In recent months, Belarusians returning home after spending some time abroad have been getting arrested. The regime’s enforcers collect materials for criminal cases also in foreign chats of Belarusian diasporas.
The events of the year 2020 (cruel suppression of protests that burst out due to the fraudulent presidential election) were followed by a wave of political emigration from Belarus, the hugest in the whole period of its independence (starting from 1991). The biggest part of people left Belarus in the period from August, 2020, to December, 2021; the whole number of emigrants, according to various estimates, amounted from 200 to 250 thousand.
In the spring of 2021, the Belarusian regime’s propaganda started labeling the political migrants as “runaways”. It reflected the attitude to the emigrants of the regime’s enforcement bodies: at the suggestion of Aliaksandr lukashenka, they began considering all the emigrants as “enemies of the people”, not bothering at all with such “nonsense” as presumption of innocence.
All that has led to a whole number of episodes when political emigrants returning to Belarus got quickly arrested and brought to trial. That happened even in the cases when no criminal or administrative charges were brought against the people prior to their departure from the country.
This monitoring report includes 13 specific cases of such arrests; however, their number is expected to grow significantly as in the recent weeks the number of such arrests has been rapidly increasing.
August, 5, 2021
A citizen of Russia, Andrei Novikau, 52 years old, was born in the agricultural town of Varapaeva (Vitebsk region), but left for the neighboring country after leaving school. He lived at the Far East, served in the police, now has the rank of a retired lieutenant-colonel. He participated twice in the military operations in Chechnya. Andrei is married and has three daughters one of whom is disabled.
The first time, Andrei Novikau was detained in 2020 in the framework of the case of Tsikhanousky. He spent 7 months in a pre-trial detention facility. The man was accused under Part 1 Art. 242 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (organization and preparation of actions that seriously harm social stability, or active participation in them).
On November 26, 2020, Andrei Novikau was deported to Russia and banned from entering Belarus for 10 years. However, the man returned to our country, as he has a wife and children here. He got arrested again on August 5, 2021, and sentenced to 2,5 years of imprisonment in a medium security prison colony.
Andrei Novikau was found guilty of constituting a group of persons from December, 2019, to June 5, 2020, which together with Siarhei Tsikhanousky “organized group actions, seriously harming public order, combined with disobedience to legitimate law enforcement demands that resulted in entailing disruptions in the work of transport, enterprises, entities, organizations”.
The political prisoner served his punishment at Bobrujsk prison colony. In August, Andrei was put into a solitary confinement cell. Before that, he had been in a solitary confinement cell for four months, and in March he spent 39 days there. Andrei Novikov served the whole term of his punishment and was released on October 31, 2022. The man was immediately deported and transferred to the FSB.
January 16, 2022
A repentance video with Illia Vaitsekhovich appeared on a Telegram channel associated with GUBOPiK. The man was detained at the Belarusian border when he was entering the country to attend his father’s funeral. On the video, Illia is saying that he had not “managed to fulfill himself” abroad and decided to return to Belarus. His friends say it was not exactly like that.
The media reported about the detention of Illia Vaitsekhovich on January, 16, the next day after the funeral of the head of the Business Incubator of Agricultural Entrepreneurship “Kamarova” Eduard Vaitsekhovich. The sources said that the young man was on his way to the funeral at the moment of his arrest. He never got there: he was detained at the border and brought to the detention facility in Akrestina lane.
Later, a repentance video with him appeared that looked exactly like other videos that the regime’s enforcement structures have recently been making with people they detain, his photo (probably, from a protest action) and a picture of his Card of a Pole (Karta Polaka).
“I participated in unsanctioned actions many times. After that, I was scared of the responsibility and decided to go to Riga. Having lived there for some time, I did not manage to fulfill myself and decided to return to Belarus. I was detained at the border of Lithuania and Belarus,” Illia Vaitsekhovich is saying in the video.
A person who knows Illia’s family says that in fact Illia had not been living abroad, but in Belarus. He went to Riga this year in January, because his wife, who is a Latvian citizen according to the media, was to give birth to their second child. It had been planned that Illia would take care of their older son in Riga while his wife stayed at a maternity hospital.
“During the last five years Illia has lived and worked in Kamarova (Miadzelsky district of Minsk region). He was busy with a farmstead, agriturismo, improvement of Kamarova, restoration of the buildings of the shop, cheese factory and brewery,” a friend of Illia said.
According to him, there were no presuppositions that Illia could be detained. He believes that it happened because the young man participated in protest actions in August, 2020. Then, Illia Vaitsekhovich was detained once and released several days later.
After 72 hours had passed from Illia’s detention on January 16, 2021, he was not released. It’s not known what charges are brought against him.
According to the information on the social media, Illia Vaitsekhovich graduated from the Belarusian State Agricultural Technical University. Besides his work and his family, Illia loves sports and hockey. On the website of the “Presidential Hockey Club” he is mentioned as a defender playing under the number 13 in the amateur team “K-2” founded in 2011.
Illia is the youngest son of Eduard Vaitsekhovich, a former Deputy President of Miadelsky District Council for Development of Entrepreneurship and a deputy of the Supreme Council of the 13th convocation. Eduard Vaitsekhovich had been a principal of Svirsky Lyceum and participated in the development of agricultural business, first at the Center of Development of Agricultural Entrepreneurship “Kamarova” and then at the Business Incubator of Agricultural Entrepreneurship “Kamarova”. The media call him a businessman, but his relatives insist he was rather a public figure and had no relation to the family shop.
May 30, 2022
Former political prisoner, Artsiom Dubsky, was released after 15 days in the detention facility in Akrestina lane. He had been charged with disobedience to a police operative: according to the detention report, in the inner courtyard of the KGB, the police operative asked Artsiom to show him his phone for examination if there was any subscription to an extremist channel there, and Artsiom allegedly refused to do that. According to human rights defenders, currently Artsiom is safe.
To remind, Artsiom Dubsky, a brother of the political prisoner Ilya Dubsky, has lived in Poland since 2011; he came to Belarus to visit his relatives. He said that on May, 11, he was detained at Nemiga, beaten and taken to the KGB. He was released to spend the night at home, in Asipovichy, on the promise to appear the following day. On May, 12, Artsiom Dubsky went to the KGB to have a “conversation”, and since then he was out of reach. Five days later, his relatives were informed that he was at the detention facility in Akrestina lane. It turned out that during that time, the policemen took him to a hospital and then took him from the hospital.
Artsiom Dubsky is a former Youth Front activist; he was a defendant in the “process of the 14”. On January 10, 2008, he participated in a protest action of entrepreneurs. 14 people were detained during that action. They were accused under Art. 242 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions that seriously harm social stability). On July 7, 2009, Asipovichsky District Court sentenced him to a year of imprisonment in a medium-security prison colony.
July 8, 2022
Vadzim Baranau, a resident of Mozyr, was detained and put into custody to a detention facility № 3 in Gomel. According to the available information, the regime accuses him of “threatening the president with death”.
The young man had been in Poland, and returned home to visit his mother. He was detained by the GUBOPiK in his house in the morning of July, 8. The announced reason of detention was that he had allegedly participated in protest meeting in 2020, and in 2022 photographed military equipment to send the pictures to Telegram channels.
The source of information states that Vadzim was beaten during the detention and his documents were damaged, including his passport, work-book and driver’s license, what impeded him from returning abroad. The Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigation Committee responded to his complaint that it was him who lost the documents, and that he complained without foundation.
After he had restored the documents, on the day of obtaining a new Polish visa, Vadzim turned to the police office for the information about his new iPhone that had been seized by the police. He got detained again, six administrative offence reports were drawn against him. Under the first accusation, he was arrested for 6 days by Mozyrsky Distrcit Court, under the second accusation he was sentenced to a fine in the amount of 20 basic units.
Then, a criminal case was opened against him under Article 366 of the Criminal Code (Violence or threat of violence against a public official performing official duties or against other person performing a public duty), first under Part 1 Art. 366 (violence or threat of violence against a public official), then under Part 2 (same actions against the president). On October 1, 2022, Vadzim Baranau was transferred to the pretrial detention centre in Gomel. According to the indictment, he is facing up to 8 years of imprisonment.
July 23, 2022
An employee of EPAM was detained for protests after she had arrived to Belarus from Lithuania. A “repentance” video with the young woman appeared on the regime’s channels. In the video she is saying that in August, 2020, while participating in the protests, she went out on the roadway, filmed everything on her phone, posted the videos on social media, and now is detained for that by the police.
The authors of the “repentance” video stated that the young woman had been an “activist of the protest movement in August-September of the year 2020”, then she moved to Lithuania and two years later came to visit her friend in Belarus.
According to Mayday team, the young woman’s name is Katsiaryna Hlinskaya. She was detained by the GUBOPiK together with her sister, Yuliya Hlinskaya, in Minsk. The girls were caught when they were walking to their car, then their apartment was searched.
It is known that Katsiaryna Hlinskaya is a defendant in a criminal case. Her sister Yuliya, according to unconfirmed information, was sentenced to 15 days of arrest for unknown reason, human rights defenders report.
August 3, 2022
Information appeared that two Belarusians living in Poland for several years and helping their compatriots coming to Poland, were detained. They came to visit their relatives in Belarus.
One of the detained Belarusians is an entrepreneur from Vitebsk, Barys Elkin, who is in construction business in Poland; from time to time Barys comes to visit his relatives in the motherland. On August 1, 2022, he was detained in Vitebsk, the house he stayed in was searched. The reasons of detention are still unknown.
In 2004, in Vitebsk, local entrepreneurs went on a hunger strike to protests against obstacles created by the regime for the commerce, Barys Elkin was one of the organizers. After 2010, he moved to Poland and became a co-founder of the company Bel.Pol.Bud.spzoo, hiring Belarusians and helping refugees from Ukraine.
According to the information provided by the sources of the Vitebsk brunch of Viasna, the businessman might have been detained for photographs with Belarusian national symbols on social media, which are qualified by the regime’s enforcers as an unsanctioned picketing.
The second Belarusian, Raman Haluza, a native of Zhabinka, had lived in Poland for 9 years, before he come to Belarus on July 19, 2022, and went missing: nothing was known about his whereabouts, and the search and rescue team Southwest announced on social media about launching a search for him.
On August 2, 2022, searchers’ account reported that Raman Haluza is alive and his whereabouts had been located, without further details. A Belarusian blogger living in Poland said on Instagram that Raman was at the KGB pre-trial detention facility.
In Poland, Raman Haluza got a university degree, obtained a citizenship and was an active volunteer helping Belarusian refugees, among others. After July 19, 2022, after he had crossed the Polish-Belarusian border, nothing was known about his fate, even a police statement filed by his grandmother did not help.
According to the author of the story on Instagram, Raman’s detention could have been planned by the Belarusian regime’s enforcers in advance.
August 31, 2021
In Grodno, enforcers detained Yuliya Yurhilevich, who had been a lawyer for almost 18 years. Her home was searched. Yuliya defended political prisoners in court: Ales Pushkin, Artsiom Bayarski, Ihar Bantsar, Andrei Ausievich, Andrei Sakalouski.
On February 23, 2022, she was excluded from the bar association of Grodno region for “systematic violation of the legislation”. In April, Hrodna.life reported that Yuliya had left Belarus.
September 7, 2022
Gomel regional court passed sentence upon a 27-year-old political prisoner, Aleh Kanavalau. He was detained upon his return to Belarus and brought charges against under several articles.
Aleh Kanavalau had a YouTube-канал «Третий регион Беларусь» (Third Region Belarus). He was detained on January 10, 2022, when he returned to Belarus on holidays. He was charged with disclosure of personal data of the regime’s enforcers. Besides that, Aleh was accused of “posting information of anti-state kind and propagate resistance to the authorities on social media” after his departure to Ukraine. Aleh Kanavalau had been showing videos shot at solidarity actions of Belarusians in Kyiv on his Youtube channel. He is also accused of “cynical comments” about the killed KGB operative Dzmitry Fedasiuk.
Aleh Kanavalau was brought charges against under five articles:
- Part 1 Art. 342 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (organization and preparation of actions that seriously harm social stability, or active participation in them);
- Part 1 Art. 361 of the Criminal Code (Formation of extremist groups or active participation in such);
- 369 of the Criminal Code (Insulting a government official);
- Part 1 Art. 368 of the Criminal Code (Insulting the president);
- Part 1 Art. 130 of the Criminal Code (Incitement of racial, national, religious or other type of social hatred or discord).
The judge Aleh Kharoshka found Aleh guilty and sentenced him to five years of imprisonment in a maximum-security correctional facility. Also, Aleh Kanavalau is to pay a fine in the amount of 3200 BYN and 5000 BYN of compensation of “moral damage” to the disclosed police officer.
September 29, 2022
A 24-year-old Minsk dweller who had tried to avoid service in the army by leaving for Poland, was sentenced to two months of arrest in Minsk. He was detained at the Belarusian border when he came back to Belarus.
The Prosecutor’s Office of Pervomajski District of Minsk said that the young man had been supposed to become a conscript as long ago as in 2020. He was given a draft notice against signature, but he never appeared at the conscription office at the due time. In February, 2021, a criminal case was opened against the young man for evasion from activities on draft to the military service, and he was put on wanted list.
In August, 2022, the young man was detained while crossing the Polish-Belarusian border. He explained, that he had been a taxi driver in 2020. Not long before the conscription he had been in an accident and sentenced to a huge fine. Since he was fired, he went to work in Poland.
The court found him guilty under Part 1 Art. 435 of the Criminal Code (evasion from activities on draft to the military service) and sentenced to two months of arrest.
September 30, 2022
Vasili Khamutouski, former Belarus goalkeeper and football coach, condemned violence committed by the regime’s enforcers during the protests in 2020 and left the country. When the war started, he was in Lviv, working for the Lviv team, then he moved to the Romanian Steaua.
He was detained on September 30, 2022, when he returned to Belarus. On the “repentance video” spread by the regime’s Telegram channels, the athlete said he had been detained for participation in protest actions. A voting bulletin from the presidential election 2020 on which a box ticked opposite the surname of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and a photo with free athletes were presented as evidence of his “guilt”.
After that, Vasili Khamutouski was sentenced to 13 days of administrative arrest allegedly for “reposting materials of a Telegram channel recognized as extremist in Belarus”. The police also informed that a criminal case was opened against Vasili Khamutouski.
November 18, 2022
Grodno regional court passed a verdict on November 18, 2022, on the political prisoner Alesia Bunevich and sentenced her to three years of imprisonment. She had been tried behind closed doors under Part 3 Art. 371 of the Criminal Code (Deliberate illegal trespassing of the border of the Republic of Belarus committed by an organized group). It is known that she pleaded not guilty.
Alesia Bunevich is a director of a printing house in Vilnius. She was detained on April 4, 2022, in the framework of a criminal case, when she came from Lithuania to Belarus for the anniversary of her mother’s death. She has a son of primary school age.
Initially, Alesia Bunevich was accused of “committing an act of terrorism by a group of people by means of prior conspiracy” (Part 2 Art. 289 of the Criminal Code) in the framework of the Railway Partisans Case. In a propagandist video on BT TV channel a part of Alesia’s interrogation was shown where she was saying that she had bought Lithuanian SIM cards several days before coming to Belarus, was showing where she had hidden them in the territory of the country and how she had filmed the process to send a report to her “supervisor” in Lithuania. Also, she was talking about how she should have “send” young people once they arrive to the border.
At the end of August, 2022, the political prisoner Alesia Bunevich was transported from Mogilev pre-trial detention facility to the Prison n. 1. Finalized charges against Alesia Bunevich were brought under Part 3 Art. 371 of the Criminal Code (Deliberate illegal trespassing of the border of the Republic of Belarus committed by an organized group). On November 18, 2022, Grodno regional court passed the verdict: judge Dzmitry Hryshyn found the political prisoner Alesia Bunevich guilty and sentenced her to 3.5 years of imprisonment.
December 13, 2022
On December 13, 2022, 28-year-old Anatoly Puhach was detained. According to the information provided by the Brest branch of Viasna, just the day before, the young man returned home from Poland to have a medical examination: he had been diagnosed with cancer.
The grounds for his detention are still not known. It has been reported that the enforcers gained access to his phone and went online after his arrest.
December 19, 2022
A lot of mass media reported that the OMON is arresting people right on the Belarusian-Polish border. One of the passengers of the bus crossing the Belarusian border on December, 19, said that people who had participated in protest actions in 2020 or had left any comments online, got detained upon crossing the border:
“A guy told me that since 2020 he had not come to Belarus; it was his first time. He had participated in protest actions and was afraid he would have problems while crossing the border. So, we passed the passport control, they would not give us our passports back, the bus was standing there, waiting. The police arrived, and they took away up to ten people. New Year holidays, people were going back home…”
According to the witness, about 10 people were taken off the bus at night of December, 19. The same thing happened with minibuses (“marshrutka”).
The number of arrests of people returning to Belarus has increased in recent weeks. The desire to see the loved ones living in Belarus on holidays motivates a lot of people to return to the country, as they suppose, for a short time. However, the Lukashenka’s regime enforcers take advantage of that, and a short-term visit often turns into a long-term imprisonment.
The Belarusians who have left the country should not be naive. The regime forgives and forgets nothing. It has enough of dirty enforcers to track down those who disagree with the dictator’s policies and lock them up to punish and to silence them.