We monitor specific cases of arrests for comments on social media that happened from January, 2022 to November, 2022.
Altogether, over 2500 such cases, including criminal, administrative arrests and detentions until the circumstances get clarified, were registered from August, 2020 to November, 2022. We know of 558 cases of actual imprisonment for comments posted on social media.
The main articles used to press charges for social media activity:
- Art. 130 of the CC – Incitement to racial, national, religious or other hatred or discord
- Art. 130-1 of the CC – Rehabilitation of Nazism
- Art. 361-1 of the CC – Formation of extremist groups or active participation in such
- Art. 361-2 of the CC – Financing of extremist activity
- Art. 361-4 of the CC – Promoting extremist activity
- Art. 368 of the CC – Insult to the president of the Republic of Belarus
- Art. 369 of the CC – Insult of a government official
- Art. 369-1 of the CC – Discrediting the Republic of Belarus
Only in the year 2022, 135 persons were detained and convicted under the articles mentioned above. The total number of years of imprisonment of people detained and convicted in 2022 is 84.5 years. The number does not include those who were detained before 2022, but convicted in 2022. Otherwise, it would be much greater, as a lot of people detained for comments on social media about Zeltsar’s case in 2021 were convicted in 2022 to long-term imprisonments. Also, this monitoring report includes 8 persons that have been detained, but not yet convicted in 2022. Unfortunately, the numbers are not complete. There is no open statistics in Belarus, and it is complicated and dangerous to work on collecting it inside the country.
The number of people prosecuted for comments on social media is extremely high, although it does not look too unbelievable on the general background of repressions. To understand its scale, we shall quote the figures from the UN report. Thus, in the period from May, 2020 to May, 2021, at least 37000 people were arrested, a lot of them were subject to administrative arrest for the term of up to 15 days. Among them, only in the period from August 9 to 14, 2020, about 13500 people were arbitrarily arrested and placed into custody. All such actions and practices are still continued by the regime of Lukashenka, also against the elderly.
The regime eavesdrops on telephone conversations, conducts video surveillance and maintains a wide network of agents and informants both inside the country and abroad. Illegal interference with private life and family affairs, residence and correspondence constitute common practices of the regime. There are constant cases when operatives of the repressive bodies penetrate buildings without a warrant or other legal basis. Quite often it is an unmotivated forced penetration of people in civil clothes into private houses or offices of legal entities.
People, calling themselves “representatives of the authorities” refuse to present an official ID or a judicial order, stating that it’s enough to name the authority that employs them to penetrate a building. At the same time, they use violence or threat of violence to force the detainees unblock their mobile phones to see the information they contain.
Inside detention facilities, the officials threaten the detainees with longer terms of imprisonment if they refuse to unblock their phones. We continuously register cases of longer imprisonment terms and tougher sentences for those people whose social media accounts contained statements or photographs of “oppositional” character according to the regime, or materials talking about abusive acts committed by operatives of the repressive bodies.
There have been reported cases of arbitrary, illegal and groundless collection of personal data of citizens by representatives of the regime.
The human rights situation in Belarus is getting worse. In the autumn of 2020, people were arrested or imprisoned not for reposts on social media or for personal correspondence: they attempted to disguise such cases as “resistance to authorities” or “insulting during arrest” (without taking into consideration the necessity to justify such an arrest, by the way). However, later messaging channels and groups on social media started to be announced “extremist”, and people started get punishments for their posts and reposts even if they had made them before the channels were proclaimed “extremist”. In addition, a lot of sayings, statements and symbols were prohibited or, more precisely, started being assessed as extremist.
An illustrative example is the story of Android developer Siarhei Kuprenich and his wife, Anastasiya Kuprenich-Kandratsieva, who were sentenced nine times in a row to weeks of arrest for sending messages from Telegram channels to each other. Having spent 112 days in the detention facility in Akrestina lane, they were released together. At this moment, the programmer and his wife are outside Belarus.
In October 2022, it became known that the KGB of Belarus will be monitoring not only comments on social media, but will be able to get access to registration of appointments with a doctor, hairdresser, interviews to submit documents for visa, and so on – anything that is done through the Internet, at their first demand. The KGB and the Operative-Analytical Centre under the President of the Republic of Belarus got direct online access to data bases of all websites of Belarus.
The decision of the regime of Lukashenka on the denunciation of the Optional Protocol, passed in November 2022, will deprive the victims of violations of human rights in Belarus, that have been denied justice at the national level, of the possibility to file their complaints to the the UN Committee on Human Rights. “It’s a serious obstacle for defense of human rights,” said the Chair of the Committee, Photini Pazartzis. Belarus ratified the Optional Protocol on September 30, 1992. In the last thirty years, the Committee has examined hundreds of complaints against the Republic of Belarus on a wide variety of issues.
On September 28, 2022, the Gomel Regional Court sentenced the political prisoner, Maksim Razhkou, to 3.5 years of imprisonment; Maksim was accused of seriously harming public order and incitment of other social hatred. The 29-year-old Maksim, having the 2nd disability group, was detained on September 29, 2021 in Gomel in the framework of a criminal cases opened for comments on the Internet after the Minsk dweller Andrey Zeltsar and a KGB operative had been killed in a shooting during Mr. Zeltsar’s arrest. According the the materials of the investigation file, using his own account, the defendant posted information on a Telegram channel that contained information, instructions and appeals for participation in unsanctioned mass-gathering events in the territory of the country. Before that, he had actively participated in such actions and had been held administratively liable.
On September 29, 2022, Anton Yakavuk was detained at home for posting a video with Lukashenka on a social media accompanying it with one “insulting” word. On November 18, 2022, the court passed the verdict: one year of imprisonment in a medium-security prison.
Volha Kronda from Ivatsevichy was brought to trial for comments in a Telegram chat. Among other things, the woman was accused of posting a Pile of Poo emoji, which she used to characterize a police officer. On February 9, 2022, she was sentenced to 2 years of restraint of liberty under home confinement (“domashnyaya khimiya”), and then another year of restraint of libery, a fine in the amount of 1600 BYN and a compensation for moral damage in the amount of 1000 BYN were added to the sentence.
Former TV presenter of the ONT channel, Dzmitry Semchanka, was detained together with his wife on September 15, 2022. The next day he was sentenced to 15 days of arrest under the article on petty hooliganism. Upon termination of that period, he was tried once again and sentenced to another 13 days of arrest for “extremist materials” on his social media. On October 13, Semchanka was to be released from the detention facility in Akrestina lane upon termination of the punishment. However, he was not let out. They opened a criminal case against him for incitement of social hatred and discord because it had been established that in 2020-2022 “the suspect made publications on various Telegram channels and chats aimed at forming public hostility towards law enforcement officers, military men and representatives of the authorities.” Till the end of November 2022, Dzmitry Semchanka remained in custody waiting for trial.
On January 16, 2022, Mikita Palianok was detained for comments in the chat “Vitebsk 97” about operatives of uniformed agencies during the events in Kazakhstan in January, 2022. A repentance video was published on the Internet in which the naked young man apologizes for the posted comments. On August 15, the court found Mikita guilty and sentenced him to 4 years of imprisonment in a medium-security prison for “insulting a representative of the authorities and the president of the Republic of Belarus, creation of an extremist formation on social media or participation in such, incitement of hatred or discord”. In in mid-September, 2022, the KGB put the political prisoner on the list of people “involved in terrorist activities”. At the same time, the Investigation Committee called him a “representative of sofa troops”.
On February 7, 2022, a 69-year-old pensioner, Halina Mikhalchuk, was detained and later convicted for comments on a Telegram channel. Officials and policemen, as victims, assessed their “moral sufferings” at 5000 BYN. The pension of the defendant is 500 BYN. During her last word, the woman said that imprisonment would become a “death penalty” for her. Nonetheless, the judge sentenced her to 2.5 years of imprisonment in a medium-security facility. She passed 225 days there, and was released on September 20, 2022 on pardon.
On March 6, 2022, a Mozyr resident, Volha Sheuchyk, was detained for comments on a Telegram channel. By the end of November, she had passed 269 days in prison.
According to the available information, only in the first days after the tragic death of Andrey Zeltsar and the KGB operative, 95 people were detained because of comments they had made about those deaths condemning or cursing the operatives of the regime’s bodies. It happened at the end of September, 2021. In August 2022, the head of the Administration of the Investigation Committee of the Republic of Belarus, Vladimir Shishko, reported that 57 criminal cases against Belarusians that had left negative comments about the KGB operative Fedasiuk, killed together with the IT specialist Andrey Zeltsar, went to court. According to the information given by human rights defenders, over 200 people have been detained altogether in the framework of the “Zeltar’s case”, 136 of them have been taken to custody. However, there were many more people who commented the Zeltar’s case, so the detentions continued in 2022.
On March 24, 2022, a resident of Molodechno, Valeryi Klimenchanka, was detained under criminal charges of “incitement of hatred” for his comments on social media about the Zeltar’s case. The court sentenced him to 1.5 years of imprisonment in a medium-security prison. Valeryi Klimenchanka is engaged in video shooting, he is a famous history researcher and ethnographer.
On April 1, 2022, in Borisov, 37-year-old Vadzim Smirnou was detained. He was accused of writing negative comments about the Russian military and the Russian authorities. A repentance video with Vadzim was published later.
On April 25 2022, a Vitebsk resident, Anatol Mikhailau was detained. He was accused of the registration in the “Peramoga” plan and also for comments left on social media. According to the prosecution materials, in the period from March, 2021 to January, 2022, Anatol Mikhailau published comments and graphic materials on the Internet with appeals to incite national and other social hatred, as well as insults addressed to Lukashenka and an operative of the internal affairs bodies. The court sentenced him to 4 years of imprisonment and to a fine in the amount of 3.2 thousand BYN.
On April 8, 2022, an employee of Beltelecom, 30-year-old Aliaksandr Klindziuk was detained for appeals he made to enterprises to hold protest actions in a closed Telegram chat.
On May 28, 2022, a psychologist, Andrey Russkikh, was detained in Saint Petersburg. As it turned out, the man was on the federal wanted list for his comments on the Internet. Andrey is a Belarusian citizen. At the end of November 2022, he was extradited to Belarus.
On January 25, 2022, Aliaksei Vialeshka from Soligorsk was arrested. He had graduated from the Faculty of Applied Mathematics of the Belarusian State University. Aliaksei was convicted for comments made on social media about the dictator, about the head of the Central Election Commission and the Prosecutor General, and sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment and to fine in the amount of 3200 thousand BYN.
On July 8, 2022, an Orsha resident, Yauhen Litskevich, was detained. Yauhen is an international truck driver. In 2020, while he was on another trip outside Belarus, he saw a publication with a photo of a police driver of the OMON operational company of the Department of Internal Affairs under Grodno Regional Executive Commitee, Aleh (Oleg) Lychagin. In the publication it was said, that Lychagin, among other things, participated in dispersal of a peaceful picket for collecting voter subscriptions for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on May 29, 2020, in Grodno. Yauhen discussed that publication together with other users of the Telegram channel. One of his comments was recognized as “insulting”. Yauhen Litskevich was sentenced to restraint of liberty for the term of 2 years in an open type correctional facility. Also, the court decided to confiscate his phone and seize his property to secure payment of “moral damage” to the “victim”, the OMON driver.
Since March 21, 2022, Tatsiana Kupchyna from Baranavichy has been behind bars. The court sentenced her to 2 years of imprisonment in a medium-security prison for comments in a Telegram chat.
On June 26, 2022, in Lida, a bicker, Ivan Kashko, was detained. He is accused of distribution of extremist materials and prohibited symbols, insulting Lukashenka and representatives of the regime, desecration of the national flag, appeals to use violence against the police, incitement of hatred and discord.
On August 8, 2022, Filip Fedarenkau was detained. The court sentenced him to 2 years of imprisonment in an open type correctional facility for comments on social media.
On March 11, 2022, Yauhen Yarmak from Baranavichy was detained for comments on the Telegram channel “Karateli Belarusi” (Punishers of Belarus). Yauhen was accused of insulting four police officers and put into custody. Later he was sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment, a fine in the amount of 3200 thousand BYN and a compensation for moral damage to the “victims”.
On April 19, 2022, a taxi driver from Lida, Edvard Vilcheuski, was detained. Judging from materials on the social media, he was accused of organization of mass riots, violence or threat of violence against an operative of bodies of internal affairs, insulting a representative of the authorities, preparation to participation in mass riots. The court sentenced him to 9 years of imprisonment in a maximum-security correctional facility.
On June 9, 2022, a 29-year-old Beltelecom employee, Tsimafei Halubko, was detained and convicted for comments on social media. Also, Tsimafei Halubko was put on the terrorist list. The court sentenced him to 3 years of restraint of liberty.
In 2022, Aliaksei Rudoy was detained for comments on the Internet. The court sentenced him to 2.5 years of imprisonment.
On July 15, 2022, Aliaksei Matsiavin was arrested for a comment about the self-proclaimed president Lukashenka. The court sentenced him to 1.5 years of imprisonment.
On June 8, 2022, Vital Vaitovich was detained for comments on social media. As for the end of November, 2022, he was still in custody.
On August 14, 2022, in Grodno, Dzianis Yantsevich was detained. In a “repentance” video he “pleaded guilty” of his participation in post-electoral protests, insulting police operatives in Telegram channels and registration if the “Peramoga” plan.
On February 1, 2022, Illia Holtsau was detained in Gomel. The court sentenced him to 1.5 years of imprisonment in a medium-security prison for a comment on a web-site.
On June 16, 2022, upon his arrival to Belarus, Andrei Bondarovich was detained for comments on the Internet.
On January 25, 2022, Aliaksei Daineka was detained. The court sentenced him to 1.5 years of imprisonment in a medium-security prison for comments on social media.
On July 5, 2022, Dzmitry Yanushkevich was arrested for a comment about the self-proclaimed president Lukashenka. Dzmitry wrote his comment in 2021, while in Poland, and then he returned to Belarus. On Odnoklassniki social media he reacted to a publication in the “Stop Luka” Public, after that a picture of Lukashenka with a swastika behind him appeared on Dzmitry’s page. Now, he will spend 1 year of imprisonment in a medium-security prison.
On September 13, 2022, according to the regime’s Telegram channels, Dzianis Kharunzhy was detained for comments on the Internet and participation in protest actions. As for the end of November, 2022, he was still in custody.
On September 2, 2022, a resident of Pinsk, Pavel Malitvik, was detained. The court sentenced him to 2 years of imprisonment in a medium-security prison for comments on the Internet about two enforcers. Also, he was obliged to “compensate the moral damage he had caused to the victims” in the amount of 2500 BYN.
On February 24, 2022, a resident of Staryja Darohi, Maryna Sankevich, was detained. She was detained in Grodno; her case was examined by the regional court. Maryna was sentenced to as much as 7 years of imprisonment for comments on the Internet. Maryna was brought charges against under four criminal articles: “Organization and preparation of actions that seriously harm social stability, or active participation in them”, “Insulting Lukashenka”, “Mass riots” and “Incitement of racial, national religious or other social hatred or discord”. This is the cruelest verdict that has been lately passed on the articles mentioned above.
On March 17, 2022, in Gomel, for comments about operatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 63-year-old Uladzimir Rabchanka was detained. He was sentenced to 2.5 years of imprisonment in a medium-security prison and to fine in the amount of 3200 thousand BYN. The mobile phone of Uladzimir Rabchanka was confiscated to the revenuw of the state.
On July 6, 2022, in Minsk, Uladzimir Rydukha was detained. He left a comment under a post on social media inviting Belarusians to visit a museum on wheels “Train of Victory”. The man wrote: “A travelling circus of the Russian pobedobesie* [*hypertrophied “victorious” hysteria – translator’s note]”. A regime’s Telegram channel reported that the reason for the arrest of Uladzimir Rydukha was “insult of the memory of the people’s feat in the Great Patriotic War”. It also reported that a criminal case was opened against the detainee. As for the end of November, there still has not been any trial.
On January 10, 2022, Mikhail Korzun was detained. According to the version of the prosecution, from October, 2021, till January 8, 2022, Mikhail posted comments on VKontakte social media “with a negative evaluation” and an “appeal to violent actions” against Aliaksandr Lukashenka. He was sentenced to 4 years of imprisonment in a medium-security prison.
On March 1, 2022, a famous civil activist, a tourist with 40 years of experience and an organizer of long-distance hiking trips, Ihar Halushka, was detained in Gomel. He was accused of insulting the president of the Republic of Belarus and of incitement of social hatred or discord. Also, the man was charged for leaving several comments on political issues on social media in 2020 and 2021. The court sentenced Ihar Halushka to 1.5 years of imprisonment.
On July 7, 2022, Andrei Kastsiukevich was detained for comments on the Internet he was sentenced to 2.5 years of restraint of liberty under home confinement (“domashnyaya khimiya”). Also, he was obliged to pay a fine in the amount of 10,000 BYN. Kastsiukevich was found guilty of leaving several comments about public officials in October-December, 2020, and in January, 2021, which they found insulting.
In Cherykaw, in the winter of 2022, Ivan Yanchanka was detained and accused of incitement of racial, national, religious or other type of social hatred or discord. The man is accused that while being in Zhlobin in September, 2021, he left a comment on VKontakte social media under a message about the fatal shooting between the KGB operative Fedasiuk and the IT specialist Andrey Zeltsar. He was sentenced to 3.5 years of imprisonment in a medium-security prison.
On April 27, 2022, Maksim Antanovich was detained. The judge found him guilty under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code and passed the sentence: one year of imprisonment in a medium-security prison. It took him six minutes to pass the sentence. Maksim Antanovich was found guilty of leaving a comment “Dumbass idiot, he will burn in hell” about Lukashenka on August 5, 2020.
On September 22, 2022, a taxi driver from of Cherykaw, Dzmitryi Ivanou, was detained. He was accused under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code because a police office from Zhodino, Mikalai Baranouski, considered himself insulted by his comment on social media. The sentence was: 1.5 years of restraint of liberty under home confinement (“domashnyaya khimiya”). The day Dzmitryi’s sentence was pronounced, his son was born. The compensation of “moral damage” in the amount of 1000 BYN was paid by the man before the trial.
Pavel Laryn has been in custody since June 14, 2022. The court of Minsk sentenced the 48-year-old father of many children to 1.5 years of imprisonment in a medium-security prison for a comment in a Telegram channel that “humiliated the dignity” of then-minister of internal affairs Yury Karaev. Also, according to the prosecution’s version, Laryn had left a comment against Lukashenka. On February 24, 2022, in a court-yard chat of the microdistrict Malinauka, Pavel Laryn made a statement about the “special military operation”. Four children are waiting for Pavel to be released, two of whom are very small.
European and vice-world handball champion Mikhail Mikhuta has been sentenced to 5 years of the restraint of liberty under home confinement (“domashnyaya khimiya”) for reposts and comments about Lukashenka. In 2020, Mikhail condemned violence in the post-electoral period, and was one of the first people to sign the so-called letter of free athletes. On May 23, 2022, mass media reported about detention of the athlete. Soon after that, the regime’s Telegram channels published a “repentance” video, in which Mikhail was “pleading guilty” of “spreading extremist materials and insulting lukashenka” and saying that “he had been detained for that”.
In the meantime, the enforcers declared manhunt on Belarusians for their comments about the death of Makey. About 20 people have been put on the list inside Belarus, and about 50 abroad. As for the moment of preparing this monitoring report, there were no further details on the manhunt.
Only the verified cases of those who suffered from the regime in 2022 for comments on social media have been included into this monitoring report. As for the date of November 30, 2022, 1442 people were recognized as political prisoners in Belarus. While many people are already being released upon serving their sentences, nevertheless, the level of repressions is not decreasing. Alot of people have been to prison, are in prison or will go to prison only because they exercised their rights to participation in peaceful assembles, to express their opinions and to participate in the political life of the country.
The motives of those who want to express their opinion and their attitude to what is going on around them at least by making comments on social media or by liking a post, are understood in the whole civilized world. The scale of repressions for thoughts or words supporting human rights is a new turn in the fight between good and evil. The terms of imprisonment, the conditions prisoners are kept in, practiced by the Lukashenka regime, are striking in their cruelty.