The review reflects the main trends in the use of markers “extremism” and “terrorism” in Belarus from April to June 2023. We investigate the publications of state media, pro-government Telegram channels, independent media, and human rights organizations.
Statistics are formed almost entirely on the basis of reports from open sources. The practice of applying “anti-extremist” legislation is wider than the cases documented in the report. Repression under the marker of “fighting extremism” is ubiquitous in Belarus – government agencies do not publicly report most cases, human rights activists become aware of many cases of persecution only after a person is included in the “extremist” or “terrorist” list. In addition, the interpretation of the “anti-extremist” legislation de facto by the authorities is so arbitrary that it is often difficult to understand whether the authorities consider a particular crime to be a manifestation of “extremism” or not.
In three months, we documented at least 163 new criminal cases and 44 verdicts on “extremist” grounds, not counting cases related to “protests” and “insults” (in the past period – 201 new criminal cases and 58 verdicts). We also know about at least 247 cases of administrative offenses (in the previous period – 123 cases) from public news sources, and according to the state bank of court decisions, there are much more such cases – 770 cases (in the previous period – 535 cases). During the analyzed period, the maximum recorded punishment for “extremism” is 25 years in prison.
Legislators plan to introduce administrative liability for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations, gender reassignment, pedophilia and child-free.” A law is also being actively considered, expanding the possibilities for closing down print media that are objectionable to the authorities. Amendments are being introduced to the Criminal Code that will make it possible to judge dead people for crimes of an international legal nature.
For the first time, a court recognized as “inciting enmity” a human rights assessment that described human rights violations by security forces officers. There is an increase in the attention of the security forces to minors who leave comments of oppositional content is recorded. The period was marked by a number of criminal cases for hanging the Belarusian and Ukrainian national flags in public places: if earlier the security forces considered such actions an administrative offense, then in this period such actions were already interpreted as “aiding extremist activity.” The propagandists reported on a number of planned “terror attacks” organized under the auspices of the Ukrainian special services. Many accused of “failed” acts of terrorism, despite the absence of any harm to society, may face the death penalty. For the first time in the history of observations, charges were filed under article 126 of the Criminal Code “An act of international terrorism,” which refers to crimes against the peace and security of mankind.
More harsh sentences in absentia were handed down against political activists abroad. The period was marked by another case of a “violent conspiracy to seize power,” involving 18 defendants at the same time, including entire families. Many of them received terms of imprisonment close to the maximum possible. Several sentences were handed down against people who collaborated with initiatives involved in the evacuation of persecuted Belarusians abroad. New law enforcement agencies have joined in a large-scale campaign to force people who donated to solidarity funds to compensate for the damage for their “deeds”: there are cases when security forces ask to transfer to state accounts an amount that exceeds the amount donated a hundred times.
On the eve of Victory Day, in May, the number of detainees for “demonstration of Nazi symbols” under Article 19.10 of the Code of Administrative Offenses increased, June was also marked by mass detentions of students under this article. In general, the number of cases of “extremist reposts” in the first half of 2023 was almost 1.7 times higher than the number of such cases for the same period in 2022. There has been an increase in the number of trials in which people are tried simultaneously for “unauthorized picketing” and “distribution of extremist materials” in order to increase the term of punishment. The analyzed period was marked by a sharp increase in the number of “raids” of security forces in regional cities, accompanied by mass arbitrary detentions, as well as an increase in the number of cases of detentions after screening phones, which are regularly carried out at the border and even in public transport. The period was marked by mass detentions for “reposting” and subsequent dismissals of clergy and teachers. In addition to arrests, fines continued to be used to punish people for reposting, which in some cases could reach several thousand dollars. It is known about the case of confiscation of a car in which “forbidden” leaflets were stored: the court recognized it as “a tool for committing an offense.”
The security forces began to more actively recognize opposition pages on the Odnoklassniki social network and Internet resources of musical groups that released songs with protest overtones as “extremist materials.” Resources about the child-free ideology and the youth subculture of PMC Redan were also included on the list of “banned” materials. The list of “extremist formations” was replenished with charitable and educational organizations. Websites that covered Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion were blocked on “extremist” grounds. A publishing house that published a book objectionable to the authorities was deprived of its license, and the domain name was taken away from one of the regional media.
- 1 Changes in legislation
- 2 “Extremism” and the war in Ukraine
- 2.1 2.1. Criminal cases related to Belarusian units fighting on the side of the Armed Forces of Ukraine
- 2.2 2.2. Prosecution for condemning Russian aggression on social media
- 2.3 2.3. The case of the Union of the Belarusian National Shield
- 2.4 2.4. The transfer of information about Russian troops was equated with “assistance to extremism” and “treason against the state”
- 2.5 2.5. Criminal cases for hanging Ukrainian and Belarusian national flags
- 2.6 2.6. Ukrainian sites blocked for information about Prigozhin’s rebellion
- 3 Criminal proceedings
- 3.1 3.1. Article 130 of the Criminal Code “Inciting racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord”
- 3.2 3.2. Article 130-1 of the Criminal Code “Rehabilitation of Nazism”
- 3.3 3.3. Article 289 of the Criminal Code “Act of terrorism”
- 3.4 3.4. Article 290-1 of the Criminal Code “Financing of terrorist activities”
- 3.5 3.5. Article 290-4 of the Criminal Code “Establishment of an organization for the implementation of terrorist activities or participation in it”
- 3.6 3.6. Article 290-5 of the Criminal Code “Organization of the activities of a terrorist organization and participation in the activities of such an organization”
- 3.7 3.7. Article 356 of the Criminal Code “High treason”
- 3.8 3.8. Article 357 of the Criminal Code “Conspiracy or other actions committed with the aim of seizing state power”
- 3.9 3.9. Article 361 of the Criminal Code “Calls for restrictive measures (sanctions), other actions aimed at causing harm to the national security of the Republic of Belarus”
- 3.10 3.10. Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code “Creation of an extremist formation or participation in it”
- 3.11 3.11. Article 361-2 of the Criminal Code “Financing of extremist activities”
- 3.12 3.12. Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code “Aidind extremist activity”
- 3.13 3.13. Article 369-1 of the Criminal Code “Discrediting the Republic of Belarus”
- 4 Cases on administrative offenses
- 4.1 4.1. Article 19.10 of the Code of Administrative Offenses “Propaganda or public demonstration, production, distribution of Nazi symbols or paraphernalia”
- 4.2 4.2. Article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses “Distribution, production, storage, transportation of information products containing calls for extremist activity or promoting such activity”
- 5 Changes in the Republican list of extremist materials
- 6 Changes to the List of organizations, formations, individual entrepreneurs involved in extremist activities
- 7 Changes in the List of citizens of the Republic of Belarus, foreign Citizens or stateless persons involved in extremist activities
- 8 Changes to the List of organizations and individuals involved in terrorist activities
- 9 Disbandment of organizations on “extremist grounds”
- 10 Restriction of access to Internet resources
- 11 Warnings and preventive talks for “extremism”
Changes in legislation
On May 5, 2023, government publications reported that representatives of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries at a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Council at the Anti-Terrorism Center of the CIS Member States discussed the improvement of “anti-extremist” and “anti-terrorist” activities. At the event, representatives of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan discussed methods to counter the spread of “radical ideology and the involvement of citizens in terrorist and extremist activities, including through the Internet.” The meeting also emphasized “the importance of timely exchange of information on the forms and methods of illegal activities in the Internet space, positive national practices.” The holding of such events shows that “anti-extremist” legislation continues to be used as a tool to achieve political goals not only by the Belarusian regime, but also by non-democratic regimes among other CIS countries, and in close cooperation with each other.
On May 31, 2023, the deputies of the House of Representatives adopted in the first reading the draft law “On Amending the Law «On Publishing»,” which expands the list of grounds for re-registration of publishers and manufacturers of printed publications, as well as the list of grounds for suspension and termination of the certificate of state registration of publishers and print distributors. Minister of Information Vladimir Pertsov noted that the changes “are aimed at preventing the spread of immoral, extremist and destructive literature in the country’s book market, as well as “expand the tools for responding to destructive actions against the state.”
On June 15, 2023, the deputies of the House of Representatives considered in two readings the draft law “On Amending the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Belarus,” correcting Article 29 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The changes will make it possible to initiate criminal proceedings against dead persons for an aggressive war, an act of international terrorism, genocide, ecocide, crimes against the security of mankind, and crimes related to violations of international humanitarian law. The authorities conducting the criminal process will be obliged to take measures to search for the relatives of the deceased accused so that they can become his representatives; a lawyer will also represent deceased defendants. These norms were adopted in the light of the continuation of the investigation into the case of the genocide of the Belarusian people during the Second World War, the investigation of which the Prosecutor General’s Office has been conducting for more than two year.
On June 19, 2023, it became known that Alexander Lukashenko supported the initiatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office to work out issues related to establishing administrative responsibility for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations, gender reassignment, pedophilia and child-free” (in December 2022, similar legislation was adopted in Russia). Anzhelika Kurchak, head of the Department of the General Prosecutor’s Office, said that these phenomena and institutions pose a “threat to national security.” Also, some resources about the child-free ideology were recognized as “extremist materials” (read more in the relevant section of the review and the joint statement of human rights organizations).
“Extremism” and the war in Ukraine
The analyzed period was marked by the continuation of repressions against people accused of having links with the Kalinovsky Regiment, which is part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). With regard to potential volunteers and people who maintain contact with members of the Regiment, the security forces initiate cases under Article 361-3 of the Criminal Code (“participation on the territory of a foreign state in an armed formation or armed conflict, military operations, recruitment or training of persons for such participation”). The article provides for a maximum sanction of up to 5 years in prison. On May 16, 2023, the former collector of Belgazprombank and ex-special forces officer Yan Popkovich was sentenced to 4 years in prison under Articles 342 and 361-3 of the Criminal Code. Previously, several stories on state television had portrayed Yan as a mercenary about to go to fight in Ukraine. As evidence of Yan’s guilt, only his personal correspondence with friends, who, according to the investigation, served in the Regiment, was voiced. Also on June 16, 2023, the Gomel Regional Court sentenced Anastasia Petrochenko to 3 years in prison for a donate to the Regiment under article 361-2 of the Criminal Code (“financing of extremist activities”).
It is known about a number of new criminal cases related to Belarusian units in Ukraine:
● On April 18, 2023, the Investigative Committee (IC) announced the completion of the investigation against the 29-year-old resident of Mosty. According to investigators, the man repeatedly posted videos on social networks with calls to join the Regiment, clarified information in the Regiment’s chatbot about the possibility of joining, and also repeatedly clarified information on the Internet about the uniforms of the Ukrainian military, their salary, about the conversion of funds from Ukrainian hryvnia to Belarusian ruble. The IC claims that the motives for committing the “crime” were the financial aspect and the desire to become popular;
● On June 3, 2023, a resident of Lida was detained, who, according to the published correspondence, expressed a desire to join the Belarusian Regiment “Pahonia,” also a part of the AFU;
● Also in June, a resident of Krichev was detained: according to Mayday, employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) are trying to link his comments on social networks with the activities of the Regiment, in particular, to find traces of correspondence with its representatives and “bring” him under the article on mercenarism.
The security forces continued to put pressure on the relatives of the Regiment members. So, on April 1, 2023, it became known that the security forces came with a search to the mother and aunt of the former Regiment fighter and activist Alexander Streltsov.
The practice of criminal prosecution for “inciting national enmity” (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) continues against people who criticize the actions of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine on the Internet, as well as leaving negative comments about Russian military personnel or about Russians in general. At least 16 arrests have been reported under this article for harshly critical comments on social media:
● a man was detained for writing 3,000 comments, the last of which, according to the security forces, were “aimed at inciting enmity against the backdrop of the Ukrainian conflict.” In particular, he published links to resources about disinformation from Russian propaganda, and also allegedly called Russian soldiers “fiends;”
● Minsk resident Nikolai Melnik was detained for critical comments, including “I agree, Russian Nazis are vile! Hang them all and burn them!” and “you need to meet this bio-garbage with shit on a shovel;”
● singer Patricia Svitina was detained for leaving “negative messages” about the security forces; about “a special operation that is being carried out on the territory of Ukraine” and “incited enmity and discord between the Slavic peoples.” In one of the comments, the singer in Belarusian and Ukrainian speaks out against the use of the territory of Belarus for aggression against Ukraine; in another comment, she asks those who “support Russia, or rather Putin” to unsubscribe from her;
● a programmer from Brest was detained for commenting “I’ll shoot an officer when they give me a gun, what’s the difference from whose bullet to die?” in the context of possible mobilization in Belarus to participate in the war in Ukraine, and also mentioned that “Russia has become the curse of the whole world” and called Russian soldiers “occupiers;”
● an employee of the Evroopt grocery store was detained for comments regarding the war in Ukraine, while the security forces accuse him not only of comments about the Russian and Belarusian military, but also negative attitudes towards food products of these countries;
● the man was detained for harsh comments about the Belarusian security forces, as well as for calling the Russian military “fascists” and “bastards”;
● the man was detained for calling for resistance to the police, he left comments: “We again will go out to a «peaceful protest» and get beaten? … If so, then we are no better than Russians!” and “get ready to go outside and beat the cops, or sit at home and wait for Ukrainian HIMARS shells to fly into your apartment!;”
● tattoo artist Ilya Akishev was detained for his anti-war work, including the tattoo “Russian warship, go f**k yourself.”
1 sentence was recorded under this article for comments in the context of the war. On March 31, 2023, the Grodno Regional Court sentenced 46-year-old Oleg Zavadsky to 3.5 years in prison for a number of harsh comments about the military personnel of Russia and Belarus, including the comment “Russian invaders participating in the forcible seizure of foreign state territory by military force.”
Detentions continued for criticizing the authorities, being negative towards Russians, and supporting Ukraine on online chatroulette (a website that allows you to chat with random users via video). The security forces continued to detain people based on videos of pro-government bloggers, including Yuriy Komar, who, posing as a Ukrainian, searches chatroulette for people who criticize the Belarusian authorities and support Ukraine, and then provokes them into harsh statements. At least 3 arrests are known in this connection – for example, two men who, in a conversation with bloggers, said they would support the entry of the Kalinovsky Regiment into Belarus.
2.3. The case of the Union of the Belarusian National Shield
Detentions of participants in the initiative “Union of the Belarusian National Shield,” recognized as an “extremist formation” continue (in November 2022, 6 defendants in this case were detained). Two minors were additionally detained in this case – one of the alleged administrators of the initiative’s Telegram chat, who is accused of “campaigning for terrorism,” as well as a chat participant who disseminated opposition information in the context of the war in Ukraine. The security forces also stated that they had identified the main organizer of the initiative, who is in Poland and “involves minors in crimes.” According to the investigation, he “offered the minor to join the closed Telegram community, where it was supposed to recruit Belarusians to assist extremists,” after which other people began to join the group.
On May 22, 2023, the IC announced the completion of the investigation in this case, charges were brought against the defendants under articles 130, 361-1 and 361-4 of the Criminal Code. According to the investigation, the chat participants “spread false information about the involvement of the Republic of Belarus in a special military operation conducted by the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine,” “urged to attack police officers and take away their weapons, stop military equipment,” and also “posted information with calls to damage the railway track and instructions for making Molotov cocktails.” On June 29, 2023, the trial of 4 defendants in this case began.
2.4. The transfer of information about Russian troops was equated with “assistance to extremism” and “treason against the state”
Courts continue to issue sentences for sending photographs of military equipment to “extremist” Telegram channels that specialize in monitoring military activity in Belarus (for example, “Belaruski Gayun”). Charges for such actions are brought under Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code (“aiding extremist activity”). The maximum sanction under this article is 7 years in prison. The following sentences were recorded in this regard:
● On April 3, 2023, the Mogilev Regional Court sentenced Vladislav Popov to 2 years in prison for taking photos and videos of military equipment, servicemen and a military airfield in Bobruisk;
● On April 12, 2023, a resident of Orsha, Yaroslav Kazakevich, was sentenced to the same punishment for a video at the railway station in Orsha, which showed a trainload of Russian tanks;
● On April 10, 2023, the Brest Regional Court sentenced a 31-year-old resident of Baranovichi Anastasia Podgaiskaya to 3 years of “home chemistry” for repeatedly sending information to “extremist” Telegram channels. According to the case file, the information she sent, contained information about the situation in the regions of Russia and Belarus, as well as about planned activities at joint military training grounds. So, the woman sent a screenshot of messages from the parent chat with a warning about military exercises near Baranovichi. Also on the day of the incident with the explosion on the Crimean bridge, she sent a screenshot from the chat of test engineers, which shows the reaction to the incident of Russian chat participants with the caption “I am studying here to become a tester. Even here, after the blast, it’s restless.” The fact of sending a photograph showing a janitor leaning his work tools on one of the cars in the yard was also included in the case;
● On May 4, 2023, the Minsk City Court sentenced Gennady Drozdov, 64-year-old ex-head of the Pagonya creative community, to 3 years in prison under Articles 342 and 361-4 of the Criminal Code. The essence of the accusations of “facilitating extremist activities” is unknown – it is only known that the attention of the security forces was attracted by his trip to Ukraine, and his joint photos with the Ukrainian military were also found on the phone.
In total, at least 6 arrests were recorded under this article in the context of the war in Ukraine. For example, on April 8, 2023, the IC announced the detention of Ruslan Rebkovets, a resident of Osipovichi, who had previously been detained by employees of the State Security Committee (KGB) at his workplace. The man is charged with sending to the DVIZ public a 12-second video of wagons with military equipment, which he filmed from a passing passenger train. On May 14, 2023, a resident of Brest was detained, who sent a video of a military convoy to the Real Belarus Telegram channel.
The tendency to interpret actions to send information about military objects not only as “aiding extremist activity,” but also as “high treason” (Article 356 of the Criminal Code) continued. Usually, more severe charges are brought if, according to the security forces, the information was passed directly to Ukrainian agencies. So, on the air of the state channel ONT on April 4, 2023, information was announced about the detention of Dmitry Mostovoy, an IT specialist from Sennitsa, who was charged under articles 356 and 361-4 of the Criminal Code. Dmitry is accused of setting up an online video broadcast of the landing of military aircraft at the airfield in Machulishchi: according to the security forces, he launched the broadcast on his daughter’s laptop via a Skype video call. The same story mentions the detention of Andrei Shmai, a native of Ukraine, who worked in the Vitebsk Regional Executive Committee, on charges of “undercover activity” (Article 358-1 of the Criminal Code): according to the ONT, he sent information about the work of the department to his younger brother, deputy commander of the department “North” on operational issues in Chernigov, who requested information “on measures to strengthen regional executive committees” and asked to be informed “if the situation changes.”
2.5. Criminal cases for hanging Ukrainian and Belarusian national flags
On April 6, 2023, the Minsk City Court convicted five residents of Minsk who, in September 2022, hung large national flags of Belarus and Ukraine on the facade of a house on a busy street in Minsk. Denis Vorozov, Olga Terekh, Ekaterina Zaretskaya and her spouse Vyacheslav Pantyushenko were sentenced to 5 years in prison, and Vladimir Lavor to 4 years. Earlier, the security forces recognized their private chat in the Zello app, where people discussed the organization of the action, as an “extremist formation,” while it is obvious that the chat was recognized as “extremist” only to create a formal reason to punish people for their civic position. The security forces interpreted the direct actions to hang the flag as “aiding extremist activity.”
On May 17, 2023, the Investigative Committee announced the completion of an investigation against six 36-year-old residents of Minsk, who in October 2022 hung out the national flags of Belarus (in the reports of the IC it appears as “collaborationist”) and Ukraine on power lines. According to the investigation, one of the men asked a familiar seamstress to make flags, and during one of the feasts, the defendants decided to hang these flags for all to see. At the same time, it is known that only two people were directly involved in the hanging, the rest only watched what was happening. These actions were interpreted by the security forces as “malicious hooliganism” (Article 339 of the Criminal Code) and “ainding extremist activity.” In this case, the crime of “facilitating extremism” included the fact of posting information about the rally in opposition resources – the security forces considered that the transfer of information about the rally promotes the “extremist” agenda.
These cases demonstrate the tightening of enforcement of “anti-extremist” legislation over time. So, if in 2020-2021 hanging opposition symbols on buildings and windows was interpreted as “unauthorized picketing” and was punishable by administrative arrest or a fine, then in 2022-2023 identical acts began to be investigated as part of criminal cases.
2.6. Ukrainian sites blocked for information about Prigozhin’s rebellion
On June 28, 2023, according to the decisions of the prosecutor of the Vitebsk region, access to the Internet resources “glavred.info,” “spektr.press,” “hromadske.ua,” “news.online.ua,” “tribun.com.ua” was blocked. According to the department, “the portals posted information of an extremist nature, prompting citizens to oppose the state authorities of the Republic of Belarus in connection with the situation regarding the Wagner PMC, and also “inaccurate information discrediting the President of the Republic of Belarus was reported.”
According to the Viasna Human Rights Center (Viasna Human Rights Center), from 2020 to February 2023, at least 3,650 people were convicted for “political reasons.” Most of these cases are being investigated under the “extremist” articles of the Criminal Code. At the same time, human rights activists do not know about acquittals in such cases. Also, Prosecutor General Andrei Shved said that the number of applications to the commission for the return of “political emigrants” exceeded 70 applications, some of which have already been decided.
3.1.1. Leakages of personal data of security officials
Courts continued to hand down harsh sentences for passing information about the places of residence and phone numbers of civil servants and security forces to the Black Book of Belarus (BBB), an initiative dedicated to the deanonymization of government officials accused of human rights violations. Most of the accusations of “leaks” include two articles at the same time – article 130 (“incitement of enmity”), as well as the “non-extremist” article 203-1 of the Criminal Code (“illegal actions in relation to information about private life and personal data”). The prosecutor of the Minsk region Yury Shchetko said that according to the results of monitoring “destructive channels” in 2022 and 2023, more than 200 facts of posting information “on the destabilization of the sociopolitical and socio-economic situation, information about the private life of prosecutors, employees of other law enforcement and state bodies and organizations were found,” on the basis of which 183 criminal cases were initiated in the Minsk region alone.
We are aware of the following court hearings:
● On April 13, 2023, the Gomel Regional Court sentenced Vladislav Kupriyanov, a resident of Mogilev, to 5 years in prison;
● On April 21, 2023, human rights activists learned that at the end of 2022, the Mogilev Regional Court sentenced former district inspector Oleg Zubovich to 6 years in prison for passing data on former colleagues to the BBB;
● On May 11, 2023, the Minsk City Court sentenced lawyer Anastasia Lazarenko to 6 years in prison: according to the investigation, while working as a lawyer, Anastasia allegedly “contacted representatives of the BBB and gave them information about two police officers,” whose personal data appeared in one of the cases, in which she took part as a defender;
● On May 24, 2023, the Minsk City Court sentenced former accountant of the Minsk Electromechanical Plant Anna Kornienko to 5 years in prison;
● On June 2, 2023, the Brest Regional Court sentenced Pavel Petruchenya, an employee of an IT company, to 6 years in prison. Earlier, in a propaganda story, it was said that he worked in the Security Department of the Brest Region as a leading electronic engineer in 2013-2018, during which he gained access to the personal data of employees, and in 2020 sent data (surnames and phone numbers) of at least 39 employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the BBB. The defendant himself claimed that he obtained the personal data of the employees through a telephone directory;
● On June 16, 2023, the Minsk City Court sentenced Svetlana Bychkovskaya, a former employee of the “One Window” Service (works with administrative procedures for citizens’ appeals), to 5.5 years in prison;
● On June 23, 2023, information appeared that in March 2023, the Minsk Regional Court sentenced political prisoner lawyer and former employee of the prosecutor’s office Natalia Lashch to 6 years in prison.
During the analyzed period, law enforcers continued to detain people in the BBB case, and both people who had access to entire databases and disseminated information from them and people who once passed information about law enforcers they knew (a total of at least 7 detentions are known) were prosecuted. It is known about the detention of an employee of Priorbank Lyudmila Sakovich, legal adviser of the agricultural production cooperative Vladimir Yakubashko (for “leaking” the data of the OMON and criminal investigation officers), an IT specialist of the EPAM company (“leaked” the data of employees of internal affairs bodies he knew), as well as a man who passed information about a familiar presenter on the state channel ONT.
Relatively positive trends are also recorded. So, on June 7, 2023, Alexander Lukashenko pardoned the alleged administrator of the BBB Sofia Sapieha, who was detained after a forced landing of a Ryanair flight and sentenced to 6 years in prison.
3.1.2. Comments critical of the security forces
In three months, we know about 10 sentences for harsh critical comments in messengers and social networks against representatives of the authorities and law enforcement agencies. Charges were brought for negative statements about both Belarusian and Russian security forces. Such messages are interpreted by the security forces as “incitement of other social enmity against a professional group,” while charges are most often brought together with “defamatory” articles of the Criminal Code. Almost all cases are considered behind closed doors, and state bodies publish reports of court hearings using extremely vague excerpts from the law, and therefore the specifics of most cases remain unknown.
Once again, we note that this practice is contrary to international human rights standards and the practice of international judicial bodies: for example, the European Court of Human Rights, in its decision in the case of Savva Terentyev v. Russia, dated August 28, 2018, indicated that law enforcement officers cannot be considered a vulnerable social group in cases where “inciting enmity” is suspected, and do not need increased protection from harsh comments, especially in circumstances where such comments constitute legitimate criticism of the unreasonable or illegal behavior of public officials.
So, in May 2023, the Minsk City Court sentenced the poet and private school teacher Dmitry Yurtaev for 22 comments on the political situation in Belarus. In particular, he left comments: “When will we go silently to the furnaces? Because we are already standing in lines near paddy wagons and are not resisting the Nazis…” and “Our husbands are being killed by bastards in black uniforms.” At the trial, he noted that he called “fascists” only those security officials who beat people at protests.
On April 6, 2023, Konstantin Zolotykh, director of the Belarusians and Market newspaper, was sentenced to 4 years in prison. According to the Human Rights Center Viasna, he was accused of several episodes of posting insulting comments about officials on social networks. On April 13, 2023, the Minsk City Court sentenced Vladimir Ostapchik to an identical punishment for administering a Telegram channel that published footage from protests near the Pushkinskaya metro station in Minsk in 2020. On May 30, 2023, bartender Gleb Vyatoshkin was sentenced to 5 years of “home chemistry” for “inciting enmity” and “participating in protests.”
On June 20, 2023, the Minsk City Court sentenced the well-known human rights activist from the Human Constanta organization Nasta Lojka to 7 years in prison for participating in the writing of the human rights report “Persecution of anarchists, anti-fascists, leftists and social activists in Belarus” for 2017-2018. The report provides a critical assessment of the activities of police officers in the context of human rights violations, which the investigators qualified as “inciting enmity against a professional group of police officers.” The details of the case are unknown, since the trial was held behind closed doors at the request of the prosecutor in order to “exclude the dissemination of information products with calls for extremist activities contained on Internet resources recognized by the decision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs as extremist formations, and by decision of the court as extremist materials.”
36 new criminal cases have been recorded. It is known about mass detentions for critical comments at Baranovichi State University – KGB officers detained 1st-year students for comments left on Knowledge Day on September 1, 2022, during the live broadcast of Lukashenko’s open lesson. It is known about criminal cases for such comments as “Let’s go beat cops in the evening,” “Well, faces, some animal looks,” “You are a cop, you are not a person,” “Mark and beat by a crowd at the entrance, and one asshole in ammunition less,” “and this is the army? Shameful shithole,” “it’s time to take up the pitchfork, if you want peace – get ready for war,” “jackals are not used to running for a long time, they will not get our guys,” “bastards, cattle, you all should burn in hell,” “these scum should be staked up,” “these cockroaches should hang on each pole,” “OMON and GUBOPiK terrorist organizations to be liquidated”; “I spit on your shoulder straps, on your rotten brotherhood,” “Then we will bring down the OMON,” “how I want to hit this guy with a soft rubber stick to the soft tissues 10 times,” as well as for various harsh comments in the address of the relatives of the security officers.
In April 2023, a musician was detained, who is the alleged author of the opposition song “Stop the cockroach” (“defames the state and government bodies”) and who also left critical comments. A resident of Vitebsk was detained for publishing information on how to properly withstand a choke hold, block roads, and blind security forces with a laser pointer. It is also known about one detention in the “Zeltser case” – a resident of Gomel was detained for making a negative comment under an article about the murder of a KGB officer Dmitry Fedosyuk;
In April 2023, the state channel Belarus 1 aired a story about the former deputy chairman of the board of Technobank Dmitry Bogush, who has been held in a pre-trial detention center since December 2022 on charges of “inciting enmity.” In the story, Dmitry admits that he left “ugly, bad” comments about the security forces, but at the same time he called on his subscribers to discuss the situation and, in general, always opposed violence. He added that he was prompted to leave such comments by photographs of beaten people at protests after the rigged presidential elections in August 2020. After he refused to leave Belarus under pressure from the security forces, he was detained, despite the fact that by that time he had deleted all his comments. Also, apparently, under pressure, the businessman was forced to mention that “if the scenario of 2020 turned out differently, as some forces wanted, then today we would have hostilities on the territory of Belarus” and that “the only person who did not allow this” – Lukashenko.
Some people who left comments while abroad are detained by the security forces immediately upon their return to Belarus: employees of the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK) stated that such people are included in the “border control” system – no investigative actions are being carried out while a person is abroad (so that the person does not find out that he has attracted the attention of the security forces), but immediately after the border crossing the security forces detain the person. Thus, a Minsk resident, Yevgeny Tikhonov, who recently lived in Poland, went to Belarus in March to resolve issues with documents, but was detained immediately after crossing the border. Also in May, a Belarusian woman who had come from Russia to change her passport was detained.
It is also known about 6 processes under this article that have begun. The most high-profile trial was the trial of Eduard Babariko, the son of a political prisoner of a presidential candidate in 2020 and the head of crowdfunding platforms. The trial of Eduard began on May 22, 2023, after almost 3 years of detention in a pre-trial detention center. Eduard is accused of a number of “political” crimes, but the details of the case are unknown. During the process, the prosecutor requested a sentence of 10 years in prison for him.
3.2. Article 130-1 of the Criminal Code “Rehabilitation of Nazism”
This article is mostly used to punish people who regularly or repeatedly published fascist or neo-Nazi symbols, as well as materials related to “ideas of racial superiority of one nation over another, a positive attitude towards the soldiers of Nazi Germany,” “popularization of the ideas of Nazism and neo-Nazism.” In total, 7 new cases under this article are known.
So, for such actions, it is known about the detention of residents of Baranovichi, Mogilev, as well as a resident of the Chervensky district, who published videos on social networks, “which showed certain periods from the life of Adolf Hitler and justified the reasons for the invasion to the USSR,” as well as videos about concentration camp Auschwitz, which contained a denial of the existence of the Holocaust and gas chambers.
In April 2023, the IC announced the detention of a resident of Mogilev, who kept a large amount of “Ukrainian and Belarusian collaborationist paraphernalia and literature” on hidden shelves and communicated on the Internet “in a circle of like-minded people,” as well as a resident of Bobruisk, who in social networks “posted photographs of officers of the German army, admired their uniforms and “great” deeds, military equipment of the Wehrmacht,” got a tattoo with a portrait of the commander of the SS “Wallonia” brigade Leon Degrel. Also on April 4, 2023, GUBOPiK officers detained a resident of Mogilev, who is accused of damaging more than 50 buildings with graffiti of swastikas.
On June 7, 2023, pro-government sources published a “confession video” with a detained underage guy: in the video, he admits that he is the creator of the Telegram channel “Belarusian National Socialist Corpus,” which published pictures and information of a neo-Nazi nature. The message of the propagandists states that “the character has not reached the age of criminal responsibility, which means that his parents will be punished, and he will go to a special boarding school, which is no better than a juvenile colony.”
Human rights activists do not know in which cases the posting of materials related to fascism and Nazism will be prosecuted under the articles of the Code of Administrative Offenses, and in which under Article 130-1 of the Criminal Code. It is likely that in order for the actions to be qualified as “rehabilitation of Nazism,” the security forces must detect the fact of not only the systematic distribution of prohibited symbols, but also record the spread of various kinds of facts or comments showing a clear commitment of the person distributing them to prohibited ideologies.
3.3. Article 289 of the Criminal Code “Act of terrorism”
The analyzed period was marked by the release of several propaganda films about the “sabotage” in Machulishchi, which describe in detail the “role” of the alleged main perpetrator of the “act of terrorism” Nikolai Shvets and some other defendants in this case. Representatives of the opposition organization of former security forces “BYPOL” stated that propaganda films almost entirely consist of fiction and lies, and in some moments they completely contradict one another. So, for example, in the first film titled “SBU – Lawlessness Service of Ukraine,” it was stated that Shvets took the drones and control panels for them from a hiding place near Minsk, however, in the second film titled “Gaspar did not get in touch,” information appears, that the drones were brought from Vilnius and personally handed over to Shvets by one of the defendants in the case. The film reports that about 30 people are simultaneously being investigated in the case of sabotage in Machulishchi (in the last analyzed period, the KGB announced only 20 detainees) on charges of “attempt to commit an act of terrorism committed by an organized group” (Part 3 of Article 289 of the Criminal Code) and “high treason” (Article 356 of the Criminal Code), all of them, after recent changes in the Criminal Code, may face the death penalty as a punishment. From the “investigations,” it became known that the publisher Oleg Sychev was accused of “terrorism”: he allowed Shvets to be settled in his cottage, while he was not informed for what purpose. Also, “act of terrorism” charges were brought against Larisa Kuchinskaya, from whom Shvets officially rented an apartment; Maxim Lopatin, who agreed to give Shvets a lift, and, for unknown reasons, his wife Lyudmila Lopatina.
Besides, in April 2023, the KGB stated that citizens of Belarus and Russia, under the leadership of the Ukrainian special services, were planning terrorist attacks in Grodno. According to the security forces, an employee of the main intelligence department of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, Vyacheslav Rozum, through a Russian opposition leader, recruited Russian Aleksey Kulikov and a citizen of Belarus Vadim Patsenko as agents – all of them were detained. The ministry said that Kulikov filmed such strategic facilities as the Grodno military registration and enlistment office, a military unit, two oil depots, and the Consulate General of the Russian Federation, and then sent the data to Ukraine. Patsenko said that he was tasked with blowing up the tank farm using a drone and explosives. Both defendants were charged with an “act of terrorism,” while Kulikov was additionally found accused under Article 126 of the Criminal Code (“an act of international terrorism”) – this article is used by the security forces for the first time in the history of observations by Human Constanta.
On May 10, 2023, the ONT TV channel released the film “The Killing Package,” which tells about the preparation of terrorist attacks by the Ukrainian special services on the eve of the celebration of May 9 Victory Day. According to security officials, Valery Vodin, a Belarusian associated with the Kalinovsky Regiment, asked his acquaintances to pick up a package with C4 explosives disguised as tabletop electric stoves, and then hide it in a cemetery and forest for further use in sabotage. Four people who were involved in moving electric stoves (most of them did not know that they contained explosives) were considered “suspects” of committing an “act of terrorism” and “high treason.”
Lukashenko’s administration demands screenings and analysis of the aforementioned propaganda films in educational institutions, to which students are forcibly involved. Thus, it is known that the security forces and ideologists have already held similar events at the Baranovichi State University (BarSU) and the Gorki State Agricultural Academy (BSAA), during which students were given the task to “qualify the actions of each criminal and tell their peers about it.”
KGB Chairman Ivan Tertel said that control has been strengthened on the state border and “additional measures have been taken to strengthen the counterintelligence regime on the territory of Belarus,” which are aimed at “timely identification and localization of the activities of persons harboring terrorist, extremist aspirations towards Belarus.” He stated that his agency “receives information about the presence of real plans among persons from the combat groups formed on the territory of Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and some other countries to commit terrorist acts in Belarus.”
3.4. Article 290-1 of the Criminal Code “Financing of terrorist activities”
The security forces continue to interpret any material donations to opposition initiatives recognized as “terrorist” on the territory of Belarus (for example, “NEXTA,” “Cyber partisans,” “BYPOL”) as “financing of terrorist activities.” The sanction under this article provides for imprisonment from 8 to 15 years. So, on June 29, 2023, the trial of a resident of Bobruisk under this article began, the details of the case are unknown.
The media also report that KGB officers are conducting “conversations” with people who donated to the above-mentioned initiatives in 2020, despite the fact that they acquired the status of “terrorist” much later. “Conversations” in such cases are held by analogy with “conversations” with people who donated only to “extremist” funds (read more in the relevant section on the practice of applying Article 361-2 of the Criminal Code): people are asked to sign a confession and do a transfer to one of the state accounts that is one hundred times larger than the size of the donation made by a person (while for the transfer to “extremist formations” the security forces demand an amount “only” ten times the amount of the donation).
3.5. Article 290-4 of the Criminal Code “Establishment of an organization for the implementation of terrorist activities or participation in it”
On May 3, 2023, the Minsk Regional Court sentenced Stepan Putilo, the founder of the Telegram channel NEXTA, to 20 years in prison, Jan Rudik, the channel’s host, to 19 years in prison, and journalist Roman Protasevich (detained after the infamous Ryanair forced landing incident) – to 8 years in prison. Putilo and Rudik were convicted in absentia, as they both live abroad. Protasevich remained under house arrest until the verdict entered into force. According to the prosecution, they “following the general plan of a conspiracy to seize state power in Belarus in an unconstitutional way,” published informational “destructive” materials in the networks of the channels “NEXTA” and “Belarus Golovnogo Mozga” aimed at “inciting people to participate in mass riots” and “calls for protesting citizens to commit acts of terrorism.” Charges were brought under 10 different “extremist” articles of the Criminal Code. During the process, Protasevich was charged with a more severe charge – he was additionally accused of “leading an extremist formation, committed repeatedly,” due to the fact that he was the administrator of several Telegram channels at once.
On May 22, 2023, Alexander Lukashenko pardoned Roman Protasevich. In an interview with state media, he thanked the country and personally Lukashenko for the decision to pardon him. It should be noted that such a step has a clear political nature, in view of the fact that usually a pardon is a very long process, which implies serving part of the sentence, positive characteristics from the administration of places of detention, consideration of the relevant appeal by a special commission, while the pardon of Protasevich took only a couple of weeks. At the same time, the figure of Protasevich continues to be used by the authorities for propaganda purposes. For example, students of BarSU were gathered in the assembly hall to watch Protasevich’s new interview with propagandists, after which an “educational discussion” was organized with local security officials.
On June 6, 2023, Yana Pinchuk was sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of administering three opposition Telegram channels from the 97% network, which the security forces consider to be involved in the NEXTA channel: Vitebsk 97%, Orsha 97%, and Novopolotsk and Polotsk 97%. In addition to “creating a terrorist organization,” Pinchuk was also charged with “creating an extremist formation” (Part 1 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code), “calling for causing harm to national security” (Part 3 of Article 361 of the Criminal Code), “inciting enmity “(Part 3 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code), “mass riots” (Part 3 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code). Let us recall that earlier she was extradited from Russia to Belarus, which was accompanied by obvious violations by Belarus of the Convention on Legal Assistance, as well as ignoring the interim measures of the UN Human Rights Committee prohibiting the extradition of Pinchuk.
3.6. Article 290-5 of the Criminal Code “Organization of the activities of a terrorist organization and participation in the activities of such an organization”
In May 2023, Minsk and Gomel courts began to consider two criminal cases at once on charges of “participation in the activities of a terrorist organization.” In the dock there are Dmitry Gudeev and a resident of Svetlogorsk Maxim Drobnitsa. The main difference between the application of articles 290-4 of the Criminal Code and 290-5 of the Criminal Code, similar in wording, is that the first article was mainly applied in practice for the management of structural units or active participation in the work of an organization, and the second article was applied for directly creating of an organization recognized as “terrorist” on the territory of Belarus (charges under this article were previously brought against the founder of “NEXTA” Stepan Putilo and the political representative of the “Supraciu” movement Dmitry Shchigelsky).
3.7. Article 356 of the Criminal Code “High treason”
On April 4, 2023, the Minsk City Court sentenced KGB Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Trifonov and Olga Solomenik to 14 and 7.5 years in prison, respectively. The details of the trial are unknown due to its being held behind closed doors, however, the ONT propaganda film “Mankurts,” released in 2021, reveals the reasons for the detention of these people. The film reported on the detention of KGB Colonel Aleksey Khralovich for sending to the NEXTA channel a recording of a conversation between Lukashenko’s press secretary Natalya Eismont and various officials about the circumstances of the death of Roman Bondarenko (in March 2022, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison under Article 356 of the Criminal Code). As it became known from the film, after the arrest, Khralovich agreed to cooperate with the investigation and was included in the “operational combination” in order to find out ways of evacuation of Belarusians persecuted for political reasons. During the operation to search for those involved in the evacuation, the security forces came to a group of people, including Trifionov and Solomenik. The film tells that Olga, at the request of ex-security officer Igor Makar, had to “pick up a certain person and documents,” in particular, “the KGB archive” and “send it to Poland.” Vladimir Trifanov was a conductor on the Belarusian-Lithuanian border, through which he was instructed to transport Khralovich outside official checkpoints, who was included in the operational game.
It is known about 3 more sentences, the details of which are practically unknown:
● On April 6, 2023, the Grodno Regional Court sentenced a truck driver from Lida to 12 years in prison for “treason against the state”;
● On May 11, 2023, the Minsk City Court sentenced the owner of the store of national symbols “SYMBAL.BY” Pavel Belous to 13 years in prison on charges of “spreading the ideas of Belarusian nationalism,” propaganda of the ideas of the “Polish world,” “pumping the country’s electorate with enmity towards the state,” as well as “supplying people with protest symbols and coordination of activities aimed at the violent seizure of power.”
● On April 27, 2023, as part of a trial in absentia, Stanislav Luponosov, ex-lieutenant colonel of the GUBOPiK, who, after the harsh suppression of protests in August 2020, collaborated with BYPOL, and then joined this organization, was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
A lawsuit has begun against the former head of the air intelligence service, Valery Romanovsky, for taking photographs of official documents stamped “secret” and “top secret” and passing information about the construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant (BelNPP) to the Lithuanian special services. Another lawsuit began against the head of the Gomselmash shop, Vladislav Pudyak. It is also known that the detained former press secretary of the Kupala Theater Nikolai Zaets was interrogated in the case of “high treason,” on the basis of which it can be assumed that a case was initiated against him under this article.
3.8. Article 357 of the Criminal Code “Conspiracy or other actions committed with the aim of seizing state power”
On April 7, 2023, the Minsk Regional Court sentenced opposition politician Valery Tsepkala in absentia to 17 years in prison in a special proceeding. Tsepkalo was charged under 12 articles of the Criminal Code – in addition to financial crimes, he was charged with “inciting enmity,” “calling for sanctions,” “creating an extremist formation,” “financing extremism,” “slandering and insulting Lukashenko,” “discrediting the Republic of Belarus” and even in “war propaganda.” During the process, the public prosecutor requested a sentence of 19 years in prison.
On June 21, 2023, the verdict was announced in the case of arson of the house of the pro-government deputy Oleg Gaidukevich and “an attempt to seize power by unconstitutional means with terrorist attacks and riots.” In this case, 18 people were simultaneously involved, 3 of whom (political activist Vadim Prokopiev, former special forces soldier Igor Chemyakin and former security officer of diplomatic missions Denis Khamitsevich) are abroad and were convicted in absentia. All defendants in the case were found guilty and sentenced in total to almost 240 years in prison. Prokopyev received the maximum sentence of 25 years in prison in absentia.
3.9. Article 361 of the Criminal Code “Calls for restrictive measures (sanctions), other actions aimed at causing harm to the national security of the Republic of Belarus”
On April 10, 2023, the Minsk City Court sentenced Alexander Danilevich, a lawyer and lecturer at the Belarusian State University (BSU), to 10 years in prison on charges of “calling for sanctions” and “aiding extremist activity.” This is one of the first cases when the professional activity of a lawyer in providing services to persons who are opponents of the current regime was actually equated with “extremist activity.” According to the IC, the lawyer “provided support to extremists and adherents of legal nihilism” and “made attempts to politicize sports in Belarus.” According to investigators, he advised employees of the opposition initiative “Sports Solidarity Fund” in the context of their activities to promote the cancellation of sports events in Belarus in connection with massive violations of human rights in the country, as well as to impose sanctions against persons from the sports sector who carry out such violations. The lawyer was also found guilty of drawing up letters and documents addressed to the Norwegian company Yara, a major buyer of Belaruskali products, in which he described the human rights situation at Belarusian enterprises and urged the company to comply with business and human rights standards.
The IC also noted that Danilevich communicated with “extremist” resources to “create a destructive information agenda” – in fact, the lawyer gave an interview to one of the Telegram channels, which was then simply reprinted by the Tribuna sports publication, recognized as “extremist materials.”
On May 18, 2023, the Brest Regional Court sentenced a 42-year-old resident of Minsk to 5 years in prison on charges of “protests” and “insults,” as well as for writing letters to representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about the situation in Belarus, in which the investigation considered “appeals to harm national security.” On June 15, 2023, Andrey Fomin, who is accused of writing and editing texts in the opposition format in the Vestnik samizdat, began to be tried in the Minsk City Court.
3.10. Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code “Creation of an extremist formation or participation in it”
The article continues to be used to repress any form of self-organization of society that is objectionable to the regime.
35 cases of criminal prosecution during the analyzed period were related to the registration in the Telegram bot of the opposition initiative “Plan Peramoga,” and most of the arrests were made for registration in the “fake” analogue of the bot. The security forces continued to use direct provocations to increase the number of detainees: GUBOPiK employees created a fake chatbot and offered participants in opposition chats to “find out about the presence of compromising information about themselves” with it. The security officers, posing as employees of the opposition organization of former siloviki “BYPOL,” offered to cooperate with those who got in touch – they asked them to “update personal data,” and then offered to perform “a task to monitor the assigned object” or “pick up the contents of the cache.” All people who believe the security forces are detained as part of criminal cases. The pro-government publication “On Guard” noted that “hundreds of people” have registered in the fake bot and are now under threat of detention; propagandist Igor Tur stated that during one of the provocations, the security forces identified 150 people. The security forces call these provocations the legal term “operational combinations.”
On April 5, 2023, the Grodno Regional Court delivered a verdict in the case of the Dapamoga volunteer organization, which helps repressed Belarusians evacuate to Lithuania. On charges of “participation in an extremist formation,” the court sentenced two-time political prisoner Anita Bakunovich, who turned to the organization with a request to help her cross the border outside official checkpoints, to 3 years in prison, and Nikolai Kuleshov, who collaborated with this organization and helped political refugees – to 5 years in prison. Also, Yegor Kurzin, who turned to the initiative, was sentenced to 3 years in prison.
The persecution of the administrators of local yard chats continued, in 2020 they were used for coordinating protest activity, and then were sources of opposition information for local residents – at least 4 such cases are known:
● On April 18, 2023, a 55-year-old resident of Brest was detained for administering the “extremist” chat “Northern 97”;
● On May 4, 2023, the administrator of two Minsk chat rooms “Kireeva 23” was detained for “publishing extremist materials and fakes for two years” and providing various information to “fugitive extremists”;
● On June 6, 2023, the alleged administrator of the Minsk chat “Valeryanovo” was detained.
● On June 22, 2023, pro-government sources reported the arrest of the alleged administrator of the Minsk chat “Plekhanova-Rokossovskogo”;
● On June 14, 2023, it became known that the wife of one of the Vitebsk political prisoners was also charged under Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code.
3.11. Article 361-2 of the Criminal Code “Financing of extremist activities”
The analyzed period was marked by increased pressure on people who sent material donations to solidarity funds, recognized in Belarus as “extremist formations.” Despite the fact that the vast majority of people sent donations in 2020, and the funds were recognized as “extremist formations” only on December 3, 2021, the security forces still consider such actions to be crimes, which once again confirms that the anti-extremist legislation in Belarus has the retroactive effect. Detentions are carried out on the basis of account statements, which show that a person donated in the Facebook application in 2020 (previously, the application was one of the main platforms for donations to victims of Belarus). At the same time, the security forces do not have information on which initiative the donation was made through Facebook – to simplify their work, the KGB officers consider any debitings from the Facebook account made in the second half of 2020 to be “criminal.”
Media outlet “Zerkalo.io” reported that in May 2023 Oxagile ’s technical director Sergey Marchuk was summoned to a conversation with the KGB, during which he was told that “the country’s leadership” was not interested in IT specialists fleeing the country and in the reduction of tax revenues to the treasury, however, 70% of “criminal” donations were made by IT specialists, in connection with which some sanctions should still be applied to them. In this regard, the KGB officers offered employees of IT companies an approach to solving this issue, different from the approach of the GUBOPiK, which, as noted in the department, is “intimidation,” after which people flee the country. KGB officers offered to send to the management of IT companies lists of employees who made donations, who, in turn, should come to a “preventive conversation,” sign a “surrender,” make a transfer to one of the state accounts in a tenfold amount exceeding the amount of a donation made by a person and then, within 10 days, bring a receipt of payment to the KGB. It is known that the security forces are asking to transfer funds to the accounts of such institutions as the Republican Scientific and Practical Center for Oncology and Medical Rehabilitation, the Minsk City Center for Medical Rehabilitation of Children with Psychoneurological Diseases, as well as various boarding schools for children with disabilities. In case of refusal to make a donation to state accounts or if the amount received is less than the amount agreed upon at the “conversation,” criminal cases are opened against people, and people who are abroad are threatened with detention by the GUBOPiK immediately upon their return to Belarus.
The volume of such preventive conversations is increasing: the Department of Financial Investigations of the State Control Committee (DFR KGC) has joined the persecution for donations, and a special department has been created in the KGB to work with IT specialists seen in donations. It is known that the KGB offices in Brest and Vitebsk are used for “conversations” with people who find it inconvenient to go to Minsk from abroad. The KGB officers are going to deal with employees of a large company EPAM last because of the large number of suspects. At the same time, despite the fact that these measures primarily concern IT specialists, pressure is also exerted on employees of state institutions: people on the “lists” are also called in for a conversation and forced to make donations to state funds, after which they informally ask the management of institutions to dismiss such people. The media also receives information about checks in this regard at border points.
During the analyzed period, at least 8 new cases for donations to solidarity funds are known: it is known that for these actions criminal cases were initiated against the deputy director of the Minsk Watch Plant Alexei Solonenko, businesswoman Victoria Gavrilina, the creator of rave projects Pavel Dankov, owners of a network of second-hand stores “ModaMax” Alla Khodasevich and her daughter-in-law Inna Khadasevich; Artem Lebedko, son of opposition politician Anatoly Lebedko.
There are at least 4 sentences with a long prison term for donations:
● Ruslan Zavadich, a resident of Minsk, was sentenced to 3 years in prison for donating $50 to By_Help in August 2020 and donating $25 to Valery Tsepkala in 2021;
● Kirill Klimov, a resident of Minsk, was sentenced to 4 years in prison for 6 donations of $10 each;
● Vitaly Chernousov, a resident of Lida, was sentenced to 5 years in prison;
● Nikolai Vasilevich, a resident of Minsk, was sentenced to 6 years in prison.
3.12. Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code “Aidind extremist activity”
During the analyzed period, the security forces stepped up the application of this article to punish people who sent any kind of information to opposition channels, regardless of whether the information was sent before the recognition of the corresponding resource as “extremist” or after. In total, at least 8 cases of detention for such actions are known:
● On April 6, 2023, the head of a local pharmacy was detained in Gomel. According to security officials, the man photographed departmental documents signed by the general director of the enterprise, and then handed over the pictures to the “extremist” Telegram channel;
● Also in early April, a psychologist and a former employee of the Belarusian State Pedagogical University Sergei Ivantsov, as well as an associate professor at the Faculty of Sociocultural Communications of the Belarusian State University Oksana Ulanovich were detained – according to the security forces, they wrote to the chatbot of the opposition Telegram channel “Belarus Golovnogo Mozga.” Yan Rudik, one of the channel’s former editors, believes that the archive of the channel’s chatbot, which the security forces seized from the detainee Roman Protasevich, who was also the channel’s editor, could serve as the basis for their detention;
● On May 18, 2023, a resident of Minsk was detained, who, during the suppression of protests, sent information to opposition resources about the whereabouts of security forces;
● Also in May, a young man who had registered with the “Plan Peramoga” initiative was detained – a message from the security forces said that he would face liability for “facilitating extremist activities,” despite the fact that the initiative usually uses an article on “participation in an extremist formation”;
● On May 25, 2023, a resident of Minsk was also detained for “leaking” working documents and sending information about the movement of security forces;
● On June 28, 2023, a welder was detained, who, using his working skills, built a sculpture of a cockroach, and then sent videos to the chatbot of the NEXTA channel in which he beats it with a slipper (approx. in 2020, an opposition politician Sergei Tikhanovsky used the slogan “Stop the Cockroach,” in which Alexander Lukashenko appears as a cockroach).
Sentencing of representatives of the media community continued. On May 30, 2023, the Gomel Regional Court sentenced independent journalist and local historian Yevgeny Merkis to 4 years in prison under Articles 361-1 and 361-4 of the Criminal Code. On June 30, 2023, the Minsk City Court sentenced journalist and videographer Pavel Podobed to 4 years in prison. Due to the fact that the process was held behind closed doors, some accusations remain unknown, but it is likely that the reason for the persecution was cooperation with independent publications recognized as “extremist.”
Repressions continue against representatives of independent labour unions for opposition activities at enterprises. Thus, on June 12, 2023, the Grodno Regional Court sentenced Maxim Senik, an activist of an independent trade union at the Grodno Azot enterprise, to 4 years in prison for passing information about the situation at the enterprise to the leader of the strike committee, which was then placed in foreign media.
3.13. Article 369-1 of the Criminal Code “Discrediting the Republic of Belarus”
The article continued to be used by the security forces to punish journalists for disseminating information that contradicts the official position of the authorities. On April 3, 2023, state agencies announced the detention of the 64-year-old editor-in-chief of Regionalnaya Gazeta Alexander Mantsevich. According to the materials of the case, the articles of the newspaper “contained unreliable information aimed at causing significant harm to the state and public interests, undermining the authority of the country and its authorities, damaging national interests, destabilizing the situation among the citizens of Belarus, forming false ideas about non-observance of rights in the republic and freedoms of citizens.”
It is also known that the case against journalist Larisa Shchiryakova was sent to court. According to the investigation, she, “using the tense social situation and trying to destabilize the situation in the country, through various instant messengers and social network accounts provided and posted on the Internet, including destructive resources, information materials with deliberately false information discrediting the Republic of Belarus.”
Cases on administrative offenses
According to the Bank of Judgments, from October 1, 2021 to June 30, 2023 (for 21 months), 3,084 cases were recorded under Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code and 281 cases under Article 19.10 of the Administrative Code. In the first 6 months in 2023, the number of cases increased by 1.7 times compared to the same period in 2022. We can assume that the number of “extremist” cases at the beginning of 2023 may differ from the number of cases in the period of 2020-beginning of 2021 by several times (up to 10 times).
4.1. Article 19.10 of the Code of Administrative Offenses “Propaganda or public demonstration, production, distribution of Nazi symbols or paraphernalia”
4.1.1. Legal entities
The prosecutor’s office continued the fight against souvenirs with the Black Sun emblem offered for sale on marketplaces. So, on June 7, 2023, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Sovetsky District of the city of Minsk reported that, at its request, the OZON online store removed amulets and charms with this emblem from its assortment. Also, the prosecutor’s office reported that after the act of supervision, filters and stop words for sellers and advertisers were set up on the site to prevent law violations in the future.
According to the bank of court decisions, 49 people were convicted in April-June 2023 (for comparison, 40 people were convicted in January-March). GUBOPiK officers continue to detain people for themed tattoos (at least 4 new cases) and distribution of prohibited photographs on the Internet (at least 7 new cases).
So, it is known about the detention of a man who had Nazi-themed prison tattoos, as well as a man who published a photograph on social networks that shows a tattoo with a swastika. In the Pinsk region, a local resident was detained, who, in an unknown context, published black-and-white historical photographs, which included a swastika, and also put the emblem of the Azov battalion, which is part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and for unknown reasons, is considered by the Belarusian security forces to be “Nazi.” It is also known about the detention of a Dynamo Minsk football fan who had a tattoo with the Black Sun and kept a portrait of Hitler on a shelf. On the “confession video,” he was forced to apologize to his great-grandfathers and tear up the portrait. On the eve of Victory Day on May 9 (the celebration of the victory of the USSR over Nazi Germany during World War II), the security forces, as in 2022, detained people who were seen in support of Nazism. Two young people were detained for publishing photos with Nazi salutations.
During the analyzed period, the practice of holding mobile demonstration courts on the territory of educational institutions expanded. So, on June 14, 2023, at the Belarusian State Technological University (BSTU), an exit court sentenced two students to 15 days of arrest: according to the Belarus-1 TV channel, young people “distributed Nazi symbols, placed calls to burn Jews” in the student chat. On the air of the TV channel, it was reported that trials of 30 more students are planned for such offenses. It should be noted that in most cases, arrest is the reason for the subsequent expulsion of students from educational institutions, since serving such a sentence is not a valid reason for a long absence from classes.
The distribution of Nazi symbols by painting them on state property continued to be punished in criminal cases. In May 2023, a resident of Borisov was detained, who painted a public transport stop with swastikas, under Article 339 of the Criminal Code (“hooliganism”). The practice of instituting criminal proceedings under Article 341-1 of the Criminal Code, which can be used against people who have been prosecuted twice during the year under Article 19.10 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, continued. On April 20, 2023, the prosecutor’s office sent a criminal case to court against a 44-year-old resident of Minsk for repeatedly demonstrating a tattoo with Nazi symbols in public places.
4.2. Article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses “Distribution, production, storage, transportation of information products containing calls for extremist activity or promoting such activity”
4.2.1. Legal entities
The prosecutor’s office continues to monitor the range of online stores in order to identify books offered for sale included in the list of extremist materials. On April 13, 2023, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Moskovsky District of Minsk announced that it had found violations in the catalogs of five large online stores: “extremist” books were found “Who, how and why killed Wilhelm Kube” by Oleg Usachov and “Veles is the God of the Rus. The Unknown History of the Russian People” by Alexander Belov.
On April 28, 2023, the prosecutor’s office of the Sovetsky district of the city of Minsk reported that, at its request, the OZON online store removed from its assortment a decorative pillow with an image of white-red-white stripes, and the Wildberries online store removed a flag with an image printed on with stripes of white-red-white color, a white rider on a horse with a sword and a shield in his hands. According to the prosecutor’s office, “these images are confusingly similar to information products recognized as “extremist materials.” Despite the fact that the white-red-white flag and the corresponding colors are not recognized as “extremist,” the list of “extremist materials” does contain a number of souvenirs with white-red-white symbols, which the security forces will probably continue to use as a basis for punishment for the distribution of any object in a given color scheme, not only as for “unauthorized picketing” under Article 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, but also as for “distribution of extremist materials” under Article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses.
It became known from public sources that in the period April-June 2023, at least 204 people were detained for distributing “extremist materials.” According to the Bank of Judgments as of July 1, 2023, 721 people were convicted in April-June 2023 (for comparison, 535 people were convicted in January-March). In 2023, there is a significant increase in such cases: if in January 2023 there were 75 such cases, then in May 2023 there are already almost 4 times more such cases – 283.
In view of the fact that almost all independent media and opposition resources are recognized as “extremist materials,” the dissemination of virtually any information that is objectionable to the authorities can be considered an offense. The vast majority of people are punished under this article for reposting “forbidden” information on their pages on social networks, as well as forwarding such publications to personal and group chats in instant messengers. In practice, the courts have finally equated subscription to banned Telegram channels to “storage of extremist materials.” It also fixes the establishment of the practice of drawing up protocols simultaneously under Articles 19.11 and 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (“unauthorized picketing”) as another way to increase the term of detention.
Systematic “raids” to regional cities and state institutions continue, during which the devices of local residents and workers who were previously seen as disloyal to the regime are examined. In April and May, the security forces conducted “raids” at the Naftan and Polimir factories, during which 14 people were detained and punished with administrative arrest. After serving their sentence, such workers are most often fired due to the fact that arrest is not considered a good reason for missing work. The official trade union calls on the remaining employees of the enterprise to carefully check their social networks for the presence of prohibited materials.
On May 17, 2023, the security forces detained 6 doctors of the Novopolotsk Central City Hospital, where on the night of April 24-25, 2023, ex-presidential candidate Viktor Babariko was brought from the local colony with signs of beatings. The detentions came after several media leaks about Babariko’s state of health. It is known that three of the detained doctors, surgeon Mikhail Pashkovsky, urologist Pavel Stalmakov and gynecologist Irina Vasileva were arrested for terms of 10 to 15 days, allegedly for “distributing extremist materials.” On June 1-2, 2023, there was a “raid” at the Volkovysk meat processing plant: as a result of phone checks, more than 15 people were taken to the local police station. On June 11, 2023, guests of the Stuli agricultural estate in the Pruzhany district were detained (5 people were detained).
On June 12, 2023, at least 9 employees of the Svetlogorsk TV channel Ranak were detained. The men were arrested, and the women fined, while some of them were tried for subscribing to the Svetlik Svetlogorsk group in Odnoklassniki, which at the time of the arrests was not recognized as “extremist materials.”
The analyzed period was marked by an increase in the number of mass “raids,” during which people were detained who distributed prohibited materials or subscribed to opposition resources. It is known about at least 7 “raids” in Gomel and the Gomel region (total of 39 detainees), 5 “raids” in Grodno (total of 25 detainees), 4 “raids” in the Brest region (total of 9 detainees), 2 “raids” in Novopolotsk (total 16 detainees), one “raid” in Lida (total 8 detainees) and one “raid” in Vitebsk (total 5 detainees).
Human rights activists also report an increase in cases of detentions at the border with Russia (at least 4 cases are known, but local human rights activists say that there could be many more such cases), as well as at the border with Poland and Lithuania (at least 36 convicted are reported after checks at the border). On June 20, 2023, the Novy Chas publication reported that patrol police officers began to check the contents of phones in trains. According to the media outlet, the attention of the security forces is attracted by passengers who use their phones for a long time during trips: such people are called to the vestibule and demanded to unlock their smartphones for “checking.”
Repressions against journalists continue. On May 5, 2023, 4 employees of the Gomel Radio Sergei Krasnoborod, Zhanna Minina, Anastasia Gritsenko, and Artem Vasilkov were detained at their workplace. It is also known that after the trial under Article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, a journalist from the state-run newspaper Drogichinsky Vestnik was fired from his job. Romuald Ulan, a former political prisoner and publisher of Novaya Gazeta Smorgon, was arrested for 3 days. “Extremist materials” continued to be used as a basis for repressions against regional activists – during the analyzed period, it is known about the detentions of Alexander Khamratov, Valentina Bolbot and Oleg Matskevich.
The period was marked by the detention of several clergymen – priest Andrey Kulik from Miory, priest Vyacheslav Adamovich from Miory district, as well as pastor from Novolukoml Alexander Zaretsky, Uniate priest Ales Shevtsov and catechism teacher Vladislav Beloded, who were arrested twice. During the analyzed period, many teachers and professors were detained – it is known about the detention of teacher Irina Lesnichenko from Ushachi, primary school teacher Marina Korda from Dokshitsy, associate professors of the design department of Vitebsk State Technological University (VSTU) Tatyana Makletsova and Natalia Torobuka, candidate of technical sciences Natalia Bodyalo and doctor of economics from VSTU Galina Yasheva, five teachers of Polotsk State University, including Elena Khramtsova, Viktor Cherevko, Lidia Zueva, Anna Nanos (later mass dismissals of detainees were reported), as well as several arrests in a row of scientist Igor Bortnik. In the case of Bortnik, the security forces used the practice of drawing up protocols in such a way that each repost constituted a separate offense, which then allows the courts to punish people with arrests for 15 days, in fact, an unlimited number of times.
The practice of holding people accountable for reposting materials that were made even before they were recognized as “extremist” continued. Thus, the former deputy chairman of the local district executive committee, Alexander Sivoshenko, was convicted for a “like” left more than 10 years ago.
The courts began to impose fines for “extremist materials” much less frequently than arrests (only in exceptional circumstances, for example, if a child is left unattended while serving an arrest), but the amounts of fines began to increase. Thus, a resident of Ushachi was fined 4,440 rubles (about $1,800) for several publications with Ukrainian symbols and reposts with “extremist materials.”
Repressions under this article occur not only for actions in the online space. At least 6 people were detained for “extremist” tattoos, in particular for tattoos with the abbreviations “A.C.A.B.” and “1312,” denoting a negative attitude towards police officers. At the end of April, a resident of Baranovichi was fined for his T-shirt with the Kalinovsky Regiment logo. On April 22, 2023, the Postavy District Court fined a local resident for 5 leaflets with information about the People’s Anti-Crisis Administration (NAU), which were found in the glove compartment of his car – in addition to the fine, the court ruled to confiscate his car, in which prohibited leaflets were stored and which the court considered “instrument in the commission of an offense.” It is also known about the detention of a man who distributed leaflets of the samizdat “Honest News.”
On May 7, 2023, Alexander Zinchuk, a musician from the Children of Khrushchevkas group, was sentenced to 7 days of arrest for creating the songs “2020,” “Cockroach (Dema)” and “Papitsot,” included in the Republican list of extremist materials. Also in May, three members of the faceOFF group were convicted.
The repressions using this article are so large-scale and arbitrary that they affect not only the opponents of the authorities, but also their ardent supporters. Thus, it is known that the former security official, the founder of the “sports-patriotic” project “For Strong Belarus” and, in general, a person admitted to the ministers and pro-government celebrities Sergei Zaslavsky twice in a row was arrested for a total of 30 days – the reason for the initial detention could be a repost of a publication about his power record from one of the “forbidden” media.
In the reports of pro-government channels about the detention of people for possession of white-red-white products, the wording is increasingly heard that such people were detained for possession or demonstration of “extremist” symbols. It is not known whether the white-red-white symbols are interpreted as “extremist materials” only at the level of rhetoric, or whether people can soon be judged not only under Article 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, but also under Article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses.
Changes in the Republican list of extremist materials
In April-June 2023, the Republican list of extremist materials (hereinafter referred to as the list) on the website of the Ministry of Information contained information about 235 new court decisions on recognizing materials as “extremist” (in the previous period – 157). A total of 379 information materials were banned (in the past three months – 320), of which 117 materials are Telegram resources. As of June 1, 2023, there are 3564 materials on the list, including 1251 Telegram resources. Except for single types of neo-Nazi products, all materials are included in the list for “political” reasons.
Some media resources and politicians have been included in the list several times already (for example, Zyanon Poznyak’s channel, included in the list in March, was included for an unknown reason for the second time in May 2023). During the analyzed period, an increase in the attention of the security forces to the resources in the Odnoklassniki social network is recorded.
Internet resources of opposition political movements and initiatives continue to be included in the list: Instagram and Odnoklassniki accounts of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Andrey Strizhak’s YouTube channel, Telegram channel “Free Belarus Center UA,” Instagram and Telegram accounts “Center of Belarusian Solidarity,” website of the “Community of Railway Workers of Belarus,” TikTok-account of the movement of Olga Karach “OUR HOUSE TV,” resources of Valery Sakhashchik, Valery Tsepkalo, “Rukh of Belarusian nationalists” and Kalinovsky Regiment. For the first time, Viktor Babariko’s resources were recognized as “extremist” – his group in Odnoklassniki was banned. Anton Motolko’s channel called “Look, lies?” was found extremist, which specializes in the analysis of unconfirmed information, as well as the channel “BELARUSIAN INTELLIGENCE,” allegedly publishing information from the sidelines of government agencies.
The list includes the channel of the Ukrainian organization “Resistance Committee,” which positions itself as an anti-authoritarian force, as well as several resources associated with Russia: the Telegram channel “Combat Organization of Anarcho-Communists”; social networks of the “Russian Volunteer Corps” and the Legion “Freedom of Russia” (formations banned in Russia fighting on the side of Ukraine), as well as the Telegram channel of the Russian political scientist and specialist in Russian-Belarusian relations Andrei Suzdaltsev, known for criticizing Alexander Lukashenko.
The scale of recognizing the resources of Belarusian diasporas abroad as “extremist materials” has increased: Telegram channels “Belarusians in Lodz,” “Belarusians of Georgia/BY in Georgia,” “WARSAW#BELARUSIANS#IDEAL PEOPLE#,” “Adventures of Belarusians in Kyiv,” “Information, events, actions for Belarusians in Wrocław,” “Belarusians Abroad”; a group in Odnoklassniki called BELARUS POLAND; Instagram accounts “razaminnorwey,” “bel.diaspora.austria,” “belaruscanada,” “nadzeya.co.uk.”
Resources of independent media continued to be recognized as “extremist materials.” The list includes publications “Infa-Kur’er” and “Regionalnaya Gazeta,” the pages of the edition “Euroradio” on Facebook, “VKontakte,” “Odnoklassniki,” TikTok and Twitter; accounts of publications “Reform.by,” “Radio Svaboda,” “EX-PRESS.BY,” “UDF – News of Belarus” and “Novy Chas” in “Odnoklassniki”; TikTok account of the outlet “Malanka Media,” the website and all social networks of the outlets “intex-press,” “Nasha Niva,” “Pozirk – News about Belarus,” “This is Minsk, baby.” The list was also supplemented by a page in Odnoklassniki called “Svetlogorsk, Belarus. News. Bulletin board.”
Gradually, the list continues to be filled by Belarusian human rights organizations: regional branches of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” (a group in “VKontakte” “Vitsebskaya Viasna,” a group in “Odnoklassniki” called “Viasna Pravaabaronchaya,” accounts in Telegram, Facebook, and YouTube under the name “Paleskaya Viasna,” Telegram channel “Volunteer service of the HRC «Viasna»,” Instagram account “viasnabrest,” Twitter accounts “Vitsebskaya Viasna” and “Viasna,” YouTube channel “Gomel Viasna”), as well as all the resources of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) and a separate BAJ article about the detention of Andrei Pinchuk, an employee of the Belteleradiocompany. One of the detainee assistance chats, which discussed the ways of sending parcels to political prisoners, was recognized as “extremist.”
Telegram channels about Belarusian identity are massively banned. In particular, educational channels about the Belarusian language “Only about language,” “@VolnayaMova,” “Language from ancestors to descendants” as well as the channel “Belarus History,” which publishes photos and short interesting facts about Belarusian history, and a cultural and educational portal about Belarus and for Belarus “Budzma.org.” These bans clearly demonstrate the process of recognizing as “oppositional” and, as a result, prohibited any elements of the Belarusian national idea not sanctioned by the state.
The period was marked by replenishment of the list with categories of resources that were not typical for the previously analyzed periods. So, at the end of March, one of the Telegram channels about the scandalous youth subculture PMC Redan, which the security forces fought hard in late February – early March 2023, got on the list.
On May 11, 2023, the Telegram channel of the independent chemist-encyclopedist Sergei Besarab under the name “Scientific and Technical LAB-66 Laboratory Journal of a Belarusian Chemist” was recognized as “extremist materials.” In his scientific publications and posts, the chemist most often did not directly touch on any political issues, commented on everyday issues (information on how to escape from radiation, ticks; opinions on nuclear energy), but also touched on the topics of the BelNPP and gave comments to “extremist” independent media, in connection with it, probably, the channel came to the attention of the security forces.
On May 15, 2023, it became known that the court of the Soviet district of the city of Minsk, at the request of the prosecutor’s office, recognized as “extremist materials” a number of resources that published information about the child-free ideology, characterized by a conscious desire not to have children: the list included the Telegram channel “Anti-natalism, child-free, child haters etc.,” accounts on VKontakte, Instagram and Telegram called “Child-free,” as well as a Facebook group “Child-free. Elite of society.” The court found that “the information products of these resources are aimed at inciting enmity against the child population and parents.”
During the analyzed period, there is a decline in the recognition of books that are objectionable to the authorities as “extremist materials.” The list included only one book called “Twenty Years of Slavery: Belarus Today” by Sergei Syuzev, which describes in poetic form the life of the Belarusian people during the reign of Alexander Lukashenko. The list also includes regular issues of the samizdat newspapers “Belaruski Chas” (issues No. 1, 2), “Golas Belarusi” (issue No. 1) and “Slovo Belarusov” (issues 23-25).
The expansion of repressions against musicians is recorded. The community in “VKontakte” of the FaceOFF group and their songs “Its’time!!,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Hate” and “Spring,” as well as all online resources of the group “Children of Khrushchevkas” and their songs “2020,” “Cockroach (Demo),” “Papitsot” were recognized as “extremist materials.” Later, the website and social networks of the Belarusian rapper Andrey Tyapin and his group Tyapin CREW were also recognized as extremist.
During the analyzed period, material things also got into the list: the Gonar i Godnasts medal, which was established by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in 2020 and became the first award dedicated to the ideals of freedom, national values, democracy, and human rights. It is awarded to people who stood on the path to freedom and opposed injustice in Belarus.
The period was marked by single additions to the list of materials on neo-Nazi topics, which, unlike “political” materials, make up an insignificant part of all materials on the list: for example, digital stickers in Telegram “Fascism|Nationalism,” Telegram-channel “Neues Europa,” photographs of Wehrmacht soldiers; as well as an inactive channel that published photographs of Adolf Hitler.
You can find detailed information about this list in our new material.
Changes to the List of organizations, formations, individual entrepreneurs involved in extremist activities
At the moment, the List of organizations, formations, individual entrepreneurs involved in extremist activities includes 137 formations that are recognized as such by the decision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the KGB. For three months, the list was replenished with 16 positions. Some additions to the list were accompanied by criminal cases against the relevant groups of people. Creation, leadership or participation in an “extremist formation” is punishable by up to 7 years in prison under Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code.
As of the end of June 2023, 13 regional media and nationwide online resources were included in the list. During the analyzed period, two more media outlets were recognized as “extremist formations” – the MOST publication and the personal pages of its editor-in-chief Ruslan Kulevich, as well as “Zerkalo.io,” which predecessor (TUT.by) was previously recognized as an “extremist organization.” Also on the list was the Belarusian news resource “Insider.”
The use of this tool to persecute opposition organizations continued. The organization “Joint Headquarters of the Resistance of Minsk” (the organization’s Telegram channel called “Alisa tells”), the organization “Rada BNR” (positioning itself as the oldest Belarusian “government in exile”), the organization “RUH” (an organization of Belarusian nationalists created by ex- NEXTA editor Yan Rudik), as well as the Litvin (Litsvin) battalion, which is part of the Kalinovsky Regiment were recognized as “Extremist formations.”
Educational initiatives also began to appear on the list: the Human Resources for New Belarus initiative (engaged in the selection and training of Belarusian citizens to participate in the implementation of reforms in key positions in the field of state and local government during the transition period) and the School of Young Managers of Public Administration SYMPA (participants are engaged in the study of universal principles and advanced mechanisms of public administration at different levels). The KGB said that the participants in the latest initiative “spread deliberately false information about problematic aspects in the public administration system,” adding that the initiative itself is funded by Swedish organizations.
The list also includes other regional oppositional Telegram channels: Solidarity Ivatsevichi, Shtodzen Gomel, and 97% Serebryanka. The list also included other private resources, the content of which could not be established – a private page on VKontakte called “Belarus without rudeness and lawlessness” and a closed Telegram channel “Club 70.”
The YouTube blog of blogger Andrei Pauk called “Rudabelskaya Pakazukha” was recognized as an “extremist formation,” which recently published records of ironic conversations between the blogger and representatives of the regime.
By the decision of the KGB, the Polish charitable organization “Fundacja Reka Wielkiej Pomocy,” which provides assistance to children with special needs, and after the start of Russian aggression, organized the collection of humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
You can find detailed information about this list in our new material.
Changes in the List of citizens of the Republic of Belarus, foreign Citizens or stateless persons involved in extremist activities
The list of citizens of the Republic of Belarus, foreign citizens or stateless persons involved in extremist activities was first published on March 23, 2022, and since then has been actively updated with hundreds of people against whom a sentence under “extremist” articles has come into force. As of the end of June 2023, there are 2992 people on this list, 355 people have been added to the list over the past three months (among them one citizen of Ukraine). In fact, this list is a list of people convicted for “political” reasons, which is officially recognized by the regime and is regularly supplemented.
People convicted of opposition activities in any form (mainly for protests and critical comments), as well as representatives of civil society, continued to be included in the list. Thus, for the analyzed period, the following people were included in the list:
- former security officials Yevgeny Yushkevich and Nikita Storozhenko;
- “Rail partisans” Dmitry Ravich, Denis Dikun, Oleg Molchanov, Sergei Pleshkun, Yuri Selvich, Vladimir Avramtsev, Dmitry Klimov, Evgeny Minkevich;
- defendants in the case of “Autukhovich’s group”;
- journalists and bloggers Ivan Muravyov, Nikolai Klimovich, Dmitry Semchenko, Andrey Pochobut;
- human rights activists Marfa Rabkova and Andrei Chepyuk;
- activists of independent trade unions Alexander Yaroshuk, Sergey Antusevich, Irina But-Gusaim, Gennady Fedynich, Vasily Beresnev, Vatslav Oreshko;
- opposition activists Alexandra Gerasimenya, Alexander Opeykin, Valery Tsepkalo, Dmitry Navosha, Yanina Sazanovich were convicted in absentia;
- lawyers Evgeny Papakul, Vitaly Braginets;
- founder of Symbal.by Pavel Belous.
You can find detailed information about this list in our new material.
Changes to the List of organizations and individuals involved in terrorist activities
In three months, the KGB added 35 new people to the List, 33 of which are connected with Belarus. The grounds for inclusion in the “terrorist list” are similar to the “list of citizens of the Republic of Belarus, foreign citizens or stateless persons involved in extremist activities,” while in this list a person can be included even on the basis of charges, without a corresponding court decision. As of July 1, 2023, the list includes 1,073 people, including 322 citizens of Belarus. People included in the list are actually prohibited from any financial transactions. Thanks to the updates of the list, human rights activists become aware of the names of political prisoners, about whom there was no information before.
In addition to Belarus, the list included an Afghan citizen who is a senior leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIS-X) organization, as well as a Somali citizen who is a senior explosives expert of the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization. Along with people whose actions may pose a real threat to state security, the Belarusian authorities include representatives of the Belarusian opposition and civil society on the list. As before, not only an “act of terrorism,” but also articles 130 of the Criminal Code (“inciting enmity”) and 361 of the Criminal Code (“calls to harm national security”) continued to be the basis for inclusion in the list. The list continues to include not only people who committed direct actions, but also people who criticized the authorities on the Internet and left negative comments about government officials.
Among others, during the analyzed period, the list was supplemented by:
- opposition figures Valery Tsepkala and Yan Rudik;
- Viktor Savashevich, Inna and Valeria Glinsky, Vasily Ermakov, Natalya Lashch, Anna Kornienko, Sergey Naumchik, defendants in cases of leaks of personal data of security officials;
- Dmitry Gudeev and Maksim Drobnitsa, accused of “organizing activities” of unknown “terrorist organizations”;
- “Rail partisans” Dmitry Ravich, Sergei Pleshkun, Yuri Selvich, Vladimir Avramtsev, Dmitry Klimov;
- Maksim Seleznev, accused of setting fire to a militia car;
- online commentators Rodion Kochetkov, Gleb Gladkovsky, Roman Yankovsky, Dmitry Udaleev, Andrey Sinitsky, Mikhail Mekeko, Pavel Sologub, Sergey Naumchik;
- protesters Artur Khlus, Sergei Botvich, Alexander Pasternyak, Kirill Matyuto;
- founder of Symbal.by Pavel Belous;
- journalists Dmitry Semchenko and Gennady Mozheiko.
You can find detailed information about this list in our new material.
Disbandment of organizations on “extremist grounds”
On May 10, 2023, the Economic Court of the city of Minsk satisfied the claim of the Ministry of Information on the termination of the certificate of state registration as a publisher of the Zmitser Kolas publishing house. The formal reason for the liquidation of the organization was the fact of the publication of the book “Wyzwalenyja” i zaniawolenyja. Polish-Belarusian migration 1939–1941 in Documents of the Belarusian Archives,” which was recognized as “extremist material.” The book ended up on the list of banned books much later than the moment of its publication – claims for violation of the law were actually made “retroactively.” Also, the Slutsk publication Info-Kurier was forced to stop its long-term activity after the recognition of all its Internet resources as “extremist materials.”
Restriction of access to Internet resources
During the period under review, the Ministry of Information continued to restrict access to online media resources and other sites extrajudicially. Thus, according to the decision of the prosecutor of the Brest region, access to the site of the publication “intex-press” and the photo hosting site flickr.com were restricted for the fact that the sites “repeatedly published information that obviously negatively characterized the sociopolitical situation in the country after the end of the election campaign and discredited the activities of state and law enforcement agencies” (in both cases, completely identical, extremely vague wordings are used, without specifying specific materials). The clearer reasons for blocking the most popular photo hosting and, in general, its connection with the Belarusian agenda are unknown. This is probably due to the fact that, if desired, one can find caricatures of Alexander Lukashenko or photographs from protest actions of different years on it. The site “audiobooks.by” was also blocked. The site was probably blocked due to the fact that on the site, among other audiobooks, you can find several “banned” ones.
In most cases, the specific reason for blocking is not announced, however, in some cases, the blocking of sites is traced to the previous detentions of employees of a particular resource. For example, the website of the Svetlogorsk TV channel Ranak was blocked after eight employees of the channel were arrested on charges of “distributing extremist materials.”
For the first time, the practice of depriving “extremist” media of a domain name was recorded. Thus, in April 2023, the Operational and Analytical Center under the President (OAC) initiated an out-of-court cancellation of the EX-PRESS.ВY domain name registration record.
Warnings and preventive talks for “extremism”
On June 26, 2023, the prosecutor of the Minsk region Yury Shchetko, in an interview with the pro-government publication “Minskaya Pravda,” stated that since 2020, prosecutors “are conducting preventive conversations with persons prone to committing extremist crimes and offenses.” Since August 2020, 1674 official warnings have been issued, and in 2023 – 21 warnings against such people.The activation of various pro-government student initiatives is also noted, which are aimed at studying “the threat of radicalism and extremism in the modern political process” and “countering the involvement of Belarusian youth in crimes related to extremism.”