After the elections, freedom of speech in Belarus practically ceased to exist. The number of political prisoners in the media is growing rapidly, the editorial offices of independent newspapers and portals are being closed, many journalists and bloggers who criticized the actions of the authorities are forced to leave the country. It is categorically impossible to criticize any actions of the state, otherwise it will be a prison.
There are 16 bloggers-political prisoners in Belarus now. Some of them were jailed even before the elections and have been there for a year or even more. Someone continued to speak out against the illegitimate government after the so-called “victory”. In this piece, we list those who have been tried to shut their mouths because of their civic attitude and concern for what is happening in the country.
Vladimir Neronski from Slutsk has been running a YouTube channel, “Slutsk for Life”, and has repeatedly said that he loves his city and wants to see it better. In 2018, he was nominated for the Minsk Regional Council of Deputies. On May 7, 2020, he was detained, as on May 5 he attended a meeting with Sergei Tikhanovsky in Mogilev. Since May 8, 2020, he served a administrative arrest, and on June 17, 2020, a criminal case was opened against him under Articles 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order) and 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a government official). On February 2, 2021, the blogger was sentenced to 3 years in prison.
The creator of the YouTube channel “Country for Life” Sergei Tikhanovsky was detained on May 29, 2020 during a picket to collect signatures for presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Grodno. On June 8, 2020, he was charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code, and later – under Article 191 of the Criminal Code (obstruction of elections, obstruction of the work of the CEC, including through threats). The trial of Sergei Tikhanovsky has not yet taken place.
On June 9, 2020, blogger Vladimir Tsyganovich, the author of the MozgON YouTube channel, was detained. He was detained to serve the 15-day arrest imposed back in March 2020 for an action outside the Belneftekhim offices on 25 February. On February 24, 2021, he was charged with preparing to participate in riots (Art. part 2 of art. 293 CC). On May 5, 2021, the case of Vladimir Tsyganovich was sent to court.
On June 10, 2020, blogger Dmitry Kozlov, the author of the “Gray Cat” YouTube channel, was detained. It was held in the case of “European Belarus”. On June 30, 2020, Dmitry Kozlov was charged under Article 342 of Part 1 of the Criminal Code. In December 2020, a new charge was brought against the blogger – under Part 2 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code. On May 25, 2021, a trial of the activists of the “European Belarus” was held in Mogilev. Dmitry Kozlov was sentenced to 5 years in prison in a maximum-security colony.
On June 15, 2020, a Brest blogger, author of the “Narodny Reporter” (“People’s Reporter”) YouTube channel, press secretary of the initiative group of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Alexander Kabanov, was detained. On June 25, a search was conducted in the house of Kabanov’s parents near Bereza. Alexander Kabanov was charged under Article 342 Part 1 and Article 369 of the Criminal Code. According to the prosecution, Alexander posted on the “People’s Reporter” YouTube channel a photo of the riot police officer Vitaly Avtushenko with offensive comments. He detained Sergei Tikhanovsky in Mogilev on May 6, 2020. On April 14, 2021, Alexander Kabanov was sentenced to three years in prison.
Sergei Petrukhin, the author of the “People’s Reporter” and “YouTube-Deputies” YouTube channels, was detained on the afternoon of June 16, 2020, in a village in the Pukhovichi district. He was charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them) related to the events in Grodno on May 29. On April 14, the blogger was tried in Mogilev – he was found guilty of organizing mass riots, as well as insulting a government official (Article 369 of the Criminal Code). He was sentenced to three years in prison, and also ordered to pay 750 rubles to an officer of the Mogilev OMON, who was humiliated by the publication of Sergei Petrukhin on social networks.
On June 25, 2020, Igor Losik, a blogger and creator of the “Brain of Belarus” channel, was detained. He was charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order, or actively participating in them). Since then, he has been in prison. In December, he was charged with preparation for a crime under Part 2 of Article 293 (participation in mass riots). On the same day, he went on a hunger strike, which he held for more than 40 days. Behind bars, Igor is being bullied, a lawyer was not allowed to see him, letters were not handed over, he was kept in an information vacuum. While being escorted out, Igor was handcuffed in the car, had his hands twisted at the wrists upwards and was forced to hold bags, which left him with injuries. On May 27, 2021, Igor’s wife Daria was able to see her husband for the first time in more than 300 days of arrest.
On July 21, 2020, blogger Sergei Korshun, author of the “Army with the People” Telegram channel, was detained. He was detained in the framework of the case under Article 342 of the Criminal Code – the charges were based on the events of May 29, 2020, in Grodno. In February 2021, it became known that Korshun was charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code. On May 7, 2021, in the Minsk Regional Court, Sergei Korshun was sentenced – he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in a maximum-security colony.
Blogger Pavel Spirin was detained on September 4 in Minsk. He was accused of inciting social hatred in relation to the profession of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Article 130 of the Criminal Code). Spirin’s criminal cases were based on his two videos, which he posted on his YouTube channel: the film “Edge”, which is included in the list of extremist materials, and a video titled “A terrible secret of the prosecutor general of Belarus: carte blanche for sadism.” On February 5, Pavel Spirin received 4.5 years in prison, and on February 8, the blogger was recognized as a political prisoner.
On September 29, 2020, blogger Eduard Palchis, the author of the PALCHYS Telegram channel, was arrested. In the summer, he was sentenced to 15 days of arrest twice under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code. On November 6, Eduard Palchis was charged under Part 1 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code (organization of mass riots). While he was in prison, his daughter was born. Edward refused to testify.
On November 11, 2020, Nikolay Dedok, the author of the MIKOLA Telegram channel, was arrested. He was found in a rented apartment in the Osipovichi district, where he hid from the security forces for a long time. During his arrest, Nikolai was severely beaten, pepper sprayed in the eyes, and then forcibly made to film himself for a video by the Interior Ministry. After the arrest, Nikolai ended up in Minsk in the GUBOPiK. There he lay face down for four hours. All this time he was beaten with a truncheon, beaten on the heels with an electric shock, and threatened with rape. Dedоk was demanded to give up passwords and administrators of Telegram channels. Nikolai was charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code. In March, the Investigative Committee opened new criminal cases against the political prisoner on calling for the seizure of power (part 3 of article 361 of the Criminal Code) and illegal actions in relation to combustible substances (part 1 of article 295-3 of the Criminal Code). Over the course of all these months, Nikolai many times ended up in solitary confinement, lawyers were not allowed to see him, letters were not handed over to him.
On February 17, 2021, the trial of the Bobruisk blogger Dmitry Timofeev took place in Mogilev. In May 2020, he was driving through the city when he was stopped by a traffic police inspector and fined for an allegedly inappropriate sound signal and stickers on the car. In June 2020, in the YouTube channel 6tv.by, a man allegedly insulted the head of the traffic police department of the Bobruisk city executive committee Vitaly Poddubsky. The court sentenced him to two years of restriction of liberty and sent him to an open-type correctional institution and ordered him to pay the head of the traffic police 1,000 rubles. Timofeev said that the words that offended Vitaly Poddubsky primarily concerned the entire system in which an unjust punishment of an innocent person is possible.
Ruslan Linnik has started making videos on socially significant and political topics since 2020. In February 2021, 90 thousand people subscribed to his channel. On February 23 this year, the blogger was detained. He was charged under Article 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a government official). On March 2, 2021, Ruslan Linnik was recognized as a political prisoner.
On April 8, 2021, blogger and writer Vladislav Savin was arrested. He was charged under Articles 209 (fraud) and 342 of the Criminal Code. Moreover, the case under Article 209 was opened back in 2016, when Vladislav worked at ONT, and in 2020 it was abruptly resumed. Vladislav has his own books: the story “Ambidekstr” and a collection of poems “Poetry Throughout.” In addition, Vladislav is fond of art and sports, and in 2016 he swam across the Strait of Gibraltar. Now Vladislav is in jail-1 in Minsk.
On May 19, 2021, Minsk blogger Olga Tokarchuk was taken into custody. Prior to that, she was detained several times under administrative charges. At the time of her arrest, Olga was already in the status of a suspect under two articles of the Criminal Code (insult to a judge and slander against an employee of the election commission – Articles 391 and 188 of the Criminal Code). After the last detention, Olga was accused of organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order (Article 342 of the Criminal Code). Olga is now under arrest for two months.
On 23 May 2021, blogger and journalist Roman Protasevich was taken off the Athens-Vilnius plane in Minsk. He was charged under Articles 293 Part 1 (organizing mass riots), 342 (organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order, or actively participating in them), 130 (inciting hatred) of the Criminal Code. The lawyer is almost not allowed to see him. His girlfriend Sofia Sapega is also in prison. On June 3, 2021, Roman’s interview was shown on the state channel ONT.
Restricting freedom of speech is another violation of the Constitution of our country. Bloggers in prison suffer from torture, bullying, lack of information, not to mention the fact that they are doomed to wait for months to be charged, which in itself is unbearable. ICCI “Our House” demands the immediate release of the detained bloggers and an end to the strangulation of freedom of speech in Belarus.