The Christian Vision Group’s Statement Regarding the Persecution and Torture of Rev Uladzislau Bahamolnikau in Detention

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Rev Uladzislau Uladzimiravich Bahamolnikau was brutally detained by GUBOPiK (Ministry of Internal Affairs Department for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption)  officers on 31 August 2022 following a search of his apartment in Minsk. Bahamolnikau has PhD in theology, he is a priest of the Minsk eparchy of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. He ministers in the Epiphany parish in Minsk and teaches philosophy at the Minsk Theological Academy.

On 1 September, the court sentenced Rev Bahamolnikau to a fourteen-day arrest. The priest was placed in the temporary detention facility on Akrescina Street where he has been kept for more than three months. Currently, Rev Bahamolnikau is serving his seventh administrative arrest in a row.

Pro-regime Telegram channels reported that the priest may face criminal prosecution under article 361-1 of the Criminal Code (Creation of an extremist formation or participation in it). It assumes punishment of restriction of liberty for up to five years or imprisonment for three to seven years. He was also threatened with rolling four-month administrative arrests if the decision on criminal prosecution is not made.

The conditions of the priest’s detention should be characterised as torture and inhuman, degrading treatment. Twenty persons are kept in the cell designed for four inmates at the same time. All parcels are prohibited, including clothing, hygiene products, medicines and vitamins, and correspondence. The cell is poorly heated and ventilated, and electric lights are switched on around the clock. There are neither beds, mattresses, nor bed linen. Prisoners have to sleep on the floor wrapped in the clothing they had with them at the point of detention. In the detention centre, Rev Bahamolnikau suffered a coronavirus and bacterial lung infections, he is suffering from a constant severe cough. According to people previously held in the same cell with Rev Bahamolnikau, the priest may develop scurvy due to a lack of vitamins. He lost a lot of weight due to malnutrition and illness. His state of health and general physical condition is of serious concern, while the detention centre does not provide access to the necessary medical care and medication.

It is also known that despite the humiliating treatment, Rev Bahamolnikau retains human dignity and strives to morally support other prisoners by offering them impromptu lectures on philosophy.

A former employee of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, Siarhei Haranin, who served administrative arrest together with Rev Bahamolnikau testified that the priest’s life in danger: his health is deteriorating and, if left untreated, this may become irreversible. The temporary detention centre where the priest has already been held for three months is not fit for such long periods of stay, otherwise, its conditions become life-threatening turning detention into a murder weapon. In the case of Rev Bahamolnikau, there is also a complicating factor: his body is weakened by the consequences of the hunger strike that the priest held in 2021 in solidarity with Ihar Losik, a political prisoner.

The Christian Vision group expresses admiration for the Christian courage of Rev Uladzislau Bahamolnikau for retaining a strong spirit in the most difficult conditions, supporting others in a Christian manner and not compromising on his convictions.

We are convinced that the pressure exerted on Rev Bahamolnikau by the administration and staff of the detention centre is indeed torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as defined in part I, article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

We insist on the immediate release of Rev Bahamolnikau, his return to his family and stopping all repressive actions against him and his close ones.

We demand an independent investigation, identification and punishment of those who made the decision to torture Rev Bahamolnikau, as well as those who enabled such torture by their action or inaction.

We call on the leaders of the Belarusian Orthodox Church to offer the necessary assistance to release Rev Bahamolnikau and provide him with adequate medical support.

We call on the Belarusian and world Christian community to solidarity with Rev Uladzislau Bahamolnikau.