This Monitoring includes the cases of faith-related persecution that took place during and as the result of the political crisis in Belarus in 2020-21. This crisis followed silencing political opponents, election fraud and ruthless suppression of protests. It also includes cases of persecution of clergy and prominent public Christian figures even if such persecution was not carried out in relation to specific religious activities like praying, preaching, volunteering, making public statements, conducting religious rites. It also includes cases of persecution within religious communities as a result of expressing an opinion about the political crisis.
Persecution within religious organisations
Administrative persecution and government pressure
Persecution of faith communities and organisations related to religion or Church
Violations of freedom of religion or belief in prisons and detention centres
Torture, degrading or inhuman treatment
Persecution within religious organisations
In early August 2020, Artsem Kushner, Head of the Pilgrimage Department of the Babrujsk Diocese of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, was forced to resign by the diocesan administration. This followed the publication of a photo of Kushner wearing a white bracelet — a symbol of free and fair elections — on his Instagram. To register as an official observer at the presidential elections, Kushner collected signatures as required by law. At the polling station, he identified himself as an independent observer by wearing the white bracelet.
On 8 August 2020, on the eve of the main election day, a poster reading “Orthodox Christians are against falsifications, and against humiliating and oppressing people» was distributed on social networks among Orthodox Christians as a spontaneous flashmob. The poster’s authors were Deacon Dzmitry Pavlioukevich and Fr Alexander Kukhta. Subsequently, some priests and church workers who posted the message on their personal social network accounts were forced to disassociate themselves from the campaign. Those requests came both from church authorities (by phone) and from various government agencies. The authorities of one of the Orthodox dioceses requested Elena Mikhalenko, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Voskreseniye (Resurrection), the publisher of which is the diocese, to withdraw the signature listing her professional position. Consequently, she left only her name on the list.
On 18 August, during a general meeting of St Elisabeth’s Convent (Minsk), Fr Andrey Lemeshonok, the convent’s confessor, made a statement in support of Alexander Lukashenko. He suggested that a secret conspiracy against the Russian Orthodox Church was the reason for the protests. According to the priest, Tikhanouskaya would introduce gay pride and same-sex marriages. In response to parishioners’ objections, Fr Lemeshonok said that he would like everyone in the convent to be like-minded, and whoever does not like it “should not feel obliged to stay… all involved in St Elisabeth’s Convent have one common opinion about the events taking place in Belarus, one unequivocal interpretation”. He did not allow Fr Dmitrii Basalygo, another cleric of the convent, to voice an alternative opinion at the meeting. People who tried to express views alternative to Fr Lemeshonok’s were asked to leave the meeting; many did. Another cleric of the convent, Fr George Glinsky, wrote on his social media that the clergy and parishioners of St Elisabeth’s Convent have various opinions about the political crisis in Belarus. In the months following the general meeting, a significant number of the convent staff were dismissed or forced to resign from their jobs due to their civil views. One of those was a supply management specialist, Vitaly Leonovich. He was dismissed following his speech at the convent’s general meeting. The convent also stopped collaborating on artistic projects with its long-term parishioner, Alexander Zhdanovich, following his arrest and detention on 8 November 2020 (see more in the section on administrative persecution). In his interview to Salidarnasć, Zhdanovich said that as a result of the events of 2020, he “regretted to see that the Church was being used for manipulating consciousness and retaining power by unscrupulous people.” Zhdanovich saw “comfortable Orthodoxy with reading akathists and processions of the cross — which are good in themselves — but reluctant to see the real, painful things happening around.”
On 14 October 2020, while addressing parishioners at the Cathedral Church in Hrodna, Metropolitan Veniamin expressed a wish that “a secular chant dividing our society — Mahutny Boža (Almighty God) — would not be performed. On 22 November, the leadership of the Lida Diocese prohibited singing the Mahutny Boža hymn; the parish choir of the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Lida was told not to sing the hymn just before the Sunday service. Until then, for more than six years, the hymn was traditionally sung at the Cathedral in Lida at the end of the service when the cross is presented to the faithful for veneration.
On 26 November 2020, following the Prosecutor General’s official warning, Archpriest Sergiy Lepin resigned from his role of Chair of the Synodal Information Department of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. The warning was on 18 November in relation to the priest’s Facebook post where he criticised the authorities’ vandalism of the spontaneous memorial for the murdered Raman Bandarenka. The day before, Lukashenko encouraged to deal with clergy (see the corresponding section). 69 priests active in ministry appealed to Metropolitan Veniamin in support of Fr Lepin. In solidarity with him, Tatyana Kuznetsova, the Department’s employee, Fr Lepin’s deputy, Archpriest Jauhien Hramyka, submitted resignations. Kuznetsova was dismissed on 28 December 2020, Hramyka — on 22 December 2020.
On 21 January 2021, priest Alexander Kukhta was dismissed from the Missionary Department of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. He was one of the organisers of the spontaneous flash mob, Orthodox Christians are against falsifications, and against humiliating and oppressing people, on 8 August 2020. He participated in the volunteer camp by the Akrescina detention centre and said a memorial service for Raman Bandarenka on 12 November 2020. He also submitted sureties for Ihar Losik on 20 November 2021. Also, Archpriest Sergiy Timoshenkov, Head of the Synodal Missionary department of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, was dismissed «due to heavy workload and some other circumstances”. In November 2020, Timoshenkov criticised the meeting of Metropolitan Veniamin with Alexander Lukashenko; he also defended the Mahutny Boža (Almighty God) hymn.
On 8 June 2021, the Synod of the Belarusian Orthodox Church decided to petition His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and the Holy Synod «for the retirement of His Grace Archbishop of Hrodna and Vaŭkavysk Artemy for health reasons.» At an emergency online meeting on 9 June 2021, members of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church considered the petition and dismissed Archbishop Artemy. This was a forced removal of the diocesan bishop on deliberately false grounds: allegedly «for health reasons.» Archbishop Artemy claimed that he was dismissed «at the behest of the state.» The Christian Vision group issued a statement in which it expressed its “resolute disagreement with the politically motivated forcible removal of Archbishop Artemy and the canonical arbitrariness towards him.» Orthodox believers recorded a video in support of Archbishop Artemy. More than 60 graduates of the faculty of theology of the European Humanities University and the Institute of Theology of the Belarusian State University expressed public support for their mentor.
After the 2020 elections, Archbishop Artemy spoke out against fraud and violence on several occasions: in a statement on 14 August 2020, in a sermon on 16 August 2020, and in a sermon for the Forgiveness Sunday on 14 March 2021. In August 2020, more than 300 people, incl. priests, theologians, intellectuals, active laity, employees of the Belarusian Orthodox Church — wrote a letter of gratitude to Archbishop Artemy. Its copy was also posted to the address of the Exarchate. The Belarusian Orthodox Church attempted to distance itself from the Hrodna Archbishop’s statements. The Synodal Department on Relations of the Church and Society published an explanation, On the Participation of Believers in Social and Political Life, relating to the alleged “multiple and bewildered questions about the words said by Archbishop of Hrodna and Vaŭkavysk Artemy said in the Intercession Cathedral of Hrodna on Sunday, 16 August 2020. The document explained that those words were the expression of Archbishop Artemy’s personal position and reflected exclusively his own view on the ongoing events.» Later, a campaign of persecution was launched against Archbishop Artemy: a collection of signatures for his removal was initiated at the Mother Of God Holy Birth stauropegic (independent of the local bishop) monastery headed by hegumenia Gavriila (Glukhova) in Hrodna; the pro-regime bloggers Yuri Uvarov and Olga Bondareva filmed videos attacking Archbishop Artemy himself and the icons of the new martyrs in the Intercession Cathedral in Hrodna. After a service at the Holy Intercession Cathedral during a visit to the Hrodna diocese on 14 October 2020, Metropolitan Veniamin — in the presence of Archbishop Artemy — announced that singing the Belarusian spiritual hymn, Mahutny Boža, would be “dividing society” and therefore — undesirable. After receiving on 27 November 2020 a letter from the Commissioner for Religious and Ethnic Affairs No. 02-02 / 81 which contained a warning of the Belarusian Orthodox Church about “the absolute obligation of religious organisations to comply with the legislation of the Republic of Belarus”, on 17 December 2020 Metropolitan Veniamin sent a letter to Archbishop Artemy. Metropolitan informed Archbishop Artemy about the warning and instructed him to fulfil those requirements. It is not known whether similar instructions were sent to other Belarusian Orthodox Church bishops.
On 10 June 2021, the Nic and Mike Telegram channel wrote that the leadership of the Belarusian Orthodox Church had passed a list of about 100 “unreliable” clergymen to the 4th Department of the Belarusian KGB.
Following the forcible removal of Archbishop Artemy (Kishchenko), the new Bishop of the Hrodna diocese, Anthony (Daronin), dismissed a number of clergy from their posts. On 19 July 2021, Archpriest George (Yuri) Roy was released of the parish priest responsibilities at the Holy Intercession Cathedral in Hrodna «according to the submitted petition». On 20 July he was appointed a parish priest of St. Ioann of Karmianski church in village Kvasoŭka, Hrodna region (decree no. 12). On the same day, Archpriest Anatoly Nenartovich was relieved of his post as secretary of the Hrodna diocese «according to the submitted petition»(decree no. 13). On 22 July 2021, Fr Mikalay Gaiduk was relieved of his post as the parish priest of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker house church of the Bishop’s courtyard in Hrodna and was appointed a regular priest at the same church (decree no. 15).
In the Minsk diocese governed by Metropolitan Veniamin (Tupeko), priests are prohibited from addressing violence and political repression in their sermons. They also are not allowed to use the prayer «for the granting of peace to the people of Belarus» adopted by Metropolitan Pavel (Ponomarev) and recommended for use at “all temples and monasteries” on 15 August 2020. There are facts of a complete prohibition of certain priests from preaching.
After the start of Russian aggression in Ukraine on 24 February 2022, there have been cases of a prohibition of prayer for Ukraine. Several priests of the Hrodna eparchy reported such a prohibition. According to them, Archbishop Antoni (Daronin) banned such prayers. Speaking to the human rights organisation, Forum 18, on 9 March, eparchial secretary Fr Iaan Danilchyk denied the existence of the ban. He said that the text recommended by the Patriarchate was being used for prayer in churches. This text, however, is unacceptable for many clergy and laity, since the blame for the armed conflict in Ukraine is laid on «foreign peoples», and the prayer affirms the unity of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, thus disguising the fact of the Russian Federation being the direct aggressor in this war.
The persecution has also reached teachers of seminaries and theological educational institutions. On 30 August 2021, the Academic Council of the Minsk Theological Seminary dismissed Fr Vladislav Bogomolnikov, a Philosophy lecturer. On 19 January 2021, Fr Bogomolnikov went on a hunger strike in solidarity with the political prisoner, journalist Ihar Losik.
At the meeting on 7 September 2021, the Synod of the Belarusian Orthodox Church dismissed Elena Zenkevich from the role of Coordinator and Head of the Association of Charity Sisterhoods of Belarusian Orthodox Church (former Union of Charity Sisterhoods of Belarusian Orthodox Church, a separate structural subdivision of the Belarusian Orthodox Church). This decision is recorded in Journal no. 81 approved by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on 24 September 2021. Elena Zenkevich was the founder of the Union and its executive secretary. She is held in high regard in the Orthodox community of Belarus, in acknowledgement of which she was recommended as a representative of the democratic Orthodox movement to the Coordination Council in August-September 2020.
On 15 April 2021, Fr Andrei Zhylevitch, a member of the Capuchin Order, was replaced with another Capuchin, Fr Anatoli Yaroshka as the director of Caritas, a Catholic charitable organisation. In August 2020, Fr Zhylevitch and Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusevich were by the Akrescina detention centre. Soon after the Department for Humanitarian Affairs at the Belarus President Property Management Directorate prevented еру charity from receiving foreign funding for one of its projects (see the Persecution of Faith Communities and Organisations Related to Religion or Church section). In February 2021, Fr ZhylevitFch publicised the fact of the charity being prevented from receiving charitable aid.
On 8 May 2022, Andrey Nozdryn, a parish priest of St Spyridon of Trimythous church in Hrodna was removed from all posts he held in the Hrodna eparchy: responsibilities of the parish priest, head of the missionary department and culture and sports liaison. Fr Nozdryn was one of the priests who provided assistance to detainees during the peaceful protests in the summer of 2020. Earlier, pro-government activist Volha Bondarava denounced the priest’s anti-war position (see the corresponding Administrative persecution and government pressure section).
Administrative and criminal persecution and government pressure
On 10 August 2020, Fr Eduard Sinkevich SCJ (Pastavy) and Fr Alexander Fedotov SCJ (Hrodna), members of Priests of the Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic congregation, were tried for the alleged violation of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences (violation of the established procedure for holding a meeting, rally, street procession, demonstration, picketing and other mass events). The former was sentenced to ten days of arrest, the latter to eight days of arrest. They were detained in Baranаvičу on the evening of 9 August while taking a walk. At the same time, mass protests following the election were taking place in the city. Priests did not identify themselves as clergy. On 11 August 2020, the military attacked another priest of the same congregation, Priests of the Sacred Heart, Dzmitry Prystupa SCJ from the Liachavičy parish, while he was driving a car in Baranаvičу. According to the priest, the military repeatedly hit the car. While trying to drive away from them, the car accidentally hit one of them with a mirror inflicting «bodily harm in the form of a bruise on the lower third of the right thigh, as well as physical pain«. Consequently, Prystupa was charged under article 364 “Violence against a police officer” providing up to six years of imprisonment. To avoid the prosecution, the priest left the country. On 13 January 2021, the story was reported by state television. In the report, Dzmitry Prystupa was called a «former priest«, which was untrue, and was accused of «inciting religious hatred«.
On 10 August 2020, a preacher of an evangelical church, Sergiy Melyanets, and his two brothers, Mikalai and Aliaksei, were detained in Minsk while praying for peace in Belarus in their car, parked by the Minsk Concert Hall. Mikalai and Aliaksei were beaten with batons. Sergiy was tortured with an electric taser, he was taken to a hospital (see more in the section on torture), while his brothers were sent to a prison in Žodzina. All three brothers were tried in court. The judge sent the case back for rework. Later, the case was closed due to the end of the limitation period. At the end of August, Sergiy Melyanets installed window blinds in white-red-white colours in his own house. On 18 December, a protocol was drawn up under part 1 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences: “deliberate holding of an individual picket” that was not authorized by the local authorities, Minsk District Executive Committee. On 16 January, a court hearing took place in the Minsk District Court (judge Victor Shevtsov), at which Melyanets confirmed that he had hung the blinds of the aforementioned colours: “because I like those colours and they reflect my Christian worldview. White symbolizes the holiness that we, believers, receive thanks to the blood shed by Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins.” According to Melyanets, he “pursued, first of all, the goal of demonstrating his Christian worldview.” At the hearing on 21 January Melyanets was fined 870 rubles. The judge expressed doubts about the fact that the combination of white and red colours could be a Christian symbol. Melyanets, who has a degree in theology, argued that such a combination appears in the book of Isaiah: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isa 1:18). The judge rejected the interpretation; in his view, the white and red colours in this verse appear separately from each other, and not in combination. On the same day, 21 January 2021, the Directorate for Internal Affairs of the Minsk District Executive Committee sent letters to the educational institutions attended by Sergiy Melyanets’s children. The letters were signed by the Chief of the Public Security Police and Deputy Head of the Directorate for Internal Affairs of the Minsk District Executive Committee, S.L. Udodov. The letters informed the institutions that a protocol against Melyanets had been drawn up under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Offenses Code for participating in an unauthorized mass gathering in Minsk District. They noted that Melyanets “has a large number of children in his care” referring to Melyanets’s seven children. The Directorate instructed the educational institutions to “carry out preventive measures in regard to the named family.” On 2 February, Sergiy Melyanets’s wife received a phone call from the school in Pryvoĺny village attended by the family’s second-oldest son. She was informed that a “social services investigation” had been launched against the family. On the morning of 3 February, staff from the above school and another school, no.144, attended by three of the seven Melyanets children conducted home visits to the family’s home. “An act of examination of the living conditions and education of minors» was drawn up. In the evening of the same day, the family received an official request to appear before the Prevention Council. On the same day, the eldest son, a college student in Minsk, was removed from the last lesson and brought into the Deputy Director for Education and Ideology office. There, he was subjected to intimidation and threats with expulsion from the college — despite his good attainment and behaviour — if new information about his father’s allegedly unlawful behaviour appeared. On 4 February, Melyanets’s second son was summoned to a psychologist at the Pryvoĺny village school where he was subjected to psychological pressure. On 13 February, a Prevention Council hearing was held to deliberate whether there was sufficient evidence for recognizing Melyanets’s large family as being in a socially dangerous situation; the affirmative decision could have led to the removal of the children from the family. The Council unequivocally agreed that there were no reasons to doubt the family’s sound welfare situation, and all the “preventive measures» against the family should have been dropped. Sergiy Melyanets is awaiting his complaint against the decision of the Minsk District Court to impose an administrative penalty for the “blinds case” to be reviewed by a higher court, the Minsk Regional Court. The complaint was filed on 2 February, and the hearing is to take place on 23 February.
On 11 August 2020, while walking to worship in Kobryn, the evangelical believer Heorhi Dzmitruk was detained by people without identification marks. He was taken to the local police station and beaten. The police beat him on the body and hit his head against the wall. During interrogation, he was also beaten with a truncheon on the shin and thigh. After the interrogation, Dzmitruk was taken out into the courtyard; there, one police officer beat him on the head while another held Dzmitruk. The believer was kept without shoes in an isolation ward with a concrete floor. Police officers perceived his long hair as a sign of belonging to the LGBT community; they threatened Dzmitruk with being placed in a cell where he could be sexually assaulted. Due to the threat of criminal prosecution, Dzmitruk left Belarus.
On 22 August 2020, For participating in a protest in Brest, evangelical Christians and cousins Danila Bandaruk (from Brest) and Mark Salonikau (from Mahilioŭ), both from large believing families, were detained in Minsk. They were placed in pre-trial detention centre no. 7 in Brest. On 21 March 2021, an evangelical believer Aliaksandr Viniarski, a friend of Bandaruk and Salonikau, was detained too. Bondaruk was charged under Part 2 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (participation in riots) and Part 1 of Art. 339 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism). Salonikau and Viniarski, who was a minor at that time, were charged under Part 2 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (participation in riots). On 21 May 2021, judge Andrei Hrushko of the Lieninski district court in Brest, sentenced Bondaruk to five years and Salonikau — to four and half years of imprisonment in a high-security colony. Viniarski was sentenced to three years of imprisonment in an educational colony for minors. Shortly before the arrest, in a car, all three believers recorded a video performing a song glorifying Christ.
On 27 August 27 2020, in solidarity and support of the right to freedom of religion — following the incident that took place a day before when the riot police blocked the entrance to the church (see the relevant section) — Christian believers planned to hold a procession from the Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Spirit Cathedral on Svabody Square in Minsk to St Simon and St Helena Roman Catholic church (Red Church) on Independence Square. When they approached the Cathedral, they saw that it was surrounded by law enforcement officers in plain clothes. Evangelical believer Uladzimir Mayorau preached in front of three riot police officers and one police officer in plain clothes. Upon reaching the destination point of the procession at the Red Church, the faithful read several psalms and briefly prayed; the pastor of the Trinity Evangelical Church in Minsk, Taras Telkovsky, read psalms and prayed for Belarus and the release of political prisoners. Immediately after that, the group was surrounded by riot police. All the men from this group were detained and taken to the Pieršamajski district police station where protocols were drawn up under art. 23.34. The fate of three detainees in this episode is known: pastor Taras Telkovsky was fined 30 basic units (810 Belarusian rubles); judge M. I. Khoma sentenced Evangelical believer Uladzimir Mayorau to eight days of administrative arrest; a student of the Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine (Kyiv) Zmitser Khvedaruk was sentenced to seven days of administrative arrest which he spent in the detention centre in Žodzina.
On 3 September 2020, Nikalay Svinko, pastor of the Evangelical Christian Church in the village of Siniehava (Staradarožski District) was tried under Part 1 of Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code. On the following day, 4 September, judge Diana Filatova issued a formal warning to the pastor, despite the absence of any evidence of an offence. Indeed, the pastor was standing next to his parishioners during the peaceful protests in Staryja Darohi on 14 and 16 August. He held pastoral conversations with them, encouraged to maintain the peaceful and non-aggressive character of the protests. He considered supporting his parishioners in seeking truth and justice to be his pastoral duty.
On 18 September 2020, the Saviecki District Court in Homieĺ (judge A.N. Mokharev) sentenced Fr Vladimir Drobyshevsky, an Orthodox priest, to ten days of administrative arrest under part 1 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences, “violation of the established procedure for holding an assembly, rally, street procession, demonstration, picketing, or other mass event”. He was punished for standing near the Homieĺ State Technical University on 11 September 2020. He was holding a placard depicting Isaac Newton and his Third Law of Motion (For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction) written both as a sentence and a physics formula. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement regarding the incident. On 28 September, immediately after serving his sentence from 18 September, Fr Vladimir Drobyshevsky was subjected to another court hearing by the same court made of the same people. The priest was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest under the same article. He was accused of being present close to his place of living at 12 Savieckaja Street at 14:42 on 6 September, at the time when an unauthorized mass protest was taking place nearby. The Christian Vision Group issued a second statement regarding the persecution of the priest. In total, Fr Vladimir Drobyshevsky spent 25 days in jail continuously. In the jail, his pectoral cross and cassock were taken away from him. Following the arrests, the Investigative Committee continued to intimidate the priest. A father of six, he was forced to leave the country with his family. On 28 December, Archbishop Stefan of Homieĺ and Žlobin issued Decree no. 37/20, “blessing»» … to deprive [Archpriest Vladimir Drobyshevsky]… of the right to wear clerical clothes (cassock, habit, kalimavkion) and the priest’s cross, and give the priestly blessing.”
On 27 September 2020, Larуsa Sautsina protested in Homieĺ. The poster raised above her head read: «Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to each man according as his work is!» (Rev. 22:12). The judge of the Central District in Homieĺ, Alesya Osipava, sentenced Sautsina to the fine of 5 basic units. On 26 November, the believer made an unsuccessful attempt to appeal the fine in the regional court. Human rights activist, Leonid Sudalenko, announced his intention to appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee on this matter. Larysa Sautsina explained her motivation to demonstrate with posters with Bible quotes in order to reflect on the events taking place in Belarus.
On 27 September 2020, German Snezhkov, an Old Believer from Homieĺ, was detained for participating in a peaceful protest against the rigged elections in Belarus. On the following day, the court sentenced him to a 14-day arrest under article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences for participating in an unauthorized event. A criminal case was also initiated against him based on part 2 of article 363 of the Criminal Code for resistance to the police associated with the use of violence or with the threat of its use. On the night of 29 September, the police searched Snezhkovs’ house; it seized laptops and telephones. Snezhkov’s wife, Natalia Snezhkova, was detained. Their two children, Aglaya and Matvey, were placed in an orphanage. A trial took place on the next day, 30 September. Natalia Snezhkova was fined 324 rubles. After the trial, she managed to collect the children from the orphanage. German Snezhkov and Natalia Snezhkova are active parishioners of the Elias Church of Old Believers in Homieĺ. The World Union of Old Believers issued a statement condemning the persecution of Snezhkovs. By the New Year, German Snezhkov managed to join his family in Vilnius, Lithuania.
On 28 and 30 September 2020, the Lida District Court heard a case of an administrative offence by Irena Bernatskaya, a Roman Catholic. On 12 August, Bernatskaya and a group of other members of the Mothers in Prayer community initiated a prayer for Belarus in the format of the Pompeian novena, a rosary prayer lasting 54 days. The prayer took place in front of the Farny Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Lida, Hrodna Region. When Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz was denied entry to Belarus on 31 August, the prayers for his return to his homeland were also added to the novena. Judge Uladzimir Fyodorovich stated that “praying is legal in Belarus» and dismissed the police claims. The court hearing of the case against Irena Bernatskaya has not been closed, but only suspended until the law enforcement agencies present specific charges. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement regarding the persecution of the believer. On 16 October, the Lida District Court found Irena Bernatskaya guilty of violating the procedure for holding mass events. The court fined Bernatskaya 810 rubles. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement protesting against the imposition of a fine on a believer. On 25 March 2021, Irena Bernatskaya was accused of allegedly inciting hatred and detained under Art. 130 of the Criminal Code. She was held in Prison no. 1 in Minsk. She was recognized as a political prisoner by the Belarusian human rights organisations. On 2 June 2021, it became known that Bernatskaya was expelled from Belarus to Poland.
On 30 September 2020, based on part 1 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences, the Vaŭkavysk District Court (judge Leonard Divnel) issued a warning to Fr Alexandr Bogdan of St Peter and Paul Church in Vaŭkavysk. On September 13th, the Orthodox priest laid flowers by the Bagration Military History Museum in memory of Konstantin Shishmakov, the recently deceased Museum director. Fr Bogdan knew Shishmakov personally. Following the laying of the flowers, the priest and friends went for a walk. According to the court’s decision, the walk was an unauthorised mass event, while the fact that the priest walked in front was treated as leading a march. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement regarding the persecution. Оn 16 October, a second court hearing took place in relation to Fr Alexandr Bogdan of St Peter and Paul Church in Vaŭkavysk. On this occasion, the priest was charged with participation in an unauthorised mass gathering that took place in Vaŭkavysk on 16 August. Fr Bogdan insisted that he had considered the mass event authorised following the announcement by Mikhail Sitko, the Chairperson of the Vaŭkavysk Region Executive Committee, made public on 14 August. The Vaŭkavysk District Court rejected that such permission had been granted. The court issued a second warning based on part 1 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences to Fr Bogdan. His colleagues from the Hrodna and Minsk Dioceses attended the hearing to support the priest. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement regarding the persecution.
On 4 October 2020, before and after the prayer service for Belarus in St Methodius and Cyril Orthodox Church in Vaŭkavysk, Hrodna Region, the police detained about 15 parishioners. Such prayer services were held every Sunday in all churches of the country at the call of the Primate of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Veniamin. No political symbols were used during the prayer service in Vaŭkavysk. At the police station, believers were subjected to questioning and the police searched the content of their phones. They were released without a formal record. The Christian Vision Group released a statement protesting the intimidation of faithful attending a prayer service.
In early October 2020, administrative proceedings based on part 1 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences were launched against spouses, Alexander and Tatiana Tsilindz. They were charged with being part of a group of citizens who, without permission, participated in a prayer for peace in Belarus. On 30 September, clergy of four religious confessions attended the court hearing to support Alexander Tsilindz, a well-known surgeon. The hearing was postponed. On 12 October, Tsilindzs were summoned to the police station where Tatyana Tsilindz was charged with violating Article 10 of the Law “On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus”, “by public protesting about of the elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus; specifically, [Mrs Tsilindz] was part of an organized group of citizens; she was praying and had an icon hanging on her chest, which violated the established procedure [for mass events]”. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement demanding to end the persecution of the believers. On 30 November, the process against Alexander Tsilindz was terminated due to the statute of limitations.
On 4 October 2020, Marina Bulatovskaya, a Greek Catholic, was tried at the Čyhunačny District court, Viciebsk (judge Alena Tsygankova). She was found guilty under part 1 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences and fined 108 rubles. On 23 September 2020, she was close to a peaceful march in Viciebsk; she was praying a rosary for God’s mercy. She did not violate public order, nor participated in the protest, nor posed threat to public safety. She did not shout slogans, nor used any symbols. She prayed for the participants of the peaceful march and her friends who were among the protesters. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement regarding this case.
On 21 October 2020, a judge of the Zavodski District Court of Minsk, Anastasia Osipchik, sentenced Andrey Luhin and Alyona Palachanskaya of a Christian music band Laudans to 15 days of administrative arrest under part 1 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences. On 20 October, on the local residents’ invitation, Luhin and Palachanskaya gave a small street concert on Anharskaja Street in Minsk. The musicians performed their own songs — Adzinstva (Unity), Ahmień (Рearth), U Sercy Svaboda (Freedom in Heart) — as well as covers of popular Belarusian songs. Several dozens of locals gathered to listen to the band. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement in support of Luhin and Palachanskaya.
On 22 October 2020, the Lieninski District Court in Brest fined Elena Gnauk, a pensioner, 810 rubles. The court decided that on 30 August Gnauk participated in a street protest, thus committing an offence under Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences. According to Gnauk, she did not take part in the protest on 30 August. At the time of the unauthorized march, she went for a walk and then — to the railway station to catch a train. She came across the fenced Plošča Lienina (Lenin Square) with the police in protective ammunition standing behind turnstiles. The protesters were standing on the other side of the fence. Gnauk knelt between the police and protesters and said a prayer for the peaceful resolution of the standoff. Then she went to the railway station. This was the pensioner’s fifth court trial. On 4 October she was sentenced to 15 days of arrest for taking part in a march demanding the release of political prisoners. While Gnauk was held in a temporary detention facility, the court tried her twice on other administrative charges, but both cases were sent back for rework. On 19 October, after 15 days imprisonment, Gnauk was taken to court again. Her case was sent back for rework once again, but Gnauk remained in custody for another three days. Since then, the police detained the pensioner frequently. On the last occasion, on 13 December, she was detained while walking around the city. After being held at the police station for some time, she was released without charges. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement regarding the persecution of Elena Gnauk.
On 25 October 2020, Zmitser Dashkevich, an Evangelical Christian, and Artiom Tkaczuk, a Roman Catholic — both are Christian activists — were detained near the Niamiha underground station in Minsk where a peaceful march was taking place. Both alternately held a placard, Let My People Go!, — an appeal repeated many times in the Book of Exodus where Moses demanded from the Pharaoh to release the chosen people from slavery. Dashkevich and Tkaczuk were expressing their Christian understanding of and attitude to the political crisis in the country. On 26 October 2020, a judge of the Maskoŭski District Court in Minsk, Sergei Katser, found Artiom Tkaczuk guilty of violating part 1 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences and sentenced him to twelve days of administrative arrest. Tkaczuk’s plea for a fine instead of an arrest, due to having two small children — 18 months and four years old — was denied. On 27 October 2020, judge Tatyana Motyl of the same court found Zmitser Dashkevich guilty of violating the same part 1 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences. Dashkevich was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest. During the court hearing, Dashkevich stated that he had been tortured before the trial: he was placed in solitary confinement and forced to sleep on a concrete floor, and he was denied access to water. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement in support of Artiom Tkaczuk and Zmitser Dashkevich.
On 29 October 2020, Ilya Silchukov, the leading soloist of the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre, was dismissed after 15 years of impeccable employment experience at the most prestigious Belarusian theatre. Silchukov is a laureate of prestigious international competitions and a scholar of state programs for talented youth. A formal reason for the dismissal was the alleged violation of paragraphs 3 and 47 of the Labor Code. The theatre administration accused the performer of “committing an immoral act incompatible with a professional role”. The likely reasons for the dismissal were: Silchukov’s views on the situation in the country which the performer made public repeatedly; participation in a video of solidarity with persecuted artists; acts of public solidarity at the theatre; and the public performance of the Mahutny Boža hymn on the steps of the Philharmonic Hall in Minsk. He also took part in a music video for Mahutny Boža which went viral. Silchukov is an active member of a Baptist community. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement protesting Ilya Silchukov’s dismissal.
On 8 November 2020, Alexandr Zhdanovich, a well-known Belarusian actor and Orthodox Christian, was detained in Minsk. When Zhdanovich and his friend were near the Galleria shopping mall on Pieramožcaŭ Avenue, 15 riot police minivans were parked nearby; many policemen were standing on the pavement. Passing them by, Zhdanovich took a wooden cross from his bag and started blessing them with the cross and reading prayers. When Zhdanovich heard one of the policemen shouting obscenely at a woman, he approached the policemen and, while holding the cross, politely asked him to stop. Zhdanovich was brutally detained: his arms were twisted and he was carried to a minivan. On 11 November, Zhdanovich was found guilty of violating part 1 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences. He was sentenced to nine days of administrative arrest. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement protesting the arrest.
On 11 November 2020, Mikalai Dziadok, an activist of the anarchist movement and a Christian, was brutally detained. GUBOPiK (Ministry of Internal Affair’s Department for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs officers broke into a country house in Sasnovy village where the blogger was at that time. They severely beat him during the detention, sprayed pepper spray in his eyes and forced him to be recorded on video. Dziadok passed the information about being tortured through other prisoners and stated that at the court hearing. He has been charged under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (Organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them), Art. 361 of the Criminal Code (Encouragement to actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus), Art. 295-3 of the Criminal Code (Unlawful use of combustible substances). Dziadok has been recognized as a political prisoner. He is imprisoned in a pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) no. 1 in Minsk.
On 12 November 2020, Fr Viachaslau Barok, a priest of a Roman Catholic parish in Rasony, Viciebsk Region, was summoned by senior investigator K. I. Zubko to the district office of the Investigative Committee “as a witness”. The true reason for the summons was an examination under Article 174 of the Criminal Procedural Code, “decisions following statements about or reports of crime.” The subject matter of the examination was Fr Barok’s YouTube channel which the priest uses for his vlog. Among other topics, the priest frequently discussed the socio-political crisis in Belarus the light of the social teachings of the Catholic Church. The investigator announced that a linguistic examination of the vlog content and Instagram posts would be initiated. On 1 December 2020, a court hearing of Fr Viachaslau Barok’s charge of violating article 17.10 of the Code of Administrative Offences, “propaganda and (or) public display, production and (or) distribution of Nazi symbols or paraphernalia”, started. Allegedly, Fr Barok committed a crime by reposting on Instagram a work Stop Lukashism! by a well-known artist, Vladimir Tsesler. On 3 December, the court (judge Rada Daminich) sentenced Fr Barok to ten days of arrest. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement protesting the persecution of Fr Viachaslau Barok. On 12 January 2021, Fr Barok received a letter from the Investigative Committee informing that on 4 January 2021 — the day following Pope Francis’ acceptance of Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz’s resignation — the examination of the priest’s activities on social networks was suspended due to “not receiving the results of the examination” (under part 1.2 of article 173(3) of the Criminal Procedural Code). According to the letter, the reason for the aforementioned examination was to identify the calls «aiming to incite extremism and harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus». On 29 January 2021, Fr Barok was summoned to the Investigative Committee again. He was told that nine new examinations of the eight videos had been initiated. One of the examinations was in relation to reposting Vladimir Tsesler’s work Stop Lukashism!, for which the priest had already been subjected to imprisonment. On 1 July 2021, Fr Viachaslau Barok was summoned to the Rasony district police station on suspicion of violating Article 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offences initiated by the Haradok police regarding a photograph posted by Fr Barok on his Instagram on 14 June 2021. The photograph was discovered by an employee of the Viciebsk Regional Internal Affairs Department. The photograph attributed to him was taken on the Polish side of the Polish-Belarusian border, near the Bobrowniki border crossing, during a solidarity protest on 12 June 2021. In the photo, the children of Antanina Kanavalava and Siarhei Yarashevich—both have been recognised as political prisoners by the Belarusian human rights organisations—were holding a sign with the words, SOS! My motherland is in great trouble! The children are refugees in Poland; they have to stay with their grandmother there. The photograph was widely published on various media websites, Telegram channels, and social networks as far back as 12 June 2021. It was signed ASh / Belsat. The head of the Rasony district Department for the Protection of Law and Order and for Crime Prevention, major M.G. Perapechkin, informed Fr Barok of the two Haradok prosecutor’s sanctions: to inspect the church, parish hall, and the priest’s house; and seize all the found equipment and information carriers. During the questioning, Fr Barok’s personal Samsung smartphone was seized. Due to the errors in the church buildings’ addresses in the prosecutor’s papers, the police could not proceed with the examination of the premises. In addition to familiarising with the administrative prosecution materials, Fr Barok was informed of the prosecutor’s formal warning in relation to the extremist materials allegedly posted on the priest’s social networks. The warning was signed by the Viciebsk Region’s first deputy prosecutor, D.A. Shapavalau, on 25 June 2021 and read to Fr Barok by an assistant prosecutor, S.S. Aleshka. Due to the renewed persecution, Fr Barok had to leave Belarus on Monday, 5 July 2021. The Christian Vision Group published a statement about this case of persecution. On 14 October 2022, the Rasony district court recognized the video Fr BAROK — about Lukashenko and Satan, the Pope and Repentance, Freedom and Death as extremist material.
On 13 November 2020, Catholic believer Ala Rashchynskaya came to the Merciful Jesus Cathedral in Viciebsk to honour the 31-year-old activist Raman Bandarenka who died after being detained and beaten by a group of unidentified persons supporting Lukashenka’s regime. She lit a grave lamp and joined a chain of people commemorating Bandarenka. For participation in unauthorised picketing (part 3 of article 23.34 of the Administrative Code), the Pieršamajski district court in Viciebsk (judge Mikhail Yurchanka) sentenced Rashchynskaya to ten days of administrative arrest on 7 December. During the trial, the judge mentioned the arrest of Fr Viachaslau Barok serving an administrative arrest in Viciebsk at that time. This points at the connection of Rashchynskaya`s persecution with her practising faith. Also in connection with the commemoration of the murdered Raman Bandarenka, a Christian activist and member of the Christian Vision Working Group of the Coordination Council, Maksim Kavaleu, was detained on 15 November in Minsk at the site of Roman’s beating where a peaceful meeting was taking place. Kavaleu went to Plošča Pieramien (Square of Changes) to express his grief, to lit a commemorative lamp and pray for allegedly murdered Raman Bandarenka. Kavaleu was exercising his right to peaceful assembly and freedom of conscience. On 16 November, a judge of the Maskoŭski District Court of Minsk, Svyatlana Bandarenka, found Kavaleu guilty of violating part 1 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences, “violation of the established procedure for holding a meeting, rally, street procession, demonstration, picketing, other mass events.” He was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement regarding the persecution.
On 30 November 2020, Fr Vitaly Bystrou, a Greek Catholic priest, was sentenced to ten days of arrest by the Ivacevičy District Court (judge Vasily Avrusevich) for violating article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences. According to the priest, on 25 October, “an officer in the rank of lieutenant colonel, approached me and asked which church I belonged to and where I was from. I replied that I was a priest of the Greek Catholic Church, also known as Uniate. He told me that Athanasius of Brest-Litovsk, who at the beginning of the 17th century was an ardent opponent of the church union, is well-known in the city now. I answered that in the same city the union between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches was signed.” Even before Fr Bystrou’s trial and despite the fact that the priest does not belong to the local parish clergy, but only lives in Ivacevičy, the local Žyrovičy Mother of God parish received a formal warning in connection to “the priest’s participation in unauthorized events”. The press office of the Curia of the Apostolic Visitor for the Belarusian Greek Catholics issued a statement of surprise with “the warning to the parish in Ivacevičy for the events that took place in Brest”, and pointed out at the absurdity of punishing a parish for the actions of the priest who does not belong to the clergy of this parish. The statement also expressed regret that the warning was issued to the parish “for the activities of an individual, which reveals the signs of introducing the practice of collective responsibility.”
On 1 December 2020, Fr Siarhei Rezanovich, a parish priest of St Michael the Archangel Orthodox church in the agrotown of Sciapanki in Žabinka district of Brest region, his wife Liubou and son Pavel were detained and placed in custody on suspicion of allegedly creating — alongside Mikalai Autukhovich, a well-known political prisoner — a terrorist group that set fire to cars and houses of security officials (art. 289 of the Criminal Code, Act of terrorism). All members of the Rezanovich family have been recognised as political prisoners. They were in the pre-trial detention centre no. 7 in Brest. In February 2021, the state television station ONT showed a two-episode documentary Protest TNT, in which they appeared during interrogations. According to the film, the Rezanoviches are facing criminal prosecution for allowing Autukhovich to stay at their house, and various ammunition and weapons were allegedly found during a search in the house. On 1 December 2021, they were transferred to prison no. 1 in Hrodna. The whole family has been included in the list of persons «involved in terrorist activities» under numbers 731 to 733. On 18 May 2022, the trial in the «Autukhovich case» began. According to the state television news agency, Mrs Rezanovich was placed in a segregated cage as «particularly dangerous». Fr Siarhei Rezanovich refused to testify in court. The testimony given by him during the investigation was read out instead. According to the testimony, he allegedly heard from Mikalai Autukhovich about his unspecific intentions to shoot down the so-called Board no. 1 — Lukashenko’s plane — from a hand grenade launcher. On 17 October 2022, the trial ended; the charges of attempted terrorism against Siarhei Rezanovich were dropped, but he was sentenced to 16 years in a high-security colony and a fine of 600 basic units. His wife Liubou was sentenced to 15 years in a penal colony under general regime conditions and a fine of 600 basic units. Pavel Rezanovich was sentenced to 19 years in a strict regime colony and a fine of 800 basic units.
On 8 December 2020, a Greek Catholic priest Aleksey Voronko, a Roman Catholic priest Viktar Zhuk SJ, and a lay believer Aleksey Koryakov, were detained in Viciebsk. They were tried on 9 December. The case based on Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences was sent for rework. The second hearing took place on Christmas Eve, 24 December. Judge Mikhail Yurchenko issued a warning to all three accused. About forty people attended the hearing in support of the accused, including Aleh Butkevich, Bishop of Viciebsk, and five other priests.
On 9 December 2020, Barys Khamaida, a 74-year-old Greek Catholic, was standing by the building commonly known in Viciebsk as the Blue House, 30 Lienina Street. He was holding a gonfalon with an embroidered text of the prayer Our Father in Belarusian. A member of staff of the Čyhunačny District Department of Internal Affairs in Viciebsk drew up a protocol for Khamaida’s alleged violation of the procedure for organizing and holding mass events. On 24 December, Khamaida was tried for violating part 3 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences. The court of the Čyhunačny District of Viciebsk (judge Olga Shapoval) fined him 1,350 rubles. The embroidered gonfalon was made by another Christian, Antanina Pivanos. The original one was confiscated back in 2008 when, on 25 March, Antanina Pivanos and Baris Khamaida were standing by the Blue House in Viciebsk. Pivanos was fined under article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences. She appealed to the UN Human Rights Committee, which ruled that the Belarusan state violated the artist’s rights under article 19 paragraph 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (freedom of expression).
On 10 December 2020, the Human Rights Day, Ales Kaputski, a Greek Catholic and human rights activist from Maladziečna, was detained. On that day, he went to the town centre to distribute the Universal Declaration of Human Rights booklets to passers-by. 35 copies of the booklet were confiscated during detention. The police officers who detained Kaputski claimed the Declaration to be “foreign print media”. They wanted to punish Kaputsky for “illegal distribution of media products” (clause 3 of article 23.5 of the Administrative Code) and accused him of violating parts 2 and 5 of art. 17 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus On the Mass Media. The detention caught the attention of the UN office in Minsk, and the case ended abruptly: the Maladziečna police office informed the human rights activist that his actions did not constitute an offence and he would not be prosecuted. A year later, on 17 December 2021, Kaputski was detained again. A protocol was drawn up against him under part 2 of article 19.11 of the Administrative Code (Distribution of extremist materials). He was arrested for 15 days, the term of his arrest expiring on 1 January 2022. On that day, however, the human rights activist was not released; a new protocol was drawn up against him and he was subjected to additional 15 days of arrest. In July 2021, during the police operation targeting human rights workers and activists, Kaputski was also detained: the police detained him at work, his house was searched, he was taken to Minsk but later released. Kaputski was recognised as a political prisoner.
On 3 January 2021, Maria Revutskaya, a 65-year-old Roman Catholic, attended a solemn Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Name of the Virgin Mary in Minsk. Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz took part in the Mass. During the Mass, Revutskaya sang in the choir, and after Mass, she went home. As it was raining, Revutskaya held an open umbrella of white and red colours with the word Polska (Poland; white and red are the colours of the Polish flag). By the underground station, she was detained by four plainclothes police officers and taken to the Department of Internal Affairs of Centraĺny District in Minsk. Later, she was transferred to the temporary detention facility on Akrescina Street and brought to the court on the following day. A member of law enforcement services masked under the nickname Ivanov Ivan Ivanovich was called as a witness. He claimed that Revutskaya had allegedly participated in picketing, swung a white-red-white umbrella in her hands, and shouted the Long Live Belarus slogan in Belarusian. Judge D.S.Karsyuk found Revutskaya guilty under article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences and fined her 810 rubles.
On 3 January 2021, the police searched Valancina Kryshtopenka’s house in Akciabrskaja village, Viciebsk Region. Kryshtopenka has the grade one disability (that is, the most debilitating stage according to the Belarusian classification) and lives with her daughter and granddaughter. The search of the premises as part of the administrative investigation based on the charges under Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences for one-person picketing in the form of taking photographs. Allegedly, Kryshtopenka was photographed in front of a church and police car. She was holding a banner with a biblical quote, “When the wicked rule, the people groan” (Proverbs 29:2) while covering her face. The photographs were used for the video for Andrey Dementyev’s poem, Power is at War With Its Own People. The homemade banner and two mobile phones — one belonging to Kryshtopenka’s daughter, Svetlana — were seized. On 11 February 2021, judge Mikhail Zubenia of the Viciebsk District Court found Kryshtopenka guilty of an administrative offence and fined her 1160 rubles. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement protesting the persecution of the believer. Around 8 March, Kryshtopenka’s bank account was blocked due to enforcement proceedings for the recovery of a fine. The fine imposed on the retired and disabled person is several times larger than her monthly pension benefit. Consequently, Kryshtopenka was made destitute — unable to pay her bills for utilities and to buy food and medications.
On 21 January 2021, Tatsiana Lasitsa, a graduate of the Orthodox school of bell ringers and a human rights worker from Rečyca, was arrested. She was charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (Organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them). On 3 September, a closed trial began in the court of the Centraĺny district of Homieĺ (judge Syarhei Salouski). Lasitsa is tried alongside other workers of the Homieĺ branch of the human rights organization Viasna, Leanid Sudalenka and Maria Tarasenka. On 3 November, the court found Tatsiana Lasitsa guilty under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code for organising and preparing the «actions grossly violating public order, preparation of persons for participation in such actions», as well as financing them. She was sentenced to two and a half years in a general regime colony. Lasitsa has been recognised as a political prisoner.
On 23 January 2021, Karina Radchanka was detained in Minsk. She is the founder of the Street Medicine volunteer project offering medical assistance and consultations to homeless people in Minsk since November 2018. On that day, volunteers were providing medical care to the homeless, while the activists of the Food Instead of Bombs project were distributing food to those who needed it. The police detained both, the volunteers and those who came for help. On 25 January, volunteers of the Street Medicine, Karina Radchanka and Tatsiana Labaza were tried under part 1 of article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (Participation in an unauthorized event) in the Kastryčnicki district court of Minsk. The police witness claimed that Radchanka and Labaza “participated in the rally of feeding the homeless while they had pots with them”. The same witness acknowledged that neither symbols were used, nor slogans were heard. Judge Alena Zhyvitsa sentenced Radchanka and Labaza to 15 days of arrest. At the end of December 2021, the Street Medicine project announced the termination of its activities: “We made such a decision due to the current conditions which make the ordinary work of NGOs and charities — conducting their activities legally, talking about our mission and values, sharing the stories of volunteers and service users, raising funds and donations — increasingly difficult”. Radchanka is a graduate of the Institute of Theology of the Belarusian State University; she was the Institute’s nominee for the competition for the Best Student of the Belarusian State University in 2015.
On 26 February 2021, the trial of Andrei Levaniuk took place in the Maskoŭski District Court of Brest. He was tried under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code for picketing by drawing the graffiti “But deliver us from evil” on the facade of a residential building. On the same building, other inscriptions of various content had already been left by other people. Levaniuk drew a quote from the Our Father prayer on 13 February. He appealed against the verdict to find him guilty of an administrative offence. Instead of acquittal, the verdict was dropped, and the case was reclassified as a criminal offence under Article 341 of the Criminal Code (Desecration of buildings and structures and damage to property). Investigators estimated that Levaniuk had caused the 51.99 BYN damage to the property maintaining organisation. On 7 April, the judge of the Maskoŭski District Court of Brest, Vera Filonik, sentenced Andrei Levaniuk to one month of imprisonment. The public prosecutor was the assistant to the City Prosecutor, Manko.
Since 18 March 2021, Volha Zalatar, a mother of five children and an active Catholic believer, has been held in a pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) no. 1 in Minsk for the alleged creation of an extremist group (part 1 of art. 361-1 of the Criminal Code), as well as parts 1 and 2 of art. 342 of the Criminal Code (organisation and preparation of actions grossly violating public order, or active participation in them, as well as training in such actions) and part 1 of art. 16 (complicity in such actions). Zalatar was tortured (see the corresponding section) and experienced obstacles for obtaining religious literature and receiving pastoral visits (see the corresponding section). Zalatar pleaded not guilty on all accounts. The trial of the believer lasted from 15 November to 3 December 2021 in the Minsk City Court (judge Anastasiya Papko). On 2 December, Zalatar made her final speech; she stated that all her words and actions were motivated by nothing but her belief, the desire to follow the commandments of God and make the world be like the Kingdom of Heaven: «All my actions and statements are determined by love towards people and by hatred ‑ towards lies and violence.» The state prosecutor, Zhanna Baranava, requested five years in prison for the accused. On 3 December 2021, Zalatar was found guilty under three articles of the Criminal Code: part 1 of art. 361-1 (creation of an extremist group), parts 1 and 2 of Art. 342 (organisation and preparation of actions grossly violating public order), and part 1 of art. 16 (complicity in actions grossly violating public order). She was sentenced to four years in a general regime prison. By the “extremist group” allegedly created and managed by Zalatar, the prosecution meant the @dze.chat Telegram catalogue and the dze.chat website for neighbourhood chats. A participant of the dze.chat project, blogger Anton Motolko, made a statement: «As a person who knows EVERYONE who relates or related to the @dzechat project, I publicly declare that Volha Zalatar has never taken part in managing the dze.chat website. She did not volunteer for the project and never communicated with me or anyone else from the project personally.» The Christian Vision group adopted a statement regarding the unlawful sentence of the believer, Volha Zalatar.
On 24 March 2021, Artsiom Bayarski, a second-year student of the Faculty of Chemistry of the Belarusian State University, an Orthodox Christian, was detained at 6.30 am at a student dormitory, allegedly for the flag on the 11th floor. On 25 March, the Telegram channel of the Belarusian TV presenter, Hryhory Azaronak, published a video of Bayarski’s confession in administering the Telegram channel, Maja kraina Biełaruś (My Country Belarus), which had been classed as extremist by the state authorities. The administrators of the channel made a statement that they did not know the detained. Bayarski was sentenced to 25 days of administrative arrest during which, on 16 April, the investigator called Bayarski’s parents to inform them that their son was detained as a suspect under Part 1 of Art. 361-1 of the Criminal Code (Establishment of an extremist formation). While in the prison in Žodzina, Bayarski was denied medical assistance. He was not released after serving his arrest. Instead, he was transferred to a pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) no. 1 on Valadarskaha Street in Minsk. There, he was also not provided with medical assistance either. On 26 April, Bayarski was charged under Part 1 of Art. 361-1 of the Criminal Code (Establishment of an extremist formation). Currently, he is also charged under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (Organising and preparing actions grossly violating public order or actively participating in them). On 19 April, Bayarski told his lawyer that he had been tortured. In detention, he was denied medical assistance. On 9 December, judge Yelena Shylko sentenced Bayarski to five years in a high-security regime penal colony. See more in the section on torture.
Andrei Ausiyevich, the son of an Orthodox priest from Hrodna, was detained on 4 May 2021. He was a full-time carer for his father who after surviving a stroke and heart attack was severely disabled, with a tracheostomy. The search of Ausiyevich’s house and his detention were carried out as part of the investigation initiated on 20 December 2020 under art. 369 of the Criminal Code (Insulting an official). His computer and telephone were confiscated. On 5 May, the Telegram channel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus published a video with Ausiyevich. It follows from the video that Ausiyevich was suspected of writing offensive comments to the district inspector, Maksim Chartkou, in the Telegram messenger. Ausiyevich has also been charged with threats of violence against riot police officers (art. 364) in comments in the same messenger. Ausiyevich’s trial began on 3 September 2021 at the Hrodna regional court (judge Mikalai Rachynski, state prosecutor — Lyudmila Herasimenka. On 8 December 2021, 27-year-old Ausiyevich was sentenced to three and half years in prison. During the trial, Ausiyevich’s accusation was re-qualified three times. During the investigation, the State Committee of Forensic Examinations of the Hrodna region concluded that though Ausiyevich’s option expressed publicly contained a negative assessment, there was no reason to assert that he threatened the police. Consequently, the charge was reclassified under part 3 of the art. 361 (Public calls for an act of terrorism aimed at causing harm to national security). In court, the linguistic expert confirmed that Ausiyevich’s words did not call for any such actions. The experts of the additionally appointed expertise came to the same conclusion. In spite of that, the criminal prosecution was not dropped. Instead, a new charge was brought against the Christian believer for all the same comments. Finally, the court found Ausiyevich guilty under part 1 of the art. 130 of the Criminal Code (Incitement to hatred).
On 4 August 2021, a philosopher, methodologist, founder of the Flying University and Christian Reformed believer, Uladzimir Matskevich, was arrested. He and his colleagues: Tatsiana Vadalazhskaya, Aksana Shelest and Ulad Vialichka — were subjected to the search. Matskevich has been taken into custody and is held in detention centre no. 1 in Minsk. He was charged under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (Organizing actions that grossly violate public order). The 65-year-old philosopher was also classed as “prone to extremism”. He was kept in solitary confinement for a long time. The Christian Vision group issued a statement regarding the criminal prosecution of Uladzimir Matskevich. On 28 October 2021, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches spoke out in support of Matskevich. On 29 October 2021, it became known that Matskevich’s writings were referred for examination for signs of incitement of racial, national, religious or other social enmity and discord. On 4 February 2022, after another extension of his detention period, the philosopher went on a hunger strike. One of his demands was permission for a Protestant pastor’s visit. On 8 February 2022, the Christian Vision group issued a statement regarding the hunger strike of Uladzimir Matskevich. On 23 June 2022, Matskevich was sentenced to five years in prison in a high-security penal colony under art. 342 of the Criminal Code (Organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them), art. 368 of the Criminal Code (Insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus) and art. 361-1 of the Criminal Code (Creation of an extremist formation or participation in it).
On 8 July 2021, a journalist of a Catholic newspaper, Katalicki Viesnik, Dzmitry Lupach (Hlybokaje, Viciebsk Region) was detained at the Plisa spa hotel during the regime’s campaign against journalists. His apartment was searched, and a mobile phone was confiscated. On 11 July, Lupach was released, however, he remained a suspect in a criminal case based on Art. 130 part 1 of the Criminal Code (Incitement to racial, national, religious, or other social hatred or discord). According to the head of the Hlybokaje District Department of the Investigative Committee, Lieutenant Colonel S.M. Plikata, Lupach using the nickname ZmagarBNR allegedly posted a video clip containing calls for violence against the law enforcement forces in the Hlybokaje for Life Telegram chat. The chat has nearly a thousand members. The homes of the other five persons suspected in the same case were also searched.
On 8 July 2021, an evangelical Christian and civic activist from Baraŭliany (Minsk Region), Maria Vaitovich, was detained on suspicion of an “act of terrorism”. In December 2020, she took part in the Voice of the Church project for reflecting on the Christian understanding of the political crisis in Belarus. Vaitovich’s husband is a deacon of the Evangelical church; they have three adopted children. Vaitovich’s house was searched by police and KGB officers. They seized computer equipment, flags, and ethnic costumes. Vaitovich was released on 16 July.
On 8 July 2021, a search took place in the house of Aleksandr Zaretski, pastor of the Evangelical Church in Novalukoml (Čašnicki District, Viciebs Region). After signing a letter against violence, Zaretski was invited to the local police station and to the district’s Head of Ideology department. Currently, Zaretski’s status is one of a witness; he is under a nondisclosure agreement. On 4 November 2021, the Akciabarski district court of Viciebsk (judge Uladzimir Tsarykau) considered an administrative case against the Evangelical Church under Part 3 of Art. 15.5 of the Administrative Code (Submission of inaccurate information about the goods at declaring goods or in an application for release of goods before filing a declaration for goods to the customs authority). The case was initiated by the Viciebsk Customs which claimed that church representatives incorrectly declared the trademarks of some goods received from a partner organisation in Sweden. Due to the insignificance of the offence, the court decided to release the religious organisation from liability.
On 12 July 2021, a Roman Catholic activist and the father of ten children, Ruslan Tashtimirov, was detained. He was the founder of a Viber-based prayer group, The Scripture for Motherland. The KGB broke into his apartment and searched it. They seized flags, a computer, and a telephone. After interrogation, Tashtimirov was released. He was forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
On 13 August 2021, the news about the detention of Fr Ioann Tyutyunnikov broke out. He is a parish priest of the currently built Transfiguration of the Lord Orthodox parish in Žodzina, as well as a priest at the Redeemer Icon of the Mother of God parish. He is the son of Archpriest Nikolai Tyutyunnikov, the dean of the Žodzina district. According to the Telegram channel Maja Kraina Bielarus, Fr Ioann Tyutyunnikov was detained due to playing Viktor Tsoi’s song Peremen! (Changes!) in his car. The priest was initially arrested for 10 days, however, according to his parishioners, a 5,000 rubles fine was imposed instead later on.
On 7 September 2021, a search took place in the house of Dionisy Korostelev, a priest of the Ikon of the Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow parish in Minsk. The priest is under a nondisclosure agreement.
On 12 September 2021, political refugee Makaryi Malakhouski was detained in Poland at the request of the Belarusian prosecutor’s office which included him in the Interpol database. Malakhouski is the son of Andrei Malakhouski, a priest of the St Elisabeth Convent in Minsk. Earlier, a criminal case was initiated against Makaryi Malakhouski in Belarus for allegedly hitting with a car a traffic police officer on 13 August 2020. Malakhouski was held for 72 hours in a detention centre on Akrescina Street in Minsk. A few days later a criminal case was initiated under article 364 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (Violence or threat of violence against an employee of the Internal Affairs institutions) after which Malakhouski left the country.
On 14 September 2021, a policeman came to the home of an Orthodox priest Alexander Shramko, a blogger and member of the Christian Vision Group. The policeman explained his visit to the priest’s relatives by his interest in Shramko’s “destructive” activities in Telegram, in particular, in his channel Pop vnye igry (Pop Offside). Shramko was not at home; currently, he is in forced emigration due to the risk of persecution.
On 29 September 2021, GUBOPiK (Ministry of Internal Affair’s Department for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption) officers broke into the apartment of the former head of St Michael’s Orthodox parish in Minsk, bard Anatol Kudlasievich. They apprehended the owner and conducted a search by order from 7 September as part of a criminal investigation the essence of which was not clear to Kudlasievich. During the search, the apartment was ransacked. Kudlasievich was forced to be photographed with symbols of white-red-white colours. Then he was detained, and his laptops and mobile phones were confiscated. A protocol was drawn up under Article 24.23 of the Administrative Code (Unauthorized picketing). The materials enclosed in the case included doctored photographs of Kudlasievich flat’s balcony with a white-red-white flag with the Pahonia coat of arms added in image editing software. Kudlasievich is a disabled person (second group, in the Belarusian classification). On 30 September 2021, he was subjected to an administrative penalty in the form of a fine of 2,900 rubles (100 basic units). In spring 2021, Kudlasievich was already searched by KGB in the Autukhovich case. On 7 June 2021, during a legal picket for collecting signatures in support of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya presidential campaign, he was detained and subjected to unlawful ten-day administrative arrest by the Frunzienski District Court in Minsk (judge Andrei Mlechka) under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code. The arrest warrant was appealed to a higher court and annulled on the basis of Part 2 of Article 6.7 of the Code of Administrative Offenses stating that an administrative arrest cannot be applied to people with disabilities of the first and second groups. Despite this court decision, Kudlasievich was detained to serve the entire term of arrest on 2 August 2020. On 18 August 2020, the Frunzienski district court of Minsk judge, Yulia Bliznyuk, issued a new ruling in the case of an administrative offence; she imposed a penalty on Anatol Kudlasievich in the form of a fine equivalent to 200 US Dollars.
On 31 August 31 2021, evangelical Christian Ivan Charavaka was detained in a criminal case under articles 369 (Insulting a government representative), 368 (Insulting the President), and 130 (Inciting social hatred) of the Criminal Code. On 30 September 2021, another Full Gospel Christian believer, Aliaksandr Tsymbalist, was detained for comments posted online after the death of KGB officer, Dzmitry Fyedasyuk, and IT specialist, Andrei Zeltser, in a Minsk apartment. Tsymbalist and Charavaka are recognized as political prisoners. On 8 October 2021, in its Telegram channel, the New Life Church encouraged people to pray for Ivan Charavaka who was placed in prison no. 8 in Žodzina.
On 1 October 2021, the Homieĺ icon painter, Kanstantyn Prusau, was detained for reposting a video from a YouTube channel earlier recognised as an extremist by the Belarusian authorities. The video was shared with 54 chat participants. The court ignored the fact that 42-year-old Prusau is disabled due to insulin-dependent diabetes and sentenced him to 14 days of administrative arrest.
On 22 October 2021, a search was carried out at the house of Ales Sakalukha and his wife Marina Sakalukha, both — Evangelical Christians. They were detained, and the husband received 15 days of administrative arrest. The pro-government Telegram channel of Ilya Begun published Ales Sakalukha’ interrogation video mocking in a humiliating manner his religious views and, in general, religious motivations for taking part in peaceful protests.
On 22 October 2021, it was reported that an administrative process under part 2 of article 19.11 of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Belarus (Distribution, production, storage, transportation of information products containing calls for an extremist activity or promoting such activity) was initiated against Ihar Baranouski, a Greek Catholic from Brest and editor of the newspaper Carkva (Church). He has been accused of sharing links to the TV channel Belsat on social networks on 27 July — the same day as Belsat was labelled an extremist media by the Belarusian government. On 29 July 2021, with the approval of the prosecutor, KGB officers conducted a search of the journalist. After interrogation and surveying Baranouski’s smartphone and computer, no further claims were made against him. The first trial took place on 28 October in the Maskoŭski district court of Brest. The case was sent back for revision. On 23 November 2021, Metropolitan Veniamin (Tupeko) of Minsk addressed the bishops of the Belarusian Orthodox Church with a letter regarding the Uniates’ threat in Belarus. He drew particular attention to Baranouski and the administrative process taking place against him, as an example of the Greek Catholics’ “protest activities”. On 28 December 2021, following a “revision” of the protocols, two protocols were drawn up for Baranouski’s reposts of links to the Belsat TV channel on 27 July 2021; ten more protocols were drawn up for each repost of such links that took place in from the beginning of July until 27 July 2021. Baranouski perceives a connection between the Metropolitan Veniamin’s letter and the administrative persecution. On 30 December 2021, the Maskoŭski district court of Brest sentenced Baranovsky to the 20 basic units (580 rubles) fine. Baranouski was detained again on 4 November 2022 and sentenced to a 15-day administrative arrest under article 19.11 (Dissemination of extremist materials) for a publication that appeared in May 2021 on the Facebook page of the Carkva newspaper. The publication contained a video of the TV channel Belsat. The materials of the Belsat were recognised as “extremist” only in July 2021.
On 6 December 2021, an Orthodox believer, musician, and employee of the Academy of Sciences, Natalya Kopytko, was detained for displaying a memorial candle — a sign of prayer and grief — in the window of her apartment on the anniversary of Raman Bandarenka’s death on 12 November 2021. On that day, law enforcement officers walked around the city and photographed the windows with lit candles. Such a photo was used as a piece of evidence of Kopytko’s alleged administrative offence despite the owner of the apartment being her husband, composer Viktor Kopytko. The trial of the believer took place on 7 December 2021. She was sentenced to five days of arrest.
On 8 December 2021, the accommodation of Zmicier Chviedaruk, an Evangelical believer, theologian and church historian, was searched by the police. During the search, Chviedaruk was beaten; a white-red-white flag was tied tightly around his neck, and he was forbidden to remove the flag. On 9 December, the Piersamajski district court of Minsk imposed a 15-day administrative arrest on Chviedaruk for alleged disobedience to police officers (Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code). The pro-government Telegram channel Yellow Plums published a video with Chviedaruk and photographs from his apartment during the search where Jochem Douma’s book On The Roads of the Old Testament could be seen. The channel used derogatory epithets for Chviedaruk and groundlessly called him an extremist. Chviedaruk spent his 15-day arrest in a four-bed cell with another 18 inmates at the Center for Isolation of Offenders on Akrescina Street. Neither he nor the other arrested received a single parcel during that period.
On the morning of 10 December 2021, seven people who disguised themselves as electricians entered the house of the evangelical believer Aliaksei Melyanets (see the story of his and his bothers’ detention above under 10 August 2020). They were police officers. They conducted a search of the house as part of an allegedly initiated criminal case; they did not present any information about who and for what reason initiated the case. During the search, the believer was forced to subscribe to the pro-government Yellow Plums and GUBOPiK Telegram channels.
On 31 December 2021, New Year’s eve, Orthodox Christians spouses Mikalai Gayeuski and Alena Gayeuskaya were detained after going to an empty river embankment to launch fireworks at 23.34 pm. 23:24 is the article in the previous edition of the Code of Administrative Offenses, under which many peaceful protesters were detained and served arrests, including Gayeuski in 2020. The couple was detained by riot police and the temporary detention facility on Akrescina Street in Minsk. Mikalai Gayeuski received 15 days of administrative arrest and Alena Gayeuskaya — 13 days. After serving her arrest, Gayeuskaya wrote a series of prison memoirs.
On 6 January 2022, a search took place at the home of the Orthodox Christian, Mikalai Vitsikau, from the village Ciarucha, Homeĺ district, Homeĺ region. Police looked for white-red-white symbols and traces of ‘extremism’ in the form of subscriptions to protest Telegram channels, but found nothing. On 14 January, he was detained and placed in custody in a pre-trial detention centre; a preventive measure in the form of two months of arrest as a suspect under part 1 of article 130 of the Criminal Code (Inciting racial, national, religious or other social hatred or strife) was chosen for him. A possible reason for the persecution of the 68-year-old pensioner was his participation in the discussion of amendments to the constitution of the Republic of Belarus: responding to the call for a nationwide discussion of the constitution, Vitsikau sent his opinion on the amendments to the editorial office of the Mayak, a local newspaper. In his submission, Vitsikau criticised the expediency and the extent of powers of the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly. His letter was enclosed in the police case file. The Christian Vision Group adopted a statement regarding the unjust persecution of Mikalai Vitsikau. Later, the case was reclassified under article 369-1 of the Criminal Code (Discrediting the Republic of Belarus). On 7 June 2022, the Navabielicki district court (city of Homieĺ; judge Alyaksandr Zinchuk) sentenced Vitsikau to eight months imprisonment in a general regime colony for “the attempt to disseminate unreliable, offensive […] information about the activities of government institutions, security forces […]”. On 28 June 2022, Vitsikau was released from prison after serving the term.
A number of the clergy were persecuted in the context of the unfolding Russian aggression against Ukraine. Two publications surveyed such cases: on 13 April 2022, the Norwegian human rights organization, Forum 18, published a report, BELARUS: Christian Leaders Opposing Regime Violence and War on Ukraine Targeted, and — on 16 April 2022 — Natallia Vasilevich published a column for DW, The War in Ukraine is a New Impuls for the Belarusian Church Protest. Both publications state that the activities of the clergy are being monitored because they are the people enjoying authority in their communities.
On 28 February 2022, a priest of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, Mikhail Maruha, was detained near the Minsk railway station during an anti-war rally against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He was holding a bouquet of flowers. The priest was initially held in a pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) no. 1 in Minsk. On 2 March 2022, he was sentenced to a 13-day arrest, which he served in the temporary detention centre in Žodzina.
On 25 March 2022, Raman Razhdzyestvyenski, the pastor of the Baptist community in Vieramiejki (Čerykaŭ district, Mahilioŭ region), was detained. The community is part of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in the Republic of Belarus. Razhdzyestvyenski’s computer and phone were confiscated. The reason for his detention was reposting from an independent media recognised as an extremist in Belarus and the likes under the posts on the same social media channel. By the evening of the same day, the pastor was released pending trial. On 5 April, a trial took place in Čerykaŭ. The pastor was punished with a 20 basic unit fine.
On 25 March 2022, a Greek Catholic priest from Mahilioŭ, parish priest of the Mother of God of Bialyničy, Vasili Yahorau, was detained. The reason for the detention was a sticker “Ukraine, I’m sorry” on his car. From 25 to 28 March he was kept in a temporary detention centre. The trial took place on 28 March. Fr Yahorau was sentenced to an administrative penalty of a 50 basic units fine.
On 25 March 2022, an administrative trial against Fr Andrzej Bulczak was supposed to take place in Pastavy. Fr Bulczak, a Polish citizen, had lived in Belarus for 14 years being the parish priest of the Merciful Jesus Roman Catholic parish in Pastavy. The reason for the persecution of the priest was the video Letter posted on the parish’s YouTube channel on 7 March. This video in Polish used the form of a letter from a Christian girl to her friends in Poland to explain that Belarusians were opposed to the war in Ukraine and protested the war. One of the photographs used in the video featured the logo of the Belsat TV channel treated as extremist by the Belarusian authorities, as well as white-red-white flags. The court did not take place due to the documents being revised. Threatened with persecution, Fr Bulczak was forced to leave Belarus. The priest was sent on the Viber messenger an order to attend a trial on 13 May 2022. He did not attend it. He was sentenced in absentia to 30 basic units fine under art. 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (Dissemination of extremist materials).
On 25 March 2022, the parish priest of the Roman Catholic parish in Lyntupy, Fr Alyaksandr Baran, was detained. The priest spent six days in custody: after the initial 72-hour detention, the time in custody was extended for another three days. On 30 March, the priest was released until the court hearing on 4 April. The trial took place in Pastavy. Parishioners, bishop of the Viciebs Aleh Butkevich and other priests came to support Fr Baran. He was charged under two articles of the Code of Administrative Offenses: 24.23 (Unauthorized picketing) — for the white-red-white Belarusian and Ukrainian flags on the profile image, and 19.11 (Dissemination of extremist materials) — for likes and comments under publications of “extremist” webpages. Two policemen who browsed through the priest’s social media pages compiled reports on administrative offences and acted as witnesses in the court. The priest was sentenced to ten days of administrative arrest, six of which were credited to him as served before the trial. The priest was not immediately detained in the courtroom after the verdict but was allowed to return to serve his sentence within an hour. He was supposed to be imprisoned until 8 April, but on 6 April the officers of the temporary detention centre unexpectedly and without any explanation released Fr Baran justifying it by the assumption that the priest should have had a lot to do before the holidays of Palm Sunday [April 10], Holy Week and Easter [April 17]. It is unknown whether the priest will still have to serve the rest of his sentence. On 9 August 2022, it became known that the priest again was arrested for 17 days under article 24.23.
On 18 April 2022, after mass in the Roman Catholic church of the town of Horki (Mahilioŭ region), Fr Andrei Keulich, dean of the Mahilioŭ deanery and parish priest of the Bialyničy Mother of God parish, was detained. In the Horki district department of Internal Affairs, a protocol was drawn up against him under part 2 of article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses in relation to Facebook reposts from the Belsat TV station and Radio Liberty recognized as extremist media in Belarus. Both reposts concerned Russian military aggression against Ukraine. The priest’s mobile phone was confiscated. The trial was scheduled for the morning of 19 April. Bishop Aliaksandr Yasheuski SBD came to support the priest in the court, but the hearing did not take place and was postponed until 27 April. On 27 April, the trial also did not take place: the protocol was sent for revision due to inconsistencies in the dates in the case file. The trial took place on 12 May 2022, the priest was punished with a 20 basic unit fine.
On 19 April 2022, a search of the house of Vitali Chychmarou, the pastor of the Light of Hope Baptist Church, was carried out and his equipment was seized. The pastor was detained. A possible reason for the detention was Chychmarou’s membership in an independent trade union of metalworkers; also other union members were detained in Minsk on the same day. In 2020, the pastor took an active part in the trade union campaign for fair elections and decent working conditions. Chychmarou was taken into custody.
On 20 April 2022, a summons was handed to Fr Igor Lachouk, the parish priest of St Kazimir Roman Catholic parish in Stoŭbcy (Minsk region) informing him of the initiation of an administrative process under article 19.11 (Dissemination of extremist materials) for social media reposts from the Belsat TV station and Radio Liberty recognized as extremist media in Belarus. His mobile phone was confiscated. The trial took place on 28 April. Fr Lachouk was punished with a 30 basic unit fine.
On 20 May 2022, a Roman Catholic believer, lawyer and father of several children Aliaksandr Danilevich was detained. He was charged under part 3 of article 361 of the Criminal Code (Calls for restrictive measures (sanctions), and other actions aimed at causing harm to the national security of Belarus). Shortly before his detention, he signed an anti-war appeal of Belarusian lawyers and solicitors against the war in Ukraine. He explained that this action was motivated by his faith in God and the desire to follow God’s commandments. Consequently, Danilevich was subjected to disciplinary proceedings in the bar and dismissed from his job at the Faculty of International Relations of Belarusian State University where he taught for more than twenty years.
On 26 May 2022, a journalist and evangelical Christian Ales Lyubyanchuk was detained in Kryvičy, a village in Iŭje district, where he lives. He was placed in custody, and his house was searched. Lyubyanchuk was charged on 18 June 2022, by the nature of the charge is unknown as his lawyer has been forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Propagandists and pro-government activists are persecuting Orthodox priests for their Christian and civic position. Following pro-Russian activist Volha Bondarava’s denunciation, Hrodna Orthodox priest Andrey Nozdryn was subjected to a “preventive conversation on compliance with the law and preventing extremist offences and crimes” with the police. Bondarava got outraged by the priest’s civil position of condemnation of the war against Ukraine; this became known in May 2022. On 8 May, one of the best-known Belarusian propagandists, Hryhory Azaronak of the STV (a state-owned TV channel), expressed on his Telegram channel indignation at the sermon of Archimandrite Alexy Shynkevich. The sermon was delivered in the Minsk Cathedral on the same day. It contained a call to pray for the repose of the soul of the recently departed first leader of independent Belarus, Stanislau Shushkevich. Referring to an anonymous and false denunciation, the propagandist used such insults against the respected priest as Gapon, Judas, and Christ-seller who must be “etched out of the body of the Church”. Azaronak also appealed to the «state security bodies of Belarus» to sort out the situation in the Cathedral. In July, pro-Russian activist Volha Bondarava who regularly harasses religious figures dedicated several denunciatory reports to the family of Archpriest Pavel Syardzyuk, his wife Veranika who is head of the Matulya Center for Family and Motherhood Support, and his mother-in-law, journalist Tamara Vyatskaya. All this is in spite of the whole family being active loyal to the Lukashenko regime.
On 5 July 2022, Filip Ivanou and his wife, Lidziya Ivanova, both — ministers of the New Testament Evangelical Church in Minsk, were detained. Pastor Ivanou was released after the arrest, while his wife was taken into custody in a criminal case. Ivanova’s procedural status is currently unknown.
On 5 July 2022, Fr Andrei Vashchuk SDS, parish priest of the Roman Catholic parish of the Holy Spirit in Viciebsk, was detained by officers of the Pieršamajski District Department of Internal Affairs. Pending trial, he was placed in a temporary detention facility on suspicion of an offence under part 1 of article 24.23 (Violation of the procedure for organising or holding mass events) allegedly committed by him by posting materials on social networks. On 18 July 2022, a court punished the priest with an administrative penalty in the form of a 15-day arrest. On 23 July, it became known that Fr Vashchuk had been arrested for another 15 days. Meanwhile, a campaign to discredit the priest has been launched: the Viciebsk regional branch of the Viasna human rights organisation reported that the social media affiliated with the security forces accused the priest not only of calling for protests in the aftermath of the 2020 elections but also of drug use. He was released on 15 August and immediately left Belarus. On 9 September, the court of Pieršamajski district of Viciebsk (judge Andrei Andrushenka) considered the case of Fr Vashchuk in his absence. The priest was accused — according to art. 19.10 — of posting a caricature image containing a swastika in the Telegram chat Realnaya Belarus on 21 February. A protocol was drawn up against him while he was serving his arrest in the temporary detention facility. The court imposed an administrative penalty on the priest in the form of a fine of 320 rubles.
On 8 July 2022, Fr Yauhen Uchkuronis, the parish priest of St John Paul II parish in Smarhoń was accused of distributing «extremist materials» for reposting on Facebook the content from Belarusian independent media labelled as ‘extremist’ by the regime. The priest was sentenced to a fine of 20 basic units (640 rubles).
Evangelical Christians, Zmitser and Anastasiya Dashkevich, were sentenced on 14 July 2022. For taking part in a peaceful protest n Minsk on 23 August 2020, Zmitser was punished with 18 months in prison, while Anastasiya received a three-year probation sentence. Both are evangelical Christians, members of the John the Baptist church (pastor Anthoni Bokun), and parents of four children: Mara, David, Mahdaliena and Nil. The last child is a baby, he was born after his father had been taken into custody on 23 April 2022 following a search in the apartment. Zmitser was initially arrested for 15 days under an administrative article, then re-arrested under art. 342 of the Criminal Code (Group actions grossly violating public order).
A medical doctor and evangelical Christian from Baranavičy, Alyaksandr Trafimau, was detained on 20 July 2022. The reason for his detention is unknown. He maintained an active and outspoken civic attitude and blogged on medical topics on Instagram. He was released after 72 hours of detention. His current procedural status is unknown.
On 21 July 2022, Yauhen Barysik and Maksim Stasilevich, members of the Gethsemane evangelical Christian church in Minsk, were detained at their homes. On 22 July, they were sentenced to ten days of arrest each. Stasilevich was convicted under part 2 of art. 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offences for sharing with friends news from one of the Telegram channels labelled as extremist: security forces hacked the believer’s Telegram app to find compromising materials. Barysik was sentenced to ten days of arrest for petty hooliganism (article 19.1): he allegedly shouted, cursed and used foul language in room 416 of the Maskoŭski district police department. They were sentenced by the odious judge Tatstsyana Motyl. After 10 days, only Barysik was released. Stasilevich was taken into custody as an accused under part 1 of art. 342 (“Organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them”).
On 28 July 2022, Tatstsiana Matsveyeva, an Orthodox faithful, promoter of using the Belarusian language in church liturgy, and professional journalist (she used to collaborate with TUT.by, a media outlet labelled as ‘extremist’ by the authorities) was detained at the railway station in Viciebsk. Her home was searched, white-red-white and blue ribbons were confiscated, as well as badges, a postcard, and several books and letters. The persecution has been triggered by a profile picture on Facebook containing words in white and red; the Ministry of Internal Affairs officials found the image to constitute an “illegal picketing” (an offence under article 24.23 of the Administrative Code). Matsveyeva spent 72 hours in the temporary detention centre. The first trial took place on 9 August, her case was sent back for revision. The new trial took place on 25 August 2022. Matsveyeva was accused of an illegal picket by decorating her Facebook avatar photograph with a white and red stripe containing the literary quote «To be called people» (Людзьмі звацца). A witness from Matsveyeva’s side, an elderly activist, Greek Catholic Boris Khamaida, was detained before the trial. The likely reason for his detention was the medallion with the Pahonia, an ancient Belarusian coat of arms.
On 26 August, it became known that earlier in 2022, during the Orthodox Christian holidays, police officers broke into the apartment of a priest (the name of the priest is known to Christian Vision; it is not revealed here for security reasons). They detained the priest’s wife and threatened that she would spend the holidays in a detention centre until the trial after the holidays. For posting her husband’s photograph, which contained a logo of an independent mass media recognised as extremist in Belarus, on social networks, the woman was charged with art. 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (Distribution, production, storage, transportation of information products containing calls for an extremist activity or promoting such activity). Her phone was confiscated; the court fined her the average Belarusian monthly salary amount. The persecution continued: the priest and his wife were summoned for crime preventive talks; they were threatened with imprisonment and involvement of social services in the child’s “socially dangerous situation”. In addition, police claims related to other visual elements on the couple’s social networks and the yellow-blue and white-red-white colour schemes in their apartment.
On 31 August, Fr Uladzislau Bahamolnikau, a priest of the Epiphany parish of the Belarusian Orthodox Church in Minsk, a member of the Minsk Eparchial Court, and a philosophy lecturer at the Minsk Theological Academy, was brutally detained. During the detention, officers of GUBOPiK — the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs — broke down the door in his apartment and searched it. On 1 September, he was arrested for fourteen days. Pro-regime Telegram channels reported that the priest could face criminal prosecution under art. 361-1 of the Criminal Code (Founding of an extremist formation or participation in it), which is punishable with restriction of liberty for up to five years or imprisonment for three to seven years. If a criminal prosecution is not applied, Fr Bahamolnikau is facing rolling administrative arrests for more than four months. State propaganda publications also alleged that the priest could be prosecuted for raising money for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. On 14 September, Fr Bahamolnikau was not released; instead, a new protocol was drawn up, and on the following day a new trial took place. The priest was arrested for another fifteen days for reposts on Telegram. On 16 September and 14 October, the priest was imprisoned for 15 days two more times. In total, he will spend at least 59 days in prison. The Christian Vision group issued a statement in support of Fr Uladzislau Bahamolnikau. On 28 October, the priest was sentenced to another 15 days of arrest, and again to 14 days of arrest — on 14 November. In total, he will spend in custody 88 days.
On 11 October 2022, it became known that the pastor of the New Generation Charismatic Church (according to other sources, the Life Church), Siarhei Paulouski, had been detained. Paulouski, the director of the Way of Freedom charity, has been working with alcohol and drug addicts for more than ten years. The Religious Association of Full Gospel Christian Communities issued a statement in support of the persecuted pastor. From the statement, it transpired that the pastor was subjected to administrative arrest for twelve days for «minor hooliganism». A penitential video has been published on social media associated with the security forces. There, Sergei Paulouski admitted that he participated in the 2020 protests. The video is accompanied by a mocking comment alleging that the pastor used the rehab centre patients for his own propaganda purposes. Attached to the post was also a photo of the pastor holding a white-red-white flag with the inscription ‘Let my people go’ — a reference to the Old Testament Book of Exodus’s story of the release of Israelis from Egyptian captivity; this biblical phrase was used by Christian activists in peaceful protests in 2020.
On 18 October 2022, Valeryia Charnamortsava — an Orthodox Christian, a well-known tour guide and researcher of church history during the Stalinist purges — was brutally detained by riot police. Her apartment was searched. She was arrested for ten days. On 21 October 2022, she was released after 3 days of detention and fined, her phone was confiscated. After the 10-day administrative arrest, Charnamortsava was transferred to the detention centre (SIZO) no. 1 in Minsk; she was charged under part 1 art. 342 of the Criminal Code (Organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them).
On 18 October 2022, Sviatlana Silava, a researcher of the church history of Belarus, and a candidate (PhD) in historical sciences, a participant in many projects of the Hrodna eparchy, was detained. A trial took place on 21 October 2022. Silava was released after three days in the detention centre; she was fined 800 rubles and her phone was confiscated. On 8 November 2022, the researcher was dismissed from Hrodna State University due to «absence from the workplace for more than three hours.»
On 8 November 2022, Aleh Nahorny – an Orthodox faithful, writer, a well-known researcher of sects in Belarus, author of the blog Sectologist On-duty, and editor of the site about sects, sekty.by – was detained on. Nagorny studied at the Minsk Theological Seminary in Žyrovičy. He was a lecturer at many Orthodox events and created — with the support of the Orthodox Church — the Center for the Protection of Health of Family and Person. The Christian Vision website frequently published his anti-war texts and his assessments of the political crisis in Belarus. The fact of his detention became public only on 10 November 2022 when a so-called “repentant“ video with him appeared on the GUBOPiK (Ministry of Internal Affairs Department for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption; routinely used for political persecutions and violence) Telegram channel; there, Nahorny is referred to as a “sectarian” and accused of allegedly distributing “fascist symbols” (although Nahorny has consistently opposed extremism and radicalism). He is threatened with a criminal case for “inciting hostility towards the Russians”. He was sentenced to a 15-day administrative arrest under art. 19.10 of the Administrative Code (Propaganda or public demonstration, production, distribution of Nazi symbols or paraphernalia).
On 17 November 2022, Rev Vitali Chabatar CMF — deputy dean of the Mahilioŭ deanery and vicar of St Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic parish in Mahilioŭ — was detained. He was sentenced to a 15-day administrative arrest. The reasons the persecution remain unknown.
Persecution of faith communities and organisations related to religion or the Church
On 16 August 2020, Rev. Igor Kondratyev, a parish priest of the Greek Catholic parish in Brest, made a speech at the meeting of protesters attended by many thousands of people. He called for the release of detained and severely beaten protesters. On 20 August, following the interviews in which the priest gave a moral and ethical assessment of the situation in the country, Kondratyev was summoned to the prosecutor’s office. He was issued a written warning for organising unauthorized events. At the same time, the Brest Regional Executive Committee issued a warning to Fr Kondratyev’s parish of St Brothers Apostles Peter and Andrew. The warning contained a threat to close the parish by court order. On 2 November 2022, just before the evening prayer service, Rev. Kondratyev was detained in the church of St Brothers Apostles Peter and Andrew in Brest. Judge Andrey Hrushko sentenced the priest to 12 days of administrative arrest. Also, the editor of the Greek Catholic newspaper Carkva, Ihar Baranouski, a parishioner of the same church, was detained; this indicates the persecution of the religious community.
On 22 August 2020, at a pro-government rally in Hrodna, Lukashenko voiced the threats toward religious communities and clergy: «I am surprised with the position of our religious communities. My dear priests, settle down and mind your own business. People should go to churches to pray! Churches are not for politics. People should be for their souls there, as it has always been. Do not follow the renegades’ lead. You will be disgraced and ashamed for the position that you, some of you, take now. The government will not be indifferent to that.»
On 23 August 2020, allegedly for technical reasons, the Belarusian National Radio broadcast of the Sunday Mass from the Roman Catholic Archcathedral was cancelled. Until then, it took place every Sunday at 8.15 am. No technical fault was found. Bishop Juryj Kasabucki alleged that the unexpected termination of those radio broadcasts was to intimidate the Roman Catholic Church. The broadcasts have not yet resumed.
On 25 August 2020, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church dismissed Metropolitan Pavel (Ponomarev) from the post of Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus. Metropolitan Pavel had been the head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church since 25 December 2013. On 11 August, the Metropolitan ‑ following the Patriarch of Moscow ‑ congratulated Alexander Lukashenko on his victory in the presidential elections. Later on, he made a number of different statements and actions. In particular, on 14 August, during a conversation with parishioners at the prayer for Belarus in the Minsk Cathedral, he asked for their forgiveness if congratulating Lukashenko had hurt them. On 17 August, Metropolitan Pavel visited hospitalised victims of protests. Consequently, at a meeting of the Synod, Metropolitan Pavel unexpectedly submitted a petition to relieve him from the post of Patriarchal Exarch. Bishop Veniamin (Tupeka) of Barysaŭ and Marjina Horka was appointed to this position instead. On 30 August, in his sermon at the farewell liturgy at the Cathedral, Metropolitan Paul mentioned that the change of Exarch was due to the political situation.
On 26 August 2020, during the dispersal of protesters at Plošča Niezaliežnasci (Independence Square) in Minsk, the police blocked the doors of St Simon and St Helena Roman Catholic Church (Red Church), thus creating an obstacle to activities of this religious community. Following the incident, Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz made a statement. On 31 August, the state authorities replaced the locks in the same church without the community’s permission. On 11 September 2020, another brutal detention of women took place by the Red Church at Plošča Niezaliežnasci (Independence Square) in Minsk. Several women approached the church, one of them carrying a placard. Masked riot police blocked their way. Once the women attempted to enter the church, the police began detaining them, including inside the church. The Christian Vision and Fem Groups of the Coordinating Council issued a joint statement regarding the incident. On 26 September 2022, a strange incident occurred in the Red Church: at night a fire broke out in an isolated room of the sacristy, and the window to the sacristy was broken. According to the authorities, the wiring caught fire in the church which caused a fire which affected an area of 20 sq m (out of about 1000 sq m of the total space of the church). As a result, the Commission for Emergency Situations of the Administration of the Maskoŭski district of Minsk (minutes No. 5 from 26 September 2022). Consequently, laity and clergy were no longer allowed inside the building, all masses were cancelled and the church was closed to the public “until full restoration and bringing into working condition all fire extinguishing systems and electrical equipment”. The church was flooded as a result of extinguishing the fire. On 6 October 2022, it became known that the Minsk Spadchyna Municipal Unitary Enterprise, the owner of the church buildings and rectory for the purpose of operational management, terminated the contract of the free use of the Red Church by the Roman Catholic parish of St Simon and St Helena community. It sent a notice to the Church authorities requesting that all movable belongings were removed from the premises, ostensibly to carry out repairs to eliminate the consequences of a fire. On 11 October 2022, the security services prevented the lay faithful from praying by the church; they also attempted to detain Rev. Uladzislau Zavalniuk. On 12 October 2022, Christian Vision issued a special statement on the situation with the Red Church.
On 31 August 2020, despite being a citizen of the Republic of Belarus, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus, was not allowed back to the country on his way back from Poland. He was told his passport was invalid. Such a ban on return to the country is illegal: it violates international agreements (such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 12), the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus (article 30) and the legislation of the Republic of Belarus (Law no. 49-3 of 20 September 2009 “On the procedure for leaving the Republic of Belarus and entering the Republic of Belarus by citizens of the Republic of Belarus”, article 3). This is a violation of a citizen’s right to return to his own country, as well as a case of intimidation of a religious leader personally and the religious community as a whole. On 4 September, Lukashenko commented on the situation with Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz. He openly accused him and the entire Catholic Church in Belarus of anti-state activities. Presumably, Lukashenko meant such Archbishop’s actions as his call for dialogue on 11 August; an appeal to the state authorities “to start a constructive dialogue with the society, stop the violence and release all innocent citizens detained at peaceful rallies” on 14 August; the meeting — initiated by Archbishop — with the Minister of Internal Affairs, Yuri Karaev, concerning the law enforcement agencies unrestricted violence against civilians. After a series of diplomatic steps taken by the Vatican (a visit of the delegation led by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the State Secretariat of the Holy See on 11-14 September 2020; a visit of the Pope’s special envoy, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, on 17 December) Archbishop Kondrusiewicz was able to return to Belarus on the Christmas Eve, 24 December 2020. Soon after, on 3 January 2021, on the day of Archbishop Kondrusiewicz’s 75th anniversary, Pope Francis accepted his resignation due to reaching the retirement age (75 years for Catholic bishops). The 75-year-old Kazimierz Wielikosielec, an Auxiliary Bishop of the Pinsk Diocese, was appointed a locum tenens of the Metropolitan See.
Also, on 31 August 2020, a meeting of the Interfaith Advisory Council was held at the Office of the Commissioner for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, Leonid Gulyako. The Council consists of the leaders of Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Old Believer and Protestant denominations and national associations. Despite the fact that the Catholic Church is the second-largest in Belarus denomination by the number of followers, its representative was not invited to the meeting. The meeting was not even reported. After the meeting, in an interview with the Catholic.by portal on 1 September 2020, the Roman Catholic Bishop Juryj Kasabucki shared that the representatives of the Church were contacted by some participants of the event who represented other confessions; they disclosed that Belarusian Catholics were literally “muddied” at it.
In the same interview, Bishop Juryj Kasabucki remarked that all the facts testify to the persecution of the Catholic Church in Belarus and that pressure is being exerted on the Church. On 5 September, he led a Catholic procession in Minsk calling to end such persecution. During this prayer event, Bishop Kasabucki in his sermon also mentioned the extreme pressure on the Church and the persecution against the Church.
On 4 September 2020, Fr Jerzy Wilk‘s permission for religious work was revoked. Fr Wilk was a parish priest of St Archangel Michael Roman Catholic parish in Varapajeva, a village in Pastavy District, Viciebsk Region.
On 13 November 2020, riot police obstructed a public prayer in memory of the allegedly murdered Raman Bandarenka by the Three Holy Hierarchs Orthodox Cathedral in Mahilioŭ. Over a hundred people joined a minute of silence in memory of Bandarenka. They set up a memorial with flowers, candles and white and red ribbons. According to the parishioners, the parish priest did not object that the memorial place was organized by the entrance to the Cathedral courtyard. About half an hour later a dozen riot police arrived. They demanded the people leave the pavement as they, according to the police, obstructing the way for passers-by.
On 18 November 2020, the press secretary of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, Fr Sergy Lepin, and Auxiliary Bishop of the Minsk and Mahilioŭ Roman Catholic Archdiocese, Juryj Kasabucki, were summoned to the Prosecutor General’s Office. They received a written warning concerning their Facebook posts criticizing the authorities vandalising the people’s memorial for Raman Bandarenka. This was preceded by Lukashenko’s appeal to curb clergy’s activism. The Prosecutor General’s Office’s warning stated that “certain terms and phrases used in the statements are in a deliberately peremptorily and aggressive mode (such as “mockery of the portraits of the murdered”, “what is this satanic tramping of candles and icons for” and etc.), thus deliberately building up tensions in the society, inciting hatred towards representatives of the state authorities, including law enforcement agencies, and, consequently, enflaming enmity towards those social groups of the population.” On 24 November, Lepin and Kasabucki were summoned to the Investigative Committee and informed of a linguistic examination of their social network posts being carried out. The results of the examination would determine whether a criminal investigation could be initiated.
On 27 November 2020, the Commissioner for Religious and Ethnic Affairs issued a warning no. 02-02/812 to the Belarusian Orthodox Church. It pointed out that the Church had violated article 16 of the Constitution and Article 8 of the Law On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations of the Republic of Belarus. In accordance with article 37 of the same law, repeated violations within a year may lead to the body which registered the religious organization to apply to the court for the liquidation of that organization and, consequently, banning its activities in the Republic of Belarus.
On 7 December 2020, the Enforcement Office of the Central Department of Justice of the Minsk City Executive Committee issued an order to the New Life Full Gospel Church to vacate its premises at 72 Kavaliova Street by 31 December 2020. Failing to fulfil the order, the church would be evicted forcefully at 11:00 on 5 January 2021. The community announced worship for 10:00 on 5 January. It was attended by nearly 200 church members. At 11:00, bailiffs and representatives of the housing department of Maskoŭski District in Minsk arrived. They were not allowed into the building. The pastor of the church, Vyacheslav Goncharenko, and its administrator, Vitaly Antonchikov, came out to meet the representatives and affirmed that the community would not vacate the building. A protocol of non-compliance with the order was drawn up. Attempts to evict the community from the building started in 2005. In 2012, the enforcement proceedings against the church were stopped, but the litigation resumed in 2013. A new round of conflict began in 2019 in connection with the revised plan for urban development of Sucharava microdistrict. On 17 February 2021, bailiffs and police broke the door with a chainsaw and entered the building. Some of the possessions of the community were sealed up, the rest were removed by the members of the church. The building is controlled by law enforcement agencies. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement about this incident. Since the premises were confiscated, the community has held open-air services in the immediate vicinity. On 27 July 2021, the administration of the Moskouski district of Minsk sent a letter signed by the deputy head of the administration V.N. Kanaplyou to the New Life Church. The letter informed that open-air religious services required permission from the authorities and warned about violations of the law by the community. On 5 August 2021, the Minsk City Executive Committee sent a letter was to the community. It was signed by the deputy chair of the Committee A.N. Tsuran. In the letter, the community was once again notified that according to the reconstruction plan of the Sucharava microdistrict, the church building on 72 Kavaliova Street was to be demolished. It also reminded of the land tax arrears issued by the state property management company, although the land belonging to church communities is exempt from such tax. On 1 September 2021, the human rights organisation, Forum 18, published a special report on the situation of the New Life church: BELARUS: Administrative, criminal charges for evicted Church’s outdoor worship?
On 27 December 2020, in Hrodna (Baranavičy microdistrict), parishioners of the Augustów Icon of the Mother of God Orthodox parish (parish priest — Timofey Nozdrin) held a children’s party near the church. About 50 children and adults gathered for the family celebration around the Christmas tree. Soon after, the police arrived allegedly following a complaint about a flag used and slogans shouted out. The people who attended the celebration claimed that nothing of the kind had happened there. A protest with flags took place by the road at some distance from the parish celebration; both were not related to each other. On 28 December, a protocol for participation in an unauthorized event was drawn up against one of the participants of the parish celebration. He was detained and placed in a temporary detention facility. At the time of the celebration, his car was parked in front of the church, his identity was established from the car license plate. A parishioner whose first name is Victor claims that he was threatened with arrest if he refuses to sign the protocol and admit guilt. Not willing to spend the New Year and Christmas holidays (7 January in the Belarusian Orthodox Church) away from his family, he admitted culpability in an administrative offence. Victor was fined 135 rubles. At least two other party participants were warned and released without a formal protocol drawn up. Their cars were also parked outside the church.
On 2 February 2021, the Council of Ministers adopted a decree defining the 2021 Year of National Unity activities. According to the documents, the Commissioner for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, Alyaksandr Rumak, and the «main religious denominations» were instructed to organise the All-Belarusian Prayer ‘For Belarus!’ on 2 July, that is, to coincide with the so-called Republic Day celebrated on 3 July. The decree also obliged religious organisations, the commissioner office and other bodies to organise and take part in other events during 2021, including those directed against “extremism” and Nazism, as well as to disseminate information about “the role of Orthodoxy in the formation of Belarusian statehood”. In pursuance of this resolution, the commissioner sent out a letter to state organisations in which he requested that “in order to involve citizens in this event as broadly as possible,” it is “advisable to hold an All-Belarusian prayer in the format of a morning worship service on Saturday, 3 July 2021, in all churches, mosques and synagogues of the confessions traditional to the Republic of Belarus with the wide involvement of believers, as well as representatives of government bodies, of social, cultural and art organisations”. Letters were sent to the heads of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church, Jewish religious and Muslim religious associations in Belarus. Rumak’s letter from 11 June to the apostolic administrator of the Minsk-Mahilioŭ Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church became public. Also, a similar letter from Alyaksey Lyakhnovich, first deputy minister of transport and communications, to the heads of the transportation industry bodies was made public. His letter repeated verbatim the Rumak’s one instructing to “secure the participation of representatives of organisations in the event according to their religious affiliation”.
On 9 February 2021, the Charitable Catholic Society Caritas of the Roman Catholic Minsk and Mahilioŭ Archdiocese was denied permission to receive foreign funding for the project of providing the poor with livestock, plant saplings and food. Permission from the Department for Humanitarian Affairs at the Belarus President Property Management Directorate is mandatory for accepting foreign donations. The Department can make decisions permitting or denying the receipt of foreign aid absolutely arbitrarily, thus making charitable and other public organizations a hostage of its decisions. This refusal to permit receiving foreign assistance by a Catholic organization has signs of intimidation of the Catholic religious community by the state authorities of the Republic of Belarus. It is possible that the organisation faced persecution due to its director, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Capuchin Order, Fr Andrei Zhylevitch and Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusevich were by the Akrescina detention centre in August 2020.
The Evangelical Church in Novalukomĺ (Čašnicki district, Viciebsk region) faced the same problem: on 21 January 2022, its request for registration of the humanitarian aid amounting to 25,625 Swedish kronor received from the Swedish Oss-Helpen charitable organisation was rejected by the Department for Humanitarian Affairs. The church community was required to return all goods: wheelchairs, clothes, shoes, furniture, utensils — back to the sender. The community received the shipment on 20 September 2021; since then, it has applied for registration three times, but each application was denied. The decision on the third application came on the last day of the four-month period of the cargo storage permit validity. Consequently, the community must re-export the entire cargo to Sweden, while the needy are left without help. Possibly, this unfavourable attitude towards the community is due to the fact that its pastor, Alyaksandr Zaretski, signed a letter of Christians against violence. Following the letter, he was invited to the police department and to the district Head of Ideology; on 8 July 8 2021, his house was searched. Currently, the pastor is in the status of a witness in a criminal case under a non-disclosure agreement (for more details, see the section on the administrative and criminal prosecution of believers).
On 14 February 2022, it became known that the St Anne Roman Catholic parish in Dziaržynsk, Minsk region, had been prevented from using sponsorship funding. Despite the consent of local authorities for the parish to receive sponsorship, the Department of Humanitarian Aid did not permit it to be used as intended, though $20,000 had already been received from the US Catholic foundation. The faithful hoped to repair the heating and continue the restoration of their church, which has been going on for two years. The total refurbishment estimate was $20,000.
Since March 2021, Roman Catholic parishes throughout the country have been subjected to inspections related to the beginning of the criminal prosecution of the Union of Poles, an NGO. Local prosecutor’s offices and local authorities departments for ideological work — on instruction from prosecutor’s offices — demand from the clergy reports, catechization plans other internal information about parish activities.
On 25 June 2021, Lukashenko held the so-called «working meeting with the clergy», at which he spoke out against the autocephaly of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. He stated that nothing less but an «attempt to break up Orthodoxy in Belarus» is taking place, and some unnamed persons «are going the proven way: the announcement of autocephaly [dramatic pause] ‑ letters have been sent to Constantinople, to our patriarch (he told me about that), so we are already seeing this turn.»
Due to pressure from the authorities on the organizers of the Budslau pilgrimage, the largest Catholic annual event in Belarus, the hymn Mahutny Boža (Almighty God) was not performed — for the first time since the 1990s — at any of its four Masses on 3 July 2021. On 2 July, according to Lukashenko’s official website, he threatened those who attempted to «crash the sovereign state» and gathered in the «sacred places of our state» under Nazi banners “wanting to pray (either tomorrow or today) with the Mahutny Boža. I warn: you’ll get it». Lukashenko’s outburst was a reaction to the Minsk-Mogilev Archdiocese’s appeal on 16 June 2021 signed by Fr Raman Strashko to conclude the Masses on 3 July by singing the Mahutny Boža: «With this chant, we will ask Almighty God to save us and our land from all evil.» Later, Bishop Yuryj Kasabucki reported that on 4 July, the police came to the Minsk Archcathedral claiming that the performance of the Mahutny Boža hymn had violated a certain “legal norm”. This visit of the law enforcement officers did not entail any legal consequences; however, their claim may be qualified as intimidation and undue pressure.
In July 2021, the authorities made a decision to dissolve a number of non-governmental organisations, including Christian ones and those working with churches. On 20 July 2021, a search took place at the Centre for Environmental Solutions. With the support of the Synodal Department for Youth of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, the Centre developed the Church and Environmental Protection program in 2014. It was supervised by a theologian, Siarhey Yushkevich, of the Institute of Theology of the Belarusian State University. The programme of cooperation between the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus was led by the director of the Centre, Evgeniy Lobanov. He was also a leader of the Orthodox youth in Belarus and an executive secretary of the Youth Association of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. As of 23 July 2021, this organisation was included in the list of NGOs the state intended to disband. The Christian Vision Group has issued a statement on this matter. Among several dozen organizations undergoing liquidation, there are two Evangelical Christian: the Centre for Assisting Families and Children and the cultural and educational organisation ASET. On 26 July 2021, the Christian Vision group issued a statement regarding the persecution of those Evangelical Christian organisations.
On 7 August 2021, the newspaper of the Minsk Regional Executive Committee, Minskaya Prauda, published a caricature of Catholic priests on its front page. One of the priests has a swastika instead of a pectoral cross, he is holding a white-red-white Belarusian flag under his arm and is performing the Mahutny Boža (Almighty God) hymn. Other priests’ crosses are shown as turning into a swastika too. The author of the caricature was Anton Astrouski. The Christian Vision group adopted a special statement on this incident. “The caricature of Catholic priests with crosses turning into a swastika has signs of deliberate actions aimed at defaming the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus, at forming a negative image of Catholic priests as ‘Nazis’, at inciting religious hatred or discord against Roman Catholic clergy. An important circumstance of the incident is the fact that the caricature was published on the front page in the official publication of the regional sate authority. This suggests that anti-Catholic attacks sowing hostility against the entire Roman Catholic community — a religious minority in Belarus — have state support”, says the statement.
Anti-Catholic propaganda is common in the Belarusian state media and among the Lukashenko regime representatives. The Media IQ project studying state propaganda published an analysis of anti-Catholic defamatory narratives from March to August 2021 and cited a number of examples.
In the beginning of September 2021, the human rights organisation, Forum 18, which promotes religious freedom around the world, published a report about the increasingly strict control over organising mass events, restrictions on their advertising and funding. Those restrictions have also affected religious events. Human rights activists noted the cancellation of certain religious and cultural events justified by pandemic-related restrictions, while state-sanctioned mass events continued to be held, often — without observing anti-pandemic measures. The Christian Vision Group translated the article into Russian and published it on its website. At the end of September 2021, Forum 18, published an article about the pressure of the Belarusian regime on believers. The authors focused on the resignation of ‘disloyal’ Orthodox clergy, pressure on the Orthodox Church by the KGB, oppression of Catholics, a ban on the performance of the Mahutny Boža anthem, and an attempt to organise a day of a pro-government prayer, For Belarus. The Christian Vision Group translated the article into Russian and published it on its website.
On 3 March 2022, law enforcement agencies attempted to prevent Orthodox Christian mothers of soldiers from participating in the evening service in the Minsk Holy Spirit Cathedral. The joint prayer was announced on the same day on the anti-war Telegram channel Mothers’ Union. The evening service began at 06:00 pm. 20 minutes before that, journalists from the Novy Chas newspaper, a married couple of Yauhyen Batura and Dziyana Syeradzyuk, were detained in the vicinity of the Cathedral. They were delivered to the pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) no. 1 on Akrescina Street in Minsk. On 4 March, Judge of the Centraĺny District Court of Minsk, Dzmitry Karsyuk, sentenced both journalists to 15 days of administrative arrest under Article 24.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences (Disobedience to a lawful order or demand of an official in the exercise of the official’s official powers). Before the start of the service, special vehicles of law enforcement agencies were parked nearby and plainclothes police officers entered the territory adjacent to the Cathedral. Many women were requested to present documents on the entry, they were photographed and recorded on video. Plainclothes police with walkie-talkies constantly circulated inside the church. The present women only prayed, some of them held icons. They did not use political slogans or banners in front of the parishioners. After the service, despite Fr Ihar Latushka’s request to leave the women alone, four parishioners were detained allegedly for identification: Anastasiya Nyekarshevich, Aksana Fyodarava, Tatstsyana Kotes and Yekatsyaryna Mikhailava. They were taken into the police bus, their passports and smartphones were checked for subscriptions to protest photographs and Telegram channels. Later, they were taken to the Centraĺny District police station in Minsk. They were interviewed and warned about the consequences of participating in unauthorised rallies, and then released home. On 4 March, police arrived at the house of another woman who had been present at the service in the Cathedral the night before and was photographed at the entrance to the church. She was not at home when the police arrived. The Norwegian human rights organisation, Forum 18, produced a detailed report about this prayer event.
On 29 July 2022, pastor Dzmitry Padlobka from Homieĺ was sentenced for violating the procedure for holding mass events (art. 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offenses), in particular — holding water baptism in his garden without special permission. The pastor was fined 20 basic units (640 rubles). The Norwegian human rights organisation, Forum 18, produced a detailed report about this case. The police also officially cautioned Podlobko that for repeated ‘unauthorised’ baptisms he could be prosecuted in a criminal case and requested the pastor for a year to attend monthly face-to-face meetings with a district police officer as part of crime preventive activities.
Persecutions for baptisms have started occurring regularly. On 25 August 2022, it became known that a few days earlier a fine of 1,280 rubles (20 base units for each of the two pastors) had been imposed on the Homieĺ Central Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists for unsanctioned baptisms.
Violations of freedom of religion or belief in prisons and detention centres
Detainees experience obstacles to having and making use of religious objects. The Regulations of the Internal Regime of Correctional Institutions state (app. 3, clause 17) that convicts may have with them objects of worship made of base metals. Despite that, a rosary was confiscated from Mikita Yemialyianau serving a sentence in Mahilioŭ prison no. 4. He received this rosary for prayer from the auxiliary bishop of the Mahilioŭ archdiocese, Aliaksandr Yasheuski SBD, who visited Yemialyianau the prison.
The Rules of Internal Procedures in the Places of Serving Administrative Arrests (chapter 10) provide for the freedom of practice religious beliefs, rituals and ceremonies by the detainees under the Administrative Code, including “those who are administratively arrested have the right to receive religious items for personal use (including pectoral crosses, amulets), with the exception of religious objects made in the form of piercing and cutting objects, or the objects that may cause bodily harm to oneself or other persons or are of cultural or historical value or items made of precious metals or stones » (p. 80). Despite that, seizures of pectoral crosses from the detainees or arrested persons under the Administrative Code. Orthodox believer Dzmitry Karneyenka from Viciebsk served several administrative arrests for in total of 40 days during September-October 2020 and January-February 2021 according to art. 23.34 (parts 1 and 3) of the Administrative Code testified that every time his cross was taken away, despite his protest, such a prohibition of wearing an important religious symbol «strongly disturbs his religious feelings». On 16 November 2020, Raman Abramchuk, an Orthodox Christian, made public a routine practice of taking away crosses from detainees: “When [the police officer] cut everything off — indeed, they cut off everything lace- or belt-like and throw it to the feet — I asked to leave with me at least the cross. In response, he cut it off with particular force and threw it to my feet”. Such treatment of religious objects is unacceptable. It constitutes a violation of the right to keep religious objects in places of preliminary detention and while serving a prison sentence: “the objects of worship, if this does not harm the health nor infringes on the rights and legitimate interests of others” (art. 25 of the Law On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations). This also constitutes humiliation of the human dignity of the believer for whom a religious object has a sacred meaning.
In addition to illegal confiscation of religious objects, also multiple cases of refusal of religious literature for inmates in pre-trial detention and those serving custodial sentences were recorded in October-December 2020. The Law On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations guarantees the right to have, receive, acquire and use religious literature in such cases. The provisions of article 10 of the Law On the Procedure and Conditions for Keeping Persons in Custody confirm this right. However, neither of these laws were observed by the administration of the pre-trial detention centre (SIZO no. 1, Valadarskaha Street, Minsk). In October 2020, a Roman Catholic activist Artiom Tkaczuk sent Catholic magazines to political prisoners: Maxim Znak, Dzmitry Furmanau and Eduard Palchys; but received the magazines back with a note saying that “newspapers, magazines, crosswords are allowed only by subscription from post offices». In November 2020, Zmitser Dashkevich received back 42 out of 70 copies of the New Testament he had sent to political prisoners in SIZO no. 1; the accompanying note said that “the persons in custody have the right to use literature from the SIZO library.” The same applies to the inmates serving administrative arrest. On 23 December 2020, Iryna Petrusevich, a Roman Catholic, posted a Christmas card, a wafer and the text of the Christmas Day worship printed out from Catholic.by, an official website of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus, to her friends serving an administrative arrest in Žodzina and Baranavičy prisons after being sentenced under Art. 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences. The inmate in Baranavičy received only a card and wafer, while the inmate in Žodzina received nothing. In January 2021, the Christian Vision Group published its first statement concerning the violation of the right of political prisoners to access religious literature. However, the problem still remains. On the eve of the feast of Easter, those kept arrested in Žodzina were denied to receive Bible, with a pretext, that the arrested had access to the library of the detention centre. However, the number of the Bibles is not sufficient and access to the Bible in the Belarusian language is limited. A new Christian Vision Group’s statement was distributed to the heads of the following six Christian confessions in Belarus: Belarusian Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church in Belarus (incl. the Nunciature), Council of the Evangelical Baptist Christians, Association of the Conservative Churches of the Evangelical Baptist Christians, United Church of Evangelical Christians, Association of Communities of the Full Gospel Christians in Belarus.
The mentioned above Roman Catholic believer, Volha Zalatar, informed of obstacles in receiving a prayer book. On 16 April, political prisoner Irena Bernatskaya’s daughter, Weronika Piuta, shared on Facebook that her mother had not received religious literature posted to her. Only a prayer book was allowed. Bernatskaya was detained on charges of alleged incitement to hatred (Article 130 of the Criminal Code) on 25 March. She is held at detention centre (SIZO) no. 1 in Minsk. On 7 January 2022, the mother of Artsiom Bayarski, an Orthodox Christian, reported that all attempts to pass on a prayer book to her son were unsuccessful: prayer books, as well as any other literature, were rejected by the staff at the pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) no. 1 in Minsk where Bayarski has been held from mid-April to the end of 2021.
There are obstacles to subscribing to even the religious publications featured in the official Belpochta (state-owned distributor) catalogue. As of 24 May 2021, subscriptions to the Roman Catholic newspaper of the Viciebsk Diocese, Katalicki Vesnik, were not permitted in prison no. 4 in Mahilioŭ. The prison employees simply deleted the newspaper, as well as the Belorussy i Rynok newspaper, from the catalogue available to inmates. Specifically, Mikita Yemialyianau, a political prisoner held in Mahilioŭ prison, did not manage to subscribe to the newspaper for the second half of 2021. Yemialyianau’s relatives appealed to the prison administration on this matter. In a written response, the head of the prison, D. Eliseenko, informed that the May 2021 issue of the Katalicki Viesnik newspaper was not distributed to the prisoner in accordance with Article 89 Part 2 of the Penal Code: «convicts may not receive, acquire, store, distribute or subscribe to the publications promoting war, incitement to racial, ethnic and religious hatred, violence or cruelty, as well as pornographic publications.» The letter did not specify the kind of prohibited information the May 2021 issue of the newspaper contained. On 8 November, it became known that the head of a pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) no. 1 in Minsk, Andrei Tsendrik, mentioned the changes to the Internal Regulations of Investigative Detention Centers in his response to the appeal of the relatives of one of the political prisoners. From paragraph 169 was excluded the following: «A subscription for the detainee can be made by his relatives or other persons». Consequently, a subscription can only be made by detention centres’ staff. This change was made on 30 June 2021 and has been applied since 23 September.
The right to receive religious literature and use provided for by para. 80 of the Rules of Internal Procedures in the Places of Serving Administrative Arrests is violated in relation to the detainees under the Administrative Code. In March 2021, after the inmates’ complaints about the conditions of their detention, all their writing utensils, paper, scanwords and books, including a prayer book, were taken away from the arrested persons in cell 23 of the Center for Isolation of Offenders on Akrescina Street. Musician Aliaksei Krukouski, an Orthodox believer, was held at the detention centre on Akrescina Street in Minsk, then — at the detention centre in Žodzina between 26 April and 7 May 2021. His administrative arrest under Art. 23.34 coincided with the Passion Week and Easter holiday. During his detention, Krukousky was deprived of all correspondence, including Easter greetings and letters with fragments of the church services’ texts and laminated paper icons. According to the believer, the morning greeting by Metropolitan Veniamin was the only religious content on the first channel of the Belarusian state radio which inmates were forced to listen to in the daytime.
There are serious obstacles for pastoral visits to believers in detention centres.
Orthodox believer Paval Sieviaryniec was detained on 7 June 2020. Initially, he served several consecutive administrative arrests for 75 days in total. Later, he was transferred to pre-trial detention centre no. 1 in Minsk as a suspect under Art. 293 of the Criminal Code (Organization of mass riots). There, he was held until April 2021. Then he was transferred to the investigative prison no. 4 in Mahilioŭ. During his stay in pre-trial detention centre no. 1, Sieviaryniec made at least five written requests for a pastoral visit by an Orthodox priest. The prisoner’s wife, Volha Sieviaryniec asked for the same three times. Clergy and activists of religious organisations also petitioned for the visit permission on Paval Sieviaryniec’s behalf. For nine months, a pastoral visit was not permitted even once. For the first time, a pastoral visit to Paval Sieviaryniec became possible in the period after the verdict was passed and before it came into force, during his stay in the investigative prison No. 4 in Mahilioŭ. At that time, the court that passed the verdict was in charge of allowing such a visit. The visit took place on 8 June 2021 according to the short-term visits provision: through protective glass, using a telephone set, excluding physical contact for sacraments and without ensuring the confidentiality of the conversation.
Mentioned above Irena Bernatskaya, a well-known Roman Catholic from Lida and political prisoner, held at the detention centre no. 1 in Minsk, requested a pastoral visit by a priest at least on two occasions. According to the Facebook post of her daughter, Weronika Piuta, the requests were turned down. Prison administration justifies their refusals by the unfavourable Covid-related epidemiological situation. Previously, Bernatskaya had been fined for organising a prayer in front of the Farny Church in Lida. The Christian Vision Group published two statements (here and here) protesting against the persecution of the believer.
At the same detention centre no. 1, the above-mentioned Volha Zalatar, a Roman Catholic believer, requested pastoral visits by a priest on several occasions. All requests have been rejected. 70 Catholic priests from Belarus submitted written petitions to the investigative committee asking to end Zalatar’s criminal prosecution. Two priests, including Zalatar’s parish priest, Fr Alexandr Famianych, submitted sureties for changing the measure of her restraint. On 2 June 2021, the Apostolic Nuncio in Belarus, Archbishop Ante Jozić, made a pastoral visit to Zalatar in the pre-trial detention center.
On 4 May 2021, the Christian Vision group published a statement regarding the obstacles to pastoral visits experienced by Paval Sieviaryniec, Irena Bernatskaya and Volha Zalatar. On 5 May 2021, the group called on the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Belarus and the Apostolic Nunciature in the Republic of Belarus to take steps for resolving the current situation with regard to the detained Catholic women.
Artsiom Bayarski, an Orthodox Christian, was detained on 24 March 2021. Since then, he has been under arrest. On 9 December 2021, he was sentenced to five years of imprisonment in a high-security facility. For the whole of this time, he has never been allowed to receive a pastoral visit. While in a pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) no. 1 in Minsk after the sentence was passed and before it came into force, Bayarski requested a pastoral visit arranged for him by his mother. Judge Alena Shyko who passed the sentence and therefore represented the body responsible for permitting such a visit rejected Bayarski’s request. Bayarski’s mother, Volha, said: “People have been in jail for a year, they cannot meet with a priest or go to confession. I believe that this is an infringement of the rights of believers.”
A serious problem is the obstruction of religious life for convicts in prisons.
Alena Maushuk, an Orthodox believer sentenced to six years in a general regime colony as part of the so-called Pinsk case and serving the sentence in the colony no. 24 in Zarečča (Rečyca district, Homieĺ region), made requests for meeting with a priest. In a letter to Maushuk, Archpriest Pyotr Prakaptsou (Homieĺ diocese of the Belarusian Orthodox Church) advised her of an Orthodox service taking place 25 August 2021 and the possibility of a pastoral conversation or confession with a priest. The colony administration, however, prevented the political prisoner from taking part in that service. Yuliya Kashaverava, a nurse from Vitebsk who served her sentence in colony no. 4 in Homieĺ and was released on 16 September 2021 after being pardoned, reported that this problem has a systemic character. According to Kashaverava, political prisoners are not allowed to visit «neither activity clubs, nor church, nor sports facilities, nor places of study.» In the letter from 24 October 24 2021, Alena Maushuk mentioned that she had finally managed to meet with a priest.
Political prisoners are not allowed to participate in farewell ceremonies (funerals) of their deceased family members. Paval Sieviaryniec serving a sentence in correction facility no. 17 in Škloŭ could not attend the funeral of his father, Kanstantyn Sieviaryniec, who died on 1 October 2021 from coronavirus. On the eve of the funeral, the Christian Vision Group appealed to the heads of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in Belarus, and to the bishops of the dioceses in the Mahilioŭ region where the Škloŭ correction facility is located, as well as to the Apostolic Nuncio, Ante Jozić, with a request to petition the Department for the Execution of Punishments for the permission for Paval Sieviaryniec to attend his late father’s funeral.
In the summer of 2021, political prisoner Mikita Yemialyianau serving a four-year maximum-security colony sentence in prison no. 4 in Mahilioŭ applied for permission to be visited by a priest. On 11 October 2021, Yemialyianau was placed in a punishment cell for twenty days for alleged violation of the rules of the prison’s internal order. On the same day, Yemialyianau began a hunger strike protesting against the denial of a priest to visit him. The hunger strike continues. On 25 October 2021, the Christian Vision Group issued a special statement on the violation of Mikita Yemialyianau’s right to freedom of religion. According to human rights activists, on 27 October, the prison administration asked Yemialyianau to make a new pastoral visit request. He was assured that such a visit would be permitted. Following that, Yemialyianau stopped the hunger strike on 30 November. According to information from human rights activists and Yemialyianau’s family, a pastoral visit took place on 3 or 4 November. Yemialyianau received the sacraments of confession and communion from Bishop Aliaksandr Yasheuski SBD.
Christian Reformed believer, Uladzimir Matskevich, experienced systematic refusals of pastoral visits. From 4 to 17 February, he was on a hunger strike demanding to see a pastor. The New Life Full Gospel Church (Minsk) pastor, Vyachaslau Hancharenka, attempted to visit Matskevich in a pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) no. 1 in Minsk but was not allowed by the administration. A Christian Reformed pastor from Mahilioŭ, Syarhei Udalyou, did not manage to submit a visit request due to his community lacking state registration. Several Protestant churches in Germany sent letters to Syarhei Pasko, head of the Minsk department of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, and Andrei Tsedryk, head of the detention centre no. 1, requesting a pastoral visit to be allowed. The letters were ignored. The Christian Vision group adopted a special statement regarding Uladzimir Matskevich’s hunger strike. The group demanded Matskevich be able to exercise his right to meet with a minister of religion for spiritual support.
On 16 July 2021, the human rights organisation Forum 18 published a review of the violations of the rights of detainees, arrested and imprisoned related to freedom of religion or belief. It noted that the refusal to permit pastoral visits and access to religious literature for political prisoners contradicts both Belarusian legislation and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules). In another report from 12 November 2021, the human rights organisation Forum 18 drew attention to the obstruction of pastoral visits to prisoners and restrictions on access to religious literature in places of detention.
Torture, degrading or inhuman treatment
Imprisoned believers are subjected to torture and treatment degrading their humanity, damaging their health and threatening life.
The police behaves particularly violently while detailing believers or the persons perceived to be believers. Vitaly Shatalau, a Roman Catholic, was detained and severely beaten in Mahilioŭ. Shatalau had multiple religious tattoos on his body, incl. a crucifix on his back and an image of St John Paul II on the inside of the elbow. The police officers asked him if he was a believer, and Shatalau gave an affirmative answer. The police beat him particularly severely. Shatalau had to be hospitalised. Andrei Shklenda, a musical instrument master from Pinsk, was severely beaten at the Pinsk city department of Internal Affairs on 10 August 2020. Due to his appearance: a beard, long hair, and the fact that when he was beaten he cried out, Lord, save me! — the police officers assumed Shklenda was a clergyman. They humiliated him on the basis of the assumed priesthood and treated him particularly cruelly.
Evangelical preacher Sergiy Melianets mentioned in this Monitoring earlier and his two brothers, Mikalai and Aliaksei, were detained in Minsk while praying for peace in Belarus in their car, parked by the Minsk Concert Hall on 10 August 2020. Sergiy was tortured with an electric taser. He developed convulsions and numbness in his limbs. An ambulance was called; the doctor diagnosed a heart attack, tachycardia and blurred consciousness. Sergiy was taken to the hospital. He described his torture on his Facebook page, and to the August 2020 and Witnesses of Violence projects.
On 22 August 2020, Evangelical Christian, Mark Salonikau, was detained under part 2 art. 293 of the Criminal Code (Participation in mass riots). He was beaten while being transported from Minsk to the pre-trial detention centre in Brest: police officers beat his head on the floor.
On 15 October 2020, seventeen-year-old Kiryl was detained during a peaceful demonstration. He was a member of the Ladya choir established at the Orthodox parish of St Andrew the First-Called in Minsk in 2012. The minor was severely beaten (chest contusion, head injury) and subjected to pressure, threats and torture with a stun gun by the officers of the internal affairs in order to force him to incriminate himself. A criminal case for participation in the riots was initiated against Kirill. He had to leave Belarus. He told the Belsat TV channel about the torture he had survived, including being stun-gunned.
Fr Siarhei Rezanovich, a parish priest of St Michael the Archangel Orthodox church in the agrotown of Sciapanki in Žabinka district of Brest region, his wife Liubou and son Pavel were tortured. They were detained on 1 December 2020 in Brest as part of the “Autukhovich case”. All were included in the so-called “list of terrorists”. Pavel Rezanovich has a law degree and works in the enforcement agencies in the city of Brest; nevertheless, he signed a pre-prepared testimony but stated in court that physical and psychological torture was used against him. He named the officials who tortured him: KGB investigator from Brest, Tsyareshyn; and Head of the Hrodna KGB Investigative Department, Varanyetski. According to Pavel Rezanovich, Tsyareshyn brought a prepared ‘script’ on four sheets, which Pavel had to sign. Varanyetski threatened the accused with a punishment cell and judges who would punish Rezanovich to the maximum. “The KGB officers frightened me with the arrest of my wife, and at the same time, they dragged my mother along the corridor and beat her for me to hear her screams. Under such conditions, one would sign anything” — testified Pavel Rezanovich. According to the state television news, a 58-year-old Mother Liubou Rezanovich was labelled “especially dangerous” and placed in a separate narrow cage during the trial. The cage has no facilities to sit easily despite the fact that the woman suffers from joint pain in her legs.
The Catholic believer Volha Zalatar previously mentioned in this Monitoring stated that during her arrest on 18 March 2021 and during interrogations, she was subjected to violence and torture. Zalatar’s lawyer, Andrey Machalau, testified that he had personally witnessed the signs of torture on the woman’s body: bruises on the arms, neck and buttocks. Following the allegation of torture, the lawyer’s license was annulled. The full text of the former lawyer’s statement from 2 April 2021 was made available to journalists at Zalatar’s trial, which began on 15 November. At the trial, it transpired that on 20 April, the Investigative Committee refused to initiate a criminal investigation of abuse of office by the GUBOPiK employees due to the absence of crime. According to the Investigative Committee, “Zalatar’s claims about bodily harm inflicted to her do not correspond to reality since it was inflicted before her detention.”
On 19 April 2021, the previously mentioned Orthodox believer Artsiom Bayarski detained on 24 March 2021 told his lawyer that he had been tortured: beaten with truncheons on the back and buttocks to force him to record a confession video. In the video, he was forced to say that he was gay. While in the prison in Žodzina, Bayarski was denied medical assistance. After being transferred to a pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) no. 1 on Valadarskaha Street in Minsk, he was also not provided with medical assistance either. In addition, just before being sent to prison no. 4 in Mahilioŭ for serving his sentence, Bayarski fell ill, had a high fever and cough — symptoms correlating with Covid. He was not offered relevant tests; instead, he was convoyed while being ill.
On 21 May 2021, Vitold Ashurak died under unexplained circumstances in the penal colony IK-17 in Škloŭ. Ashurak was a Roman Catholic believer and activist of the Lida Catholic community. He was serving a five-year sentence passed on 18 January 2021 by the judge of the Lida region, Maxim Filatov, under two articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, 342-1 (Organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them) and 364 (Violence or threat of violence against an Internal Affairs employee). His trial was secret. Ashurak was recognized as a political prisoner on 27 January 2021. Upon release to relatives, Asurak’s body had multiple signs of trauma. The Christian Vision Group issued a statement regarding his death.
On 28 June 2021, Lyudmila Ivashyna, the mother of the Greek Catholic believer and political prisoner Dzianis Ivashyn reported that her son had had a heart attack. The incident took place in a standing cell in Prison no. 1 in Hrodna where the Ivashyn was imprisoned under art. 365 of the Criminal Code (Interference in the activities of an employee of the internal affairs bodies). He was detained by the KGB on 12 March 2021. On 30 October, it became known that Ivashyn had been charged under part 1 of art. 356 of the Criminal Code (treason). He faces up to 15 years of imprisonment.
Mikita Yemialyianau, an activist of the anarchist movement and a Catholic believer, was sentenced to four years in a penal colony. For «violating the regime», he has been placed in the punishment cell of the Mahilioŭ prison no. 4 on numerous occasions and went on a hunger strike. Yemialyianau insisted that he violated the regime of stay in the penal facility «due to the violation of my religious rights and freedoms, and also because my right to receive correspondence was violated.» In November 2021, an investigation was initiated against him under Part 2 of Art. 411 of the Criminal Code (Malicious disobedience to the requirements of the administration of a correctional institution executing a sentence of limiting freedom committed by a person convicted of a serious crime). On 11 March 2022, he was sentenced to additional two years of imprisonment. Cumulatively, Yemialyianau’s unspent term is 3,5 years in a strict regime colony. In the colony, he is constantly placed in the punishment cell for prolonged periods of time.
Catholic faithful from Maladziečna, Pavel Kuchynski, also has experienced obstacles in receiving medical care. The young person suffers from terminal cancer (Hodgkin lymphoma). Due to his condition, he has the 2nd group disability (in the Belarusian classification). On account of being in custody, he did not receive a planned course of chemotherapy. Kuchinsky was detained on 26 January 2022 for publishing critical comments online. He was charged under the following articles of the Criminal Code: 369 (Insulting a representative of authority), 389 (Threat against a judge); 368 (Insulting the President of Belarus); 391 (Insulting a judge or a lay judge); 364 (Threat of violence against a representative of authority). On 13 April 2022, the Christian Vision group issued a statement protesting the depriving of political prisoner, Pavel Kuchynski, of vital medical care. On 7 June 2022, he was sentenced to five years in prison. Eventually, he received the prescribed treatment at the N.N. Alexandrov Republican Scientific and Practical Center of Oncology and Medical Radiology in Baraŭliany, however, his disease is currently progressing.