional media and some nationwide online resources in the List. The Ministry of Internal Affairs also included an independent underground publishing “Chesnaya gazeta” (“Honest Paper”) in the List.
26 Telegram resources with varying numbers of followers have been added to the list, namely Telegram channels “Belarus golovnogo mozga” (“Belarus of the Brain”) with circa 150000 followers, “Nick and Mike” with over 50000 followers, and “Lida dlya zhizni” (“Lida For Life”) with ca. 1000 followers, and group chats with people living in the same neighborhoods (e.g., chat “VULITSA GAGARYNA” (“Gagaryn Street”) with 55 participants).
“Chornaya kniga Belarusi” (“The Black Book of Belarus”) and “Karateli Belarusi” (“The Punitive Expeditioners of Belarus) together with affiliated sites and chats were deemed “extremist formations.” “MAYA KRAINA BELARUS” (“Belarus, My Land”) was listed twice (first time in October, 2021), second time with addition of some channels (“Usy Lukashenko” (“The Mustache of Lukashenko”) and “Elekhtarat” (“Electorate”).
Among the “extremist formations,” there have been listed a small independent blog “Samakrutkin” that had some posts criticizing the authorities, with 39 followers; a popular political satire channel “Chai z malinavym varennem” (“Tea With Raspberry Jam”), as well as a closed group “Boltalka TCh8” (“Chat TCh8”) in the Viber messenger.
There have also been added some grassroots initiatives to the List, such as social awareness campaign “NASH DOM” (“Our home”), “Belarusian Council of Culture,” organisation supporting Belarusian cultural projects, “Forum of Belarusian Democratic Forces,” as well as an organization supporting athletes, facing repressions, “Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation”). YouTube and Telegram channels of a popular Belarusian opposition activist Vadim Prokopyev have also been added to the List.
The List also includes such independent opposition worker movements as Belarusian Independent Labour Union of Workers of the Radioelectionics Production Sector, “Soobshchestvo zheleznodorozhnikov Belarusi” (“Belarus Railway Workers Community”) and “MAZ 97%” (“Minsk Automobile Plant 97%”).
For the first time, there were added neonazist resources to the List of “extremist formations,” such as Telegram group “WHITE H8CORE 88” that was publishing nazist symbols, instructions for making Molotov cocktails, rules for unarmed combat, as well as spreading of messages with neonazist agenda.
7.2. “Extremist organizations”
An officially registered group of people can be deemed an “extremist organization” by the Supreme Court or a regional court judgment. The assets of an “extremist organization” are to be confiscated, while the members of such organizations are prohibited to establish a new organization during the next five years. There is no criminal liability for the activity of an “extremist organization.”
On May 11, 2022, for the first time ever, Hrodna Regional Court declared that the Belarusian Independent Labor Union of the Workers of OAO “Hrodna Azot” was an “extremist organization” (for spreading “extremist materials”). On June 14, 2022, the Supreme Court declared that the Limited liability company “TUT BY MEDIA” was an “extremist organization.”
7.3. People involved in “extremist activities”
The List of the Citizens of the Republic of Belarus, Foreign Citizens and Persons Without Citizenship Involved In Extremist Activities was originally published on the 23rd of March, 2022, and since then has continuously been extended for hundreds of people who have received court judgments in connection with “extremist articles.”
As of the end of June 2022, there are 426 people on the list (of whom 286 have been added over the course of the last three months). The majority of the additions are connected with the “defamation” articles of the Criminal Code:
- Article 369 (“insulting a representative of the authorities”) – 67 people;
- Article 368 (“insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus”) – 36 people.
54 persons from the List are now serving their sentences after being convicted in connection with Article 342 of the Criminal Code (“gross violation of public order”), 36 persons were charged with Article 130 of the Criminal Code (“incitement of racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord”), 32 persons were charged with Article 293 of the Criminal Code (“mass riots”). The majority of people are charged with several articles of the Criminal Code.
Some elements of crime in the list are not considered “extremist activities” according to the Anti-extremist legislation: Article 188 of the Criminal Code (“Slander”), Article 339 of the Criminal Code (“Delinquency”), Article 341 of the Criminal Code (“Desecration of Buildings and Damage to Property”), and Article 367 of the Criminal Code (“Slander of the President of the Republic of Belarus”).
Changes in the List of Organizations and Private Persons Involved In Terrorism Activities
To date, to the List of Organizations and Private Persons Involved In Terrorism Activities have only been added people from Belarus. Over the last three months, 38 new persons have been added to the list. In the media, there is no information about the majority of people on the List. The grounds for inclusion in the List are like those for the List of the Citizens of the Republic of Belarus, Foreign Citizens and Persons Without Citizenship Involved In Extremist Activities.
At this momen, there are 129 Belarusian citizens on the List. From April to June, the grounds for including a person in the List were not only “acts of terrorism,” but also Articles 130 (“Incitement of racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord”) and 293 (“mass riots”) of the Criminal Code.
Bloggers Ihar Losik and Paval Vinahradau, as well as Maria Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak have also been included in the List (they are also mentioned in the List of Persons Involved In Extremist Activities).
April through June, 2022, the following persons were included in the List: five people charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code (“Mass Riots”) within the frame of the case of the “Armiya z narodam” (“Army With The People”) Telegram channel, four people suspected of the “acts of terrorism” and of violations of other articles within the frame of the case of the opposition initiative “Busly lyatsyats” (“Storks Are Flying”), three persons suspected of terrorist attacks on the railway (one of them was a member of the “railway partizans”), as well as a number of the accused for commenting online under the Article 130 of the Criminal Code (“Incitement of racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord”).
There have been many standalone defendants in high-profile cases on the “acts of terrorism:” a person accused burning a car that belonged to the head of Department for Executions of Sentences and puncturing tires of 39 trolleybuses in Homel; a person accused of throwing a fiery bottle at the building of the Mahileu Institute of the Ministry of Internal Affairs building; a person accused of attempted arson of a cottage house of a Supreme Court chairperson; a person accused of placing spike strips on the way of a pro-government motor rally “For the United Belarus;” as well as a resident of Halshany who was charged under the “terrorist act” article for a mocking call to set the KGB and local prosecution office buildings on fire.
On April 8, 2022, the Supreme Court recognized “NEXTA” Telegram channel along with its subdivisions “NEXTA Live” and “LUXTA” as “terrorist organizations.” According to the Procecutor General’s Office, the aforementioned organization “has been involved in extremist activities that lead to acts of terrorism and mass riots on the terriotory of Belarus since mid-2020.”
Liquidation of organizations on “grounds of extremism”
On June 10, 2022, it also became known that the Prosecutor General initiated the termination of activity of five independent labor union organizations to the Supreme Court:
- Free Labor Union,
- Free Labor Union of the Metalworkers,
- Belarusian Independent Labor Union of Miners, Chemical Industry Workers, Oil Refiners, Energy Workers, Transport Workers, Builders, and Other Workers,
- Belarusian Labor Union of the Radioelectronics Workers,
- “Belarusian Congress of Democratic Labor Unions” Association of Labor Unions.
Representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office stated that the members of organizations “had actively taken part in destructive activities and unauthorized public events, and had been distributing information of extremist nature.”
Internet resources access restriction
On April 5, 2022, the Ministry of Information blocked the website of the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch based on the “numerous cases of sharing extremist materials.” In addition to that, based on unknown reasons, the websites of the independent movement “For Freedom” and the most popular opposition resource in Ukraine “Ukrainian Truth” were blocked as well.
Warnings and registration for “extremism”
On April 15, 2022, it became known that the political prisoner Kristina Cherenkova was registered as prone to “increment to hatred and hostility” by the pre-trial detention center No. 3 authorities in Homel, while her Instagram page was recognized as an “extremist material.”