On March 29, 2023, the Belarusian human rights organization Our House won a lawsuit at the court of the first instance against the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and, thus, defended the Lithuanian democracy.

The third-party defendant in the lawsuit was a representative of the State Security Department of Lithuania.

This is just for your information.

We appeal to stop the harassment and defamation from white cisgender privileged Lithuanian citizen Vytis Jurkonis, who represents the American human rights organisation Freedom House in Lithuania.

This man has been going to great lengths to discredit me personally and Our House for several years, spreading slander about us and trying to set different CSOs, Embassies and partners against us.

Prehistory of the matter:

A Belarusian journalist, Sviatlana H., worked in Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s affiliated foundation BYSOL as a personal assistant of Andrej Stryzhak, after she had been verified as a trustworthy person and brought to Lithuania in September, 2020, by Vytis Jurkonis, the head of the Lithuanian department of Freedom House. BYSOL is a partner and a friend of Freedom House, they are closely collaborating.

Having encountered corruption in the foundation, ungrounded refusals to provide help to the victims of repressions and other kinds of malversation, on December 19, 2020, the young woman recorded a 30-second video in which she said that she was leaving BYSOL Foundation as she did not want to participate in corruption and financial fraud.

Andrej Stryzhak and the whole team of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya started harassment against the young journalist; Sviatlana H. was receiving threats of physical violence, and she had to go into hiding in her friends’ apartments. Also, the close relatives of Sviatlana H. received mass threats and insults from Tsikhanouskaya’s team.

Two Belarusian organizations, Our House and Dapamoga, headed by women, opposed the harassment of the woman journalist and came to her defence, helping her to hide. Then, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s team began harassing those women who stood up for Sviatlana H., too. The women were Olga Karach and Natalia Kolegova.

Later, the following structures spoke publicly about the corruption in Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s affiliated foundation BYSOL:

  1. Kastuś Kalinoŭski Regiment issued an official video appeal in which they accused the BYSOL Foundation of corruption and misuse of funds raised for the regiment.
  2. Strike committees of Belarus, including the Strike Committee of Belaruskali, issued an official statement about corruption in BYSOL Foundation.
  3. A representative of the National Anti-Crisis Management, Sviatlana Khilko, a former investigator of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, a developer of the reform of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, collected a wide set of facts of corruption in BYSOL Foundation.
  4. Andrej Stryzhak’s assistant after Sviatlana H., Aleksandra Zvereva, ex-girlfriend of the son of the favourite of the presidential race 2020 and the political prisoner, Viktar Babaryka, also left BYSOL publicly speaking about corruption and financial machinations there.

And many others.

Unlike BYSOL, the Belarusian organization Our House has successfully passed a tax inspection in Lithuania for the years 2019-2021, and has corresponding documents to confirm it.

In the following years, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s team continued to harass the young woman, Sviatlana H., also with the help of their affiliated media, first of all, Nasha Niva.

Andrej Stryzhak publicly slandered Sviatlana H. in Nasha Niva by saying that allegedly she was to blame for the arrests of a number of notorious Belarusian human rights defenders and journalists, although Sviatlana H. had not known neither those people nor their work.

Also, the harassment continued against those Belarusian women who did not allow to destroy the young journalist in Lithuania.

On May 29, 2021, the lover of the brown-and-black St. George’s ribbon, an active supporter of Vladimir Putin and also the relevant expert for Nasha Niva, Ihar Makar, publicly accused Olga Karach and the speaker of Kastuś Kalinoŭski Regiment, Pavel Kulazhenko, of allegedly having planned to assassinate Andrej Stryzhak in December, 2020. Olga Karach laid a complaint with the police for defamation. The police opened a pre-trial criminal investigation into defamation which is still being conducted. Journalists of Nasha Niva and the expert of Nasha Niva, Ihar Makar, are facing up to 3 years of imprisonment in a Lithuanian jail for defamation against the human rights defender Olga Karach. Also, Ihar Makar, as a person of Tsikhanouskaya’s team, publicly threatened Olga Karach with physical violence and murder; the Lithuanian police opened a pre-trial criminal investigation into those threats, too.

In order to help the young woman to start a new life and save her from harassment, Our House helped Sviatlana H. to obtain internship in Germany, hoping she would live safe and grow as a journalist in new conditions.

However, the team of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and exactly the blogger Anton Matolka, have found out about that. New threats started arriving, this time against the organization that accepted Sviatlana H. for internship. Belarusians of Germany and other countries had to interfere to defend Sviatlana H. and that organization.

Since Sviatlana H. is a journalist and worked a lot on preparation of monitoring reports on repressions against Belarusians, her legal stay in Lithuania was based on her journalistic accreditation granted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania in August, 2021, on the application submitted by Our House. There has not been even one fact of abuse of the privileges under the accreditation nor of it improper use by Sviatlana H.. On the contrary, she prepared first-class materials for human rights monitoring reports of Our House and actively worked with the victims of repressions of the regime of Lukashenka. Sviatlana H. has always been very scrupulous about protecting her own reputation and the reputation of Our House, and she has never made any attempts to collect any sensitive information that could harm the national security of Lithuania.

In March, 2022, that is, after 8 months of Sviatlana H.’s accreditation term had passed, Freedom House somehow learned about Sviatlana’s accreditation and wrote a letter to the Lithuanian MFA, in which it slandered Sviatlana H. by providing false facts about her biography and blaming her of collaboration with the KGB and of transferring information to the KGB, which allegedly led to the arrest of media manager Andrei Aleksandrov, human rights defender Leonid Sudalenko and political activist Vasiliy Polyakov.

In April, 2022, the Lithuanian MFA withdrew accreditation of Sviatlana H. without giving a reason, thus, putting her under threat of deportation to Belarus, since Sviatlana’s residence permit was issued on the basis of her journalist accreditation granted by the MFA. The Lithuanian MFA did not make any attempts to check the facts stated in the letter of Freedom House, and believed that organization, as Freedom House is the only verified organization on the matters of Belarus. Nevertheless, unfortunately, it was among those who harassed the young woman journalist and became a weapon of her political persecution.

Sviatlana H. is sick on the fourth stage cancer, and even in Lithuania the prognosis for her treatment is not too optimistic. The harassment from the side of the MFA of Lithuania had a highly negative impact on her health.

Deportation to Belarus for Sviatlana H. would have meant a long term of imprisonment and a painful death from cancer in a Belarusian prison without any treatment and medication, because in all these years Sviatlana worked as a journalist helping Our House to detect cases of torture, inhuman treatment and other crimes of the regime of Lukashenka in Belarus, the actions which the regime considers to be a criminal offence.

Our House and Sviatlana H. did not agree with the decision of the Lithuanian MFA, which was not understandable and clear, and appealed to the court.

During the judicial proceeding it was detected that the decision of the MFA was based on the guesses and gossip contained in the letter of Freedom House to the MFA of Lithuania, sent there to get revenge at the young Belarusian journalist for her 30-second video about their partner, BYSOL Foundation, and to have her deported to Belarus.

Also, as it was detected during the judicial proceeding, Freedom House had deliberately misled also the State Security Department of Lithuania by slandering both Our House and Sviatlana H. in that governmental structure, too. There was a letter in the investigation file of the criminal case, signed by Darius Jauniškis, the director of the State Security Department of Lithuania, which repeated the letter of the Freedom House to the Lithuanian MFA almost word for word.

Fortunately, the State Security Department of Lithuania is not the same as the KGB of Belarus: when they understood that Freedom House had betrayed their confidence and had slandered an innocent person, Sviatlana H. quite quickly received a political asylum in Lithuania.  We are very grateful to the State Security Department of Lithuania for the fact that they decided not to cover up that ugly situation at the cost of life and health of the young woman sick with cancer.

At the same time, in spring of 2022, suspecting a Lithuanian lawyer, Mantas Danielius, of espionage and working for the Belarusian KGB, Olga Karach relieved him of his duties and appealed to the police with a complaint and evidence on June 9, 2022.

Mantas Danielius saw that he was completely blocked, and knowing that Our House was suing the Lithuanian MFA, successfully hacked the state website of Lithuanian Court Information System, illegally gained access to the case, stole the materials of the lawsuit of Our House against the Lithuanian MFA, including the correspondence between the MFA and the State Security Department of Lithuania, and passed all those materials to the KGB of Belarus. That fact was accidentally detected by the lawyers of Our House and was immediately communicated to the police by Olga Karach. Also, that episode of hacking and gaining illegal access to the electronic Lithuanian Court Information System is the key accusation of Mantas Danielius in the investigation into espionage for the KGB.

In August, 2022, Vytis Jurkonis, the head of the Lithuanian department of Freedom House, started public harassment and victim-blaming on Delphi, blaming Belarusian women human rights defenders, victims of a criminal offense, saying that it was their fault and they were fully responsible for the fact that the KGB was persecuting them in the territory of Lithuania. Although it is Belarusian women human rights defenders, who help collect facts and clear Lithuania of the KGB agents even though they do not possess neither capacity, nor competence or structures to do that. Vytis Jurkonis allowed himself to make frankly sexist and xenophobic statements, unacceptable for a mandate of a human rights defender of such an international organization as Freedom House.

As of today, upon a collective complaint to the police of Belarusian women and men, human rights defenders and activists in Lithuania, a criminal case was launched against a Lithuanian citizen Laurynas Ragelskis for incitement of hatred and enmity against Belarusians at protest actions near the Belarusian embassy in Lithuania and for damage with attempts of destruction of the Memorial dedicated to Belarusians killed during the protests. Together with other ethnic Lithuanians, Laurynas Ragelskis is openly disseminating in Lithuania pro-Kremlin propaganda and disinformation about the war against Ukraine; he also administers 105 groups on Facebook, Youtube channels and portals. The National Security and Defense Committee of Lithuanian Parliament do not react to this situation in any way, although it is a direct threat to the national security of Lithuania. So, again, it is Belarusian women human rights defenders who have to clean Lithuania out of Putin’s spies, by opening criminal cases against such people as Laurynas Ragelskis.

Vytis Jurkonis has never supported Belarusian women human rights defenders in that criminal proceeding against incitement to hatred and enmity against Belarusians in Lithuania, although according to his mandate of a human rights defender and the head of the American human rights organization Freedom House he was oblidged to do so.

Neither has Vytis Jurkonis taken into consideration the communications of the Belarusian women on the issue of Mantas Danielius and their requests for protection; actually, he has ignored all the information sent to him in that regard. He has never turned to the police or to the State Security Department of Lithuania, he has never offered Belarusian women protection and has never put them in touch with relevant specialized organizations.

On March 29, 2023, the court of Lithuania ruled in favor of Our House, and acknowledged that the procedure of accreditation withdrawal in relation to Sviatlana H. had been violated; also, all the speculations stated in the letter of Freedom House that the accusations of the MFA of Lithuania against the journalist of Our House had been built on, were deemed unconvincing by the court.

Our House has defended its good name as of an organization applying for accreditation of only its highly reliable journalists, protected a young migrant woman sick on the fourth stage cancer, a former victim of modern slavery, who is currently in an extremely vulnerable situation in exile, from harassment, defamation and persecution by Freedom House.

We believe that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Security Department of Lithuania became victims of political intrigues of one person, Vytis Jurkonis, due to his monopoly on verification of Belarusian refugees and his abuse of power and vote of confidence entrusted to him, as well as due to his sexist and racist views in relation to Belarusian women human rights defenders and journalists.

We consider it unacceptable that a mandate of the American human rights organization Freedom House is used to harass and persecute women migrants, journalists and human rights defenders, who are in an extremely vulnerable position in exile, former victims of modern slavery, and we are going to demand the head office of Freedom House to conduct a thorough investigation into the unbecoming conduct of Vytis Jurkonis and other employees of Freedom House in Lithuania.

We request to pay the highest possible attention to this case and to conduct an additional investigation into the facts of harassment and defamation committed by the director of the Lithuanian department of Freedom House, Vytis Jurkonis, against all migrant women with serious illnesses and in vulnerable situation, and we are determined to ensure that this case of harassment is included into international monitorings and reports on situation of Belarusian women refugees in Lithuania, first of all, in the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Unfortunately, the case of Sviatlana H. is not the only one.

We are determined to do everything to defend our good name and reputation from attacks of Vytis Jurkonis and to stop harassment and persecution of Belarusian women human rights defenders and journalists in exile in the territory of Lithuania.

Olga Karach