Unfortunately, we are forced to note that the Belarusian regime is actively using such an instrument of blackmail and pressure on Belarus’ democratic leaders and human rights activists as taking relatives hostage.
The Lukashenko regime uses a variety of tools to put pressure on Belarusians fighting for their rights. And blackmail, threats, violence, reprisals are used not only against themselves, but also against close and even distant relatives. It can be said that virtually anyone who has family ties to the Belarusian opposition or human rights activists – those who openly express their position, have taken part in protest activities, and even more so, continue to actively participate in the liberation of Belarus from the regime from abroad – is under threat of arrest and violence from the “law enforcement agencies” of the Belarusian regime.
In the last year alone, there have been 23 known cases of arrests, searches and other violent actions against relatives of human rights and democracy activists in Belarus.
- Spouse – 2 cases
- Parents – 8 cases
- Children – 4 cases
- Brothers/sisters – 3 cases
- Grandparents – 2 cases
- Other close or distant relatives – 4 cases
The geography of blackmail and hostage-taking covers the whole of Belarus.
The majority of cases of violence against relatives of human rights defenders and democracy activists occur in the city of Minsk. But also a similar instrument of influence was used in Grodno, Brest and smaller towns in the country – Rechitsa, Lida, Zhitkovichi, Polotsk, Novopolotsk and Mozyr.
Typically, the arrest of a relative has the main purpose of offering a human rights activist or leader to return to Belarus and “exchange” themselves for a jailed relative in order to free that relative from torture and suffering. Typically, the GUBOP or KGB release publicly humiliating videos where the relatives of a human rights defender or activist, very badly beaten or with signs of torture, ask Lukashenko to forgive their relative for “misbehaving”. Fictitious criminal cases have been filed against most activists, but the “law enforcement” authorities lack the activists themselves to conduct investigative actions, bring the case to court and publicly convict them.
The Belarusian regime wants to break the resistance, to humiliate people, and for this it needs human rights defenders and leaders to be in a place physically accessible for torture, the easiest place, of course, is to torture in prison.
A chronicle of some of the cases of relatives of human rights defenders and democracy activists being taken hostage
- Year 2021
On 25 May, the Belarusian authorities took a relative of Belsat journalist Arina Malinovskaya hostage. In a phone call, the investigator said that her relatives had been detained. The journalist’s grandparents were soon detained. They will be released only after the journalist herself comes to the police station. The police also detained the journalist’s husband for some time. Arina did not return to Belarus.
On 15 March the 95-year-old grandmother of Grodno investigative journalist Denis Ivashin was searched. Prior to that, searches were also conducted at the man’s parents’ house. The law-enforcers tried to break Denis Ivashin in this way.
On 10 July KGB officers came to the home of political prisoner Stanislau Mochalau’s brother Ihar with a search. They took his brother’s computers, phones and data storage devices. As practice shows, personal property is never returned afterwards.
On 5 August, the parents of Aleksey Shkurov, editor of Strong News, were searched. Nothing was taken during the search. But often the purpose of a search of the parents is precisely to put moral pressure on the elderly, and also to cause the activist himself to fear for the life and health of his parents.
On 19 August the flat of Tatsiana Lasitsa, father of political prisoner and “Viasna” volunteer, was searched in Rechytsa. As we can see, even the relatives of those activists who are already under arrest are searched in order to force them to admit their guilt.
On 24 August the police detained Volha Mokhnach, wife of the former police lieutenant colonel and commander of Lida police department company Iury Mokhnach, who was out of the Republic of Belarus. The house was searched, but later Olga was released.
On 13 September, KGB officers searched the homes of political prisoner Andriy Sharendo and Polina Sharendo-Panasiuk’s parents. The officers also visited Andrei’s brother Aliaksandr at work for questioning. Polina is in custody, Andrei managed to escape from Belarus together with his children.
On 16 October Volha Chyzhyk, mother of political prisoner Arseniy Chyzhyk, was detained in Zhytkovichy. She was taken away for interrogation late in the evening and only released the next morning.
On 8 November, Oleksiy Kanevskiy, son of political prisoner Tatyana Kanevska, was arrested. The man has been placed in a temporary detention centre. Nothing is yet known about his further fate.
On 8 November, Oleksiy Kanevskiy, son of political prisoner Tatsiana Kanevska, was arrested. The man received 15 days of arrest for masking “Honest People”.
On 14 November police searched the house of the blogger’s daughter Alena Yanushkouskaya, who is herself outside Belarus. A search without the presence of the persons involved in the case is also a standard practice of the Belarusian “law enforcement” authorities.
On 16 November the house of activist Alena Gurchenok in Polatsk was searched. Iryna Gurchenok, a relative of Alena, was detained for 72 hours in Navapolatsk. Unfortunately, we know that women detained by the Belarusian police are subject to particular pressure and threats of a sexual nature. That’s why the detention of female relatives is especially frightening for activists.
On 26 November, the mother of anarchist Roman Khalilov, who left the country in 2019 for fear of possible criminal prosecution, was arrested. The security forces broke down the door of Gayane’s flat and conducted a search. The woman was forced to kneel down and admit her guilt on camera. Gayane Akhtiyan was arrested for 10 days, and on December 2, 2021 she was transferred to the Temporary Detention Centre in Okrestin.
On 12 April 2022, she was sentenced to three years’ restricted freedom in an open detention facility.
On 7 December in Navapolatsk, the house of the parents of the former journalist of Euroradio Yuliya Matuzova was searched. During the search all the equipment was seized.
In December, pressure was also started on the relatives of ex-Belarusian SOBR fighter Yury Haravsky, who is in Switzerland, where he has requested political asylum. The relatives were summoned to the KGB several times. Yury’s brother was arrested by riot police and interrogated for five hours. The relatives were forbidden to leave Belarus. In fact, this case is one of the most striking – Yury’s relatives are real hostages of the “authorities”.
- Year 2022
On 28 January, the Belarusian authorities initiated criminal proceedings against Yana Latushko, daughter of politician and Belarusian opposition activist Pavel Latushko, arresting her property. Arrest or seizure of property is also a favourite tool of the regime’s pressure on activists.
On 31 January, Anatoliy Latushko, a cousin of NAU head Pavlo Latushko, was detained. His home was searched. As practice shows, the better known an activist is, the more pressure will be exerted on him in every possible way.
On 9 February Ksenia Martinovich, daughter of activist Alla Martinovich, was arrested in Mozyr. The daughter had travelled from Ukraine to visit her mother’s flat.
On 18 February in Minsk law enforcers with guns came to the relatives of the activist and former student of the Academy of Arts Polina Burko with a search. Polina is now outside Belarus. After the search the KGB officers detained her mother, 45-year-old Alena Burko and arrested her for 12 days.
On 6 June 2022, after the trial of political prisoner Alexei Ivanisov, an unfamiliar woman approached Alexei’s mother, Natalia Ivanisova, and shouted: “Serves them right! Not enough! We need to put them away even more. Everyone suffers because of people like your relatives. And the war almost started because of them”. Natallia Ivanisova, on hearing such words about her son, could not hold back and uttered one word only: “Shit”. The woman was charged with administrative offence (part 1 of article 10.2 of the Code of Administrative Offences).
Year 2022 Hrodna Leninski Borough Court considered the criminal case against Sviatlana Yermalova, accused of insulting the officer of Minsk riot police Fiodarau under Article 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a representative of power). Sviatlana Yermalova is the mother of political prisoner Ihar Yermalova, who was sentenced in June to five years in a reinforced regime colony on charges of preparation for mass riots.
Anastasia Emelianova speaks of threats from the security forces because of her active support for her son, publishing information and writing letters to other prisoners.