After the elections, active representatives of the students who were members of the “Association of Belarusian Students” were subjected to repression. The date of November 12, 2020, became a black day for university youth. Eleven student activists and one teacher were accused of organizing protests in their universities, developing plans to involve students and teachers in protest activity, administering thematic Telegram channels. On July 16, 2021, young people heard sentences ranging from 2 to 2.5 years in prison. Today we will remember the history of the “students’ case ” and tell you about the defendants.
November 12, 2020, for the activists of the student movement, began with unpleasant news. From the morning, security forces came to the students of Belarusian universities with searches. Students were detained and taken away for questioning, after which they appeared in a pre-trial detention centre. The security forces came to BSU students Ksenia Syromolot, Egor Kanetsky, Ilya Trakhtenberg, MSLU student Gleb Fitzner, BNTU students Victoria Grankovskaya and Anastasia Bulybenko. BSAA student Maria Kalenik was abducted near the house. Kasia Budko and Yana Orobeyko, friends who studied at BSPU, were also detained. On “black Thursday”, forces came to a graduate of BSMU Alana Gebremariam, a representative of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in questions of youth and students. Among the detainees was a teacher of BSUIR Olga Filatchenkova. Another person involved in the “students case”, Tatyana Ekelchik from BSU, was jailed on November 26, 2020.
Students and the teacher faced severe restrictions in jail. Alana Gebremariam did not get letters and newspapers, and she found herself in complete information isolation. Yana Orobeyko spent five days in the punishment cell, and in court, she became ill due to heart problems. Ilya Trachtenberg told about the non-silencing loudspeaker, which is why it was never quiet in the cell. Anastasia Bulybenko was allowed only one date with her mother for six months…
The trial of the students began on May 14, 2021. On this day, more than 100 people gathered near the building of the Palace of Justice. But only lawyers and parents were allowed to go inside – other relatives, friends of students, representatives of the independent press, EU diplomats were not allowed to attend the meeting. Around 14 people were detained near the courthouse, including the politician Anatoly Lebedko and the journalist Lyubov Kasperovich.
– The guys looked very cheerful, – recalled Ivan, the son of the defendant Olga Filatchenkova. – They were glad to see us, all those who are not indifferent, as well as their beloved and dear relatives. By the way, it was not noticeable that anyone was crying, sitting drooping or heartbroken and regretful. I wouldn’t say that they regret that it happened. At least they don’t look like that.
The witnesses in the case were representatives of the university administration. Some of them said that because of the autumn actions, classes were disrupted, in particular, for foreigners. At the same time, the deputy dean of the Law Faculty of BSU, Anna Bakun, the deputy dean of the Chemistry Faculty of BSU, Natalia Sankevich, the dean of the Translation Faculty of MSLU, Alexander Ponimatko, said that there was no disruption of the educational process. Igor Puchenya, the head of the Department for Educational work with young people of the MSLU, also said that the students did not interfere in the education process and noted that he would not recognize any of the accused.
On July 1 and 2, 2021, the accused students answered the questions of the court.
- Ilya Trakhtenberg said that he was a participant in the protest chat with the status of an administrator, but did not organize any actions, just voiced his opinion on the events taking place. Ilya also said that he took part in only one zoom conference, where Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was also present.
- Gleb Fitzner fully admitted his guilt, said that he administered the Telegram channel “MSLU for Freedom”, participated in a conference with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
- Olga Filatchenkova pleaded not guilty to coordinating student actions, calling for a student strike.
- Anastasia Bulybenko did not deny that she drew posters for the actions and did not know that it was necessary to adjust mass events. She was forced to write a confession, where she indicated that Alana Gebremariam was in one of the chats in which she was a member.
- Yegor Kanetsky refused to testify.
- In the opinion of Tatyana Ekelchik, student actions and strikes did not interfere with the educational process.
- Ksenia Syromolot demanded proof that she was the administrator of a chat room that distributed information about student actions. She clarified that she starred in a video against violence because the humanities study is impossible without discussions and the expression of personal thoughts. The girl did not participate in the actions.
- Viktoria Grankovskaya rejected the accusation of inciting political and ideological hostility and said that she was outraged by the violence on the streets of Belarus and had an active civil position.
On July 13, 2021, the defendants made their last speech.
“The current situation in our country forces the brightest people to leave Belarus, maybe temporarily, or maybe forever. Life here becomes dangerous for them only because they are not afraid to express their thoughts – following the right that the Constitution guarantees to all of us,” Olga Filatchenkova said.
“I don’t suppose people, but I will never stop believing in people. I am imprisoned, but my liberty is inside. We are the future. We are a generation of tolerance, freedom and the desire to change the world for the better. And this is not a crime. My mother always taught me to be kind, honest, fair to myself and others, advised me to listen to my heart. I know that I did everything right. It still hurts, but it’s not scary anymore, ” Anastasia Bulybenko said.
“I performed all the actions described and written in the accusation under my conscience, indifference, compassion. And these actions are not criminal. I have never violated the legislation of the Republic of Belarus by my actions,” Tatyana Ekelchik is sure.
“These eight months of regime measures could not convince me that fear destroys trust and everything that a healthy society cannot exist and function without,” Yana Orobeyko stressed in her speech.
“The last eight months have changed my life a lot. I saw all the flaws of our society. Our society is afraid of problems, turns a blind eye. I am sorry for everything that is happening in our country. The most promising, worthy students among us are forced to leave or go to jail. But I love Belarus with all its pros and cons-even after eight months in prison, ” Kasia Budko admitted.
“If you, the High Court in particular and the Republic of Belarus, on whose behalf the verdict is being passed, believe that it is criminal to follow the Constitution; it is criminal not to lie; it is criminal to study hard; it is criminal to help people; it is criminal to create; it is criminal to be a person, then I will understand the motivation of any guilty verdict,” Ksenia Syromolot said.
“I have not put up with destruction and will not put up with it. My grandmother always said that violence and humiliation are terrifying. Belarus is a home for me, and the people in it are like a big family, ” Victoria Grankovskaya said.
As a result of the meeting, Gleb Fitzner, the only one who repented and admitted his guilt, received two years in prison, and the remaining 11 defendants in the case were sentenced to 2 years and six months in a penal colony.
The “students case” is a demonstrative pressure on the best representatives of the Belarusian students. The young people who have heard the guilty verdicts were activists, excellent students, creative and talented individuals who were not indifferent to what is happening in the country. It is for this that they will now go to the colony to serve undeserved punishments. The illegitimate government gives us understanding – anyone who expresses his opinion and goes against the authorities will be punished. There are enough places for everyone. We must not allow students to go through prison school, suffer torture and bullying. After all, we know perfectly well who really should be in their place.