22 May 2021
Vitold Ashurak, a believer and activist of the Lida Roman Catholic community, died on 21 May 2021 in the penal colony in Škloŭ, where he served a five-year term. The activist was sentenced on 18 January 2021 by the Lida District judge, Maksim Filatov, under two articles of the Criminal code of the Republic of Belarus: 342 part 1 (“Organization and preparation of the actions grossly violating public order, or active participating in them») and 364 («Violence or threat of violence against a police officer»). At the initiative of the judge, the trial was held behind closed doors due to an alleged «threat to state security.» On 27 January 2021, eleven Belarusian human rights organisations recognised Ashurak as a political prisoner.
Ashurak was an active Catholic believer. He was not indifferent to the lawlessness and violence taking place in Belarus. Since August 2020, he has actively participated in political protests and religious activities: together with other believers he publicly prayed the rosary; and he joined the Pompeian novena, a traditional prayer practice using the rosary and lasting 54 days. In the city of Lida, the novena was initiated by Irena Bernatskaya on 12 August 2020. Bernatskaya is currently under politically motivated arrest. The prayer was held outdoor in front of the Farny Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. After Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus was prevented from re-entering the Republic of Belarus on 31 August 31, requests for his return were added to the novenna.
Ten days ago, we grieved over the fire that occurred in the National Sanctuary of the Mother of God in Budslaŭ. This fire has already mobilised a huge number of volunteers and donors. In this joint effort, Belarusians will be able to restore the church. Yesterday, however, in the death of Vitold Ashurak, a living church was destroyed, which cannot be restored by any human efforts.
The atmosphere of terror and suffering, and the deaths of innocent people in Belarus are provoked by secret trials of political prisoners, which deprive them of their right to a fair trial; disproportionately ruthless sentences for participation in peaceful demonstrations and expressing one’s opinion (motivated not by the logic of law, but by the logic of intimidation by an illegal authoritarian regime); degrading conditions of detention of political prisoners in both administrative and criminal cases; using violence and torture; barriers to accessing health care; restrictions in exercising fundamental human rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of religion and belief, to which the persecuted for expressing their opinion and indignation at tyranny, violence and lawlessness in Belarus are subjected.
We call on all believers to pray for the repose of the soul of Vitold Ashurak, and we call on non-believers — to express solidarity with other symbolic actions. We call on the Christian community worldwide to join in solidarity with the people of faith in Belarus who participate in peaceful democratic action, especially with those who are imprisoned. We call on the leadership of the Catholic Church to make every possible diplomatic effort to secure for the believing political prisoners a possibility to meet with clergy, and have access to the religious press and literature, as well as the earliest possible release of innocent people. We call on all churches to raise their voices against the evil, injustice, cruelty and lawlessness that is happening in prisons in Belarus and throughout the country.