Unfortunately, we have to state that the Belarusian regime actively uses such an instrument to blackmail and exhort pressure on democratic leaders and human rights defenders of Belarus as taking their relatives hostage.
The regime of Lukashenka uses various instruments to exhort pressure on Belarusians fighting for their rights. They include blackmail, threats, violence, repressions, and they are applied not only against the activists themselves, but also against their close and even distant relatives. We can say, that almost every person who has family ties with the Belarusian opposition or human rights defenders, people who openly speak about their civic stance, have participated in protest activity and especially those who continue participating in the liberation of Belarus from the regime from abroad, are under a threat of arrest and violence of the “law enforcement bodies” of the Belarusian regime.
Currently there have been 38 known cases of arrests, searches and other violent actions against relatives of human rights and democracy activists in Belarus:
- Spouse – 6 cases
- Parents – 12 cases
- Children – 5 cases
- Siblings – 7 cases
- Grandparents – 2 cases
- Other close or remote relatives – 6 cases
The geography of blackmail and hostage-taking covers the whole of Belarus.
The majority of violent actions against the relatives of human rights defenders and democratic activists happened in Minsk. However, that tool of pressure has been used also in Grodno, Brest and smaller towns of the country like Rechytsa, Lida, Zhitkovichy, Polatsk, Navapolatsk, Mozyr.
As a rule, the main aim of a relative’s arrest is to offer to the human rights defenders or democratic leaders to return to Belarus and “trade” themselves for the imprisoned relatives to “liberate” them from torture and suffering. As a rule, the GUBOPiK or the KGB issue humiliating videos, where people, severely beaten, with traces of torture, ask Lukashenka for forgiveness for the “wrong” behavior of their relative. Fictitious criminal cases have been launched against most activists, but the “law enforcement bodies” lack the activists themselves to conduct investigative actions, bring the case to trial and to publicly condemn them.
The Belarusian regime wants to break down the resistance, humiliate people, and in order to achieve that, human rights defenders and leaders should be in locations physically accessible for torture. Of course, the easiest way of all is to torture people in prison.
Chronology of several cases of arrests, searches and other violent actions against relatives of human rights defenders and democracy activists
On March, 15, the police searched the house of the 95-year-old grandmother of Hrodna investigative journalist, Dzianis Ivashyn. Before that, searches had also been conducted at his parents’ home. That way, the enforcers tried to break Dzianis Ivashyn.
On May, 25, the Belarusian regime took a relative of a Belsat journalist, Arina Malinovskaya, hostage. In a phone call, an investigator said her relative had been detained, and the journalist’s grandmother and grandfather may be detained soon. They will be released, only after the journalist herself comes to the police station. Also, the police detained the journalist’s husband for some time. Arina has not returned to Belarus.
On July, 10, KGB officers came to the home of political prisoner Stanislau Mochalau’s brother Ihar with a search. His computers, telephones and data storage devices were seized. As the experience shows, the seized property is never returned to the owners in Belarus.
In July, a criminal case against Sviatlana Yarmolava, accused of insulting an employee of the Minsk OMON (riot police), Fiodarau, under Article 369 of the Criminal Code (Insulting a government official) was examined in Leninsky District Court of Grodno. Sviatlana Yarmolava is the mother of the political prisoner, Ihar Yarmolau, sentenced in June to five years of imprisonment in a maximum-security correctional facility under articles of preparation for mass riots.
On August 5, the parents of Aleksey Shkurov, editor of Strong News, were searched. Nothing was taken during the search. Often, the motive to conduct a search at activists’ parents’ homes is moral pressure on elderly people and to make the activist fear for the parents’ life and health.
On August 19, in Rechitsa, a search was conducted at the apartment of the father of the volunteer of the Gomel branch of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, Tatsiana Lasitsa. Even relatives of activists who are already under arrest are searched to force them to plead guilty.
On August 24, in Lida, Volha Makhnach, wife of Yury Makhnach, former police lieutenant colonel and commander of the Lida police department, was detained in Lida. The house was searched, but later, Volha was released.
On September 13, the parents of political prisoners, Andrei Sharenda and Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk, were searched by the KGB officers. The officers also came to Andrei’s brother Aliaksandr for questioning. Palina is in prison, Andrei managed to escape from Belarus with their children.
On October 16, Volha Chyzhyk, mother of the political prisoner, Arseni Chyzhyk, was detained in Zhitkovichy. She was taken away for interrogation late in the evening and released only the next morning.
On November 8, Aliaksei Kaneuski, son of the political prisoner Tatsiana Kaneuskaya, was arrested. The man was placed in a temporary detention centre for 15 days.
On November 14, the police searched the house of a daughter of the blogger Alena Janushkouskaya, who is outside Belarus. Searches conducted in people’s absence are also a standard practice of the Belarusian “law enforcement” bodies.
On November 16, police searched the house of the activist Alena Gurchenok in Polotsk. Iryna Gurchenok, a relative of Alena, was detained for 72 hours in Navapolatsk. Unfortunately, we know that women in the Belarusian police are subject to a specific pressure and threats of a sexual nature. That’s why the detention of female relatives is especially frightening for activists.
On November 26, mother of the anarchist Raman Khalilau, who had left the country in 2019 because of fear of possible criminal prosecution, was arrested. Securities broke down the door of Gayane’s flat and conducted a search. The woman was forced to kneel and admit her guilt on camera. Gayane Akhtiyan was arrested for ten days, and on December 2, 2021, she was transferred to Minsk, to Akrestsina.
On December 7, in Navapolatsk, the parents’ house of the Euroradio journalist, Yuliya Matuzova, was searched. All equipment was seized during the search.
In December, pressure also started on the relatives of a former fighter of the Belarusan SOBR, Yury Haravsky, who requested political asylum in Switzerland. The relatives were summoned to the KGB several times. Yury’s brother was arrested by riot police and interrogated for 5 hours. The relatives were forbidden to leave Belarus. This case is one of the most illustrative: Yury’s relatives are real hostages of the regime.
On January 28, the Belarusian regime initiated a criminal case against Yana Latushka, the daughter of Pavel Latushka, a politician and Belarusian opposition figure, and seized her property. Arrest or seizure of property is also one of the regimes’s favourite tool of pressure.
On January 31, Anatol Latushka, a cousin of the head of NAU, Pavel Latushka, was detained. His home was searched. As practice shows, the more famous an activist is, the more pressure will be exerted on him in every possible way. In this case, the regime does not shy away from the dirtiest methods.
On February 9, Ksenia Martinovich, daughter of the activist Alla Martinovich, was arrested in Mozyr. The daughter came from Ukraine to her mother’s flat. The court fined Ksenia 20 basic units.
On February 18, in Minsk, enforcers with guns came to the relatives of the activist and former student of the Arts Academy, Palina Burko, with a search. Palina is now outside of Belarus. After the search, the KGB officers detained her mother, 45-year-old Alena Burko, and arrested her for 12 days.
On June, 2, wife of the political prisoner Dzmitryi Luksha, Palina Palavinka, was detained.
As her husband, Palina is accused under two articles of the Criminal Code: Part 1 Art. 342 “Participation in group actions, seriously harming public order” and Art. 369-1 “Discrediting the Republic of Belarus”.
Dzmitry Luksha was detained after a search conducted at his apartment in Minsk on March 11, 2022. For many previous years, he had worked at the National Television and Radio Company of Belarus as a host of the program “X Zone”.
On June 6, ofter the trial of the political prisoner, Aliaksei Ivanisau, a strange woman came up to his mother, Natallia Ivanisava, and shouted: “Serves them right! Too little! They should imprison even more of them! Because of such people, like your relatives, everyone suffers! War almost started because of them!” Having heard those word, Natallia Ivanisava couldn’t help it and said only one word: “Shit.” After that, an administrative case was opened against the women for an insult (Part 1 Art. 10.2 of the Criminal Code).
On July, 9, Siarhei Bandarenka, a cousin of the perished fighter of the Kastuś Kalinoŭski Regiment, Vasil Parfiankou, was detained. The management at Siarhei’s work was informed that Siarhei was an “unreliable element”, since his cousin was fighting in Ukraine against the Russian aggression. Siarhei is accused of extremism. On the way to the temporary detention facility, he was beaten and taken to hospital. Siarhei managed to escape from the hospital and to flee abroad.
On August 8, the regime’s Telegram channels showed a “repentance video” with Vadim Bolbas, father of the journalist and activist Alina Bolbas. The enforcers cynically wrote under the video: “Irresponsible indulgence has led to no good; having notably screwed up, the daughter escaped abroad, and the father is to answer before the Law for his criminal acts. They say, the sins of the parents don’t transfer to their children, but the vice versa principle is already working”.
On August 9, Siarhei Franchuk, a 32-year-old cousin of Vadzim Kabanchuk, was arrested. That way, the KGB tries to pressurize Vadzim Kabanchuk, deputy commander of Kastuś Kalinoŭski Regiment.
The man was sentenced to 15 days of arrest allegedly for disobedience. However, the person the special services were interested at, was Vadzim Kabanchuk. A repentance video was recorded on which Siarhei’s forehead was covered with a band-aid.
He was not released after the expiration of the 15-day term. Siarhei Franchuk was accused under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code of Belarus.
At the same time, a female cousin of Vadzim Kabanchuk and her husband were summoned to the KGB for interrogation. They were also questioned about Vadzim.
On August 11, the GUBOPiK detained Sviatlana Gerasimovich, mother of the singer Rita Dakota.
Rita Dakota is a famous Russian-Belarusian singer. In 2020, she supported the protests and issued a song “Go Away” which she addressed to Lukashenka.
On August 25, Alena, wife of the political prisoner Anatol Latushka, was detained. Her house was searched, she is facing charges under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code.
The political prisoner Anatol Latushka is a cousin of the politician Pavel Latushka.
Alena was sentenced to 2,5 years of restraint of liberty under home confinement (“domashnyaya khimiya”) under Part 1, Art 339 and Art. 370 of the Criminal Code.
On October 18, Darya Losik, wife of the political prisoner, a journalist of Radio Svaboda, Ihar Losik, was detained.
Darya Losik is the wife of the political prisoner, blogger Ihar Losik, sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment under “Tsikhanousky case”.
A criminal case was launched against her under the accusation “contributed to extremist activity” (Part 1 Art. 361-4 of the Criminal Code).
On November 1, another brother of the volunteer fighter Vasil Parfiankou, killed in Ukraine, was detained.
A “repentance video” with a man who called himself brother of the killed Vasil Parfiankou, appeared on a Telegram channel of Belarusian enforcers. The man in the video “confesses” that he was subscribed to “extremist” Telegram channels.
Before that, also Vasil’s mother and his cousin Siarhei were detained.
On November 3, wife of the political prisoner Artsiom Anishchuk, Volha, was detained. Before her arrest, the home of the Anishchuks was searched.
Artsiom was sentenced to two years of imprisonment on February 3, 2021, for damaging the car of an employee of the Department of Corrections, Aliaksandr Heits. He was sent to serve his sentence to Mogilev penal colony N. 15, where he was subject to torture and beatings. A criminal case was launched against him under Art. 411 of the Criminal Code (willful disobedience to the correctional institution administration), and he was exhorted pressure on.
On December 22, the husband of the convicted human rights defender Marfa Rabkova, Vadzim Zharomski, was detained. On the following day, he was sentenced to 15 days of arrest. Upon completion of that term, he was sentenced to another 10 days of arrest.
On February 9, unknown people with badges of the commission working with those who wish to return to Belarus, visited the relatives of a Gomel activist, Barys Anikeyeu. They said: “Amnesty was announced upon your brother. He can return without any problems; he is not in danger. We need him to come back, set an example”.
On March 22, the father of the volunteer fighter of Kastuś Kalinoŭski Regiment, Dzianis Urbanovich, was detained. A “repentance video” was recorded on which the father asked his son to return to Belarus and “do a ten-year term”.
On March 28, Artsiom Liabedzka, son of the former leader of the United Civil Party, Anatol Liabedzka, was detained. As for Anatol, he has been in emigration since October, 2021. He is Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s representative for constitutional reform.