International Centre for civil initiatives “Our House” (Nash Dom), Belarus & Lithuania
With the support of:
Vilnius, in August 2023
Table of Contents
- 1. Evasion from Service in the Belarusian Army 2022/2023 and the Status of Belarusian Conscientious Objectors to military service in Belarus
- 2. Cases of Belarusian conscientious objectors recognized as a threat to Lithuania’s national security
- 2.1 Cases of Belarusian Conscientious Objectors and Deserters Handled by “Our House” in Lithuania
- 2.2 Cases of the Belarusian conscientious objectors: Announced as threats to national security of Lithuania with a ban on entry for the term of 5 years in the Lithuanian and Belarusian media
- 2.3 Cases of Belarusian human rights defender organizations in exile working with Belarusian political refugees and Belarusian conscientious objectors – under risks in Lithuania
- 1. The case of Dapamoga
- 2. The case of Our House
- More Information
1. Evasion from Service in the Belarusian Army 2022/2023 and the Status of Belarusian Conscientious Objectors to military service in Belarus
There is a lack of comprehensive human rights and peacebuilding expertise on conscientious objectors and deserters in Belarus. Current information is fragmented and fails to address the risks of a potential Belarusian army involvement into Ukraine (see European Bureau for Conscientious Objection , the annual reports and CONCODOC). The Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 was preceded by the concentration of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border and a crisis in Russia-Ukraine relations. Belarus has not officially joined the war against Ukraine, but the monitoring by Our House under the campaign “No Means No” reveals ongoing extensive preparation of the Belarusian army for a potential invasion of Ukraine (full report: https://news.house/56492).
Conscientious objection to military service is a fundamental human right inherent to article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, Belarusian conscientious objectors face dire circumstances, including the introduction of the death penalty for desertion (1) and tightening of legislation on military deferments (2, 3, 4). Only a limited segment of religious men qualifies for alternative civilian service, while many face criminal prosecution for refusing to join the army.
Seeking refuge in other countries is challenging, as both Russia and Lithuania have been extraditing and deporting Belarusian conscientious objectors, citing national security concerns.(5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17) In 2023, around 300 Belarusians were deported from Lithuania based on their past association with the Belarusian army. This situation highlights human rights violations and political manipulations against conscientious objectors. It is crucial to remember that conscientious objection to military service is a fundamental human right protected under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 22 (1993) recognizes that using weapons may clash with this right to freedom of conscience and the right to express one’s beliefs.
Additionally, it is concerning is that the Belarusian regime is intensively training children as young as 6 for potential military actions, with a focus on orphans, children with special needs, and marginalized families. (18, 19, 20) European Union’s inaction may lead to a well-prepared army of extremists in 3-5 years. Our House urges immediate action to counter this strategy and calls for support from the EU and human rights organizations. Over 18,000 children participated in military training in 2022(21), and this poses a long-term threat to Ukraine and potentially the European Union.
In conclusion, Belarusian conscientious objectors encounter considerable obstacles when seeking to legalize their status, both within Belarus and in other countries. As a result, exercising the right to conscientious objection for a Belarusian individual is nearly unattainable given the prevailing conditions. The lack of awareness on this issue contributes to their plight, warranting urgent attention to protect their rights.
2. Cases of Belarusian conscientious objectors recognized as a threat to Lithuania’s national security
Lithuanian legal acts do not determine neither the notion of a threat to national security nor an exhaustive list of threats to national security – an assessment is made with consideration of specific circumstances, judicial practice, and so on. That is, it is always a subjective assessment, not based on any requirements or criteria of the Lithuanian legislation. (More information available here and here) (22, 23).
Most often, Belarusian conscientious objectors flee to Russia where they hide from the Belarusian regime. It is not because they support Russia, it is because easier to hide there and it is the simplest direction for escape. In order to run to Russia, Belarusians do not need visas, and the borders are of a formal character.
- Cases of the Belarusian conscientious objectors, Our House is working with, who have been declared a threat to national security of Lithuania with a ban on entry for the term of 5 years.
- Belarusian human rights defenders working in Lithuania to help repressed Belarusians, encounter threats to their personal safety, and risks which are being ignored by the State Security Department of Lithuania. Personal safety and security of women human rights defenders is not ensured and no measures for their protection are taken.
2.1 Cases of Belarusian Conscientious Objectors and Deserters Handled by “Our House” in Lithuania
As “Our House” works with Belarusian conscientious objectors, it has received a flow of appeals from shocked Belarusian conscientious objectors:
1. Vitali Dvarashyn
Vitali was born August 12, 1969, and graduated from Vasylkivsky Aviation and Technical Military School in 1990. He began service in the army. However, later he got disappointed with it, decided to refuse to take up weapons, resigned on his own volition and left the army on July 15, 1998. Since then, he has conducted peaceful life without getting near the army and any other enforcement structure.
In Belarus, in 2020, Vitali actively participated in protests against the elections that were falsified by the regime. In addition to various other activities, he engaged in discussions with the regime’s supporters on social media. Alongside a group of like-minded individuals, Vitali repeatedly obstructed the streets of Vitebsk to prevent prison trucks carrying unarmed demonstrators, who had been detained by the enforcers, from passing through.
When the war in Ukraine began, Vitali became apprehensive about the possibility of being forcibly conscripted into the Belarusian army and deployed to fight against Ukraine, given his prior military service. As fast as he could, on March 8, 2022, Vitali left for Lithuania and has not returned to Belarus ever since, as he fears being forcibly recruited. Regrettably, his concerns are well-founded, considering the ongoing verification of the population liable for military service (24) in Belarus, the purpose of which remains unclear. Shortly after Vitali’s departure to Lithuania, the local police operatives visited his registered address in Vitebsk with search and arrest warrants. According to their explanation to his mother, a criminal case has been opened against Vitaly in the town of Baranovichy due to his Facebook posts where he referred to the Belarusian enforcers as “murderers and executioners”.
Subsequently, due to concerns for his safety and personal freedom, Vitali has refrained from returning to Belarus and has been separated from his family. An additional significant threat that deterred him from repatriating was the high likelihood of being forcibly conscripted into the army. Until recently, Vitali held a residence permit in Lithuania and was employed as a driver in the town of Mažeikiai. On April 26, 2023, his residence permit was revoked solely based on his previous service in the Belarusian army, which occurred more than 20 years ago. Furthermore, due to his past military service, Vitaly has been designated as an undesirable person on Lithuanian territory and has been prohibited from entering the European Union for a period of 5 years. As such, Vitali has filed an appeal to the Lithuanian court.
As part of the “NO Means NO” campaign initiated by “Our House” to advocate for the human right of Belarusian men to conscientiously object to military service, Vitali actively engaged in supporting the cause. He participated in protest actions held near the Embassy of Belarus, dedicated to promoting the right to conscientious objection to military service. Visual evidence, including videos and photographs of Vitali participating in these activities, were shared on Telegram channels such as “Olga Karach” and “Our House” on May 16, 2023. Notably, these materials featured his involvement in events related to the International Conscientious Objection Day on May 15, 2023, as well as his participation in the solidarity action on January 22, 2023. Unfortunately, Vitali now faces a severe threat of imprisonment of up to 7 years in a Belarusian jail, as his face has been shown on our Telegram channels. This exposure may be used against him as evidence of his involvement in activities promoting conscientious objection, which is considered unlawful in Belarus.
On June 11, 2023, officers from the Lithuanian migration and border service attempted to forcibly deport Vitali to Belarus, jeopardizing his safety and well-being. For Vitali, returning to Belarus under such circumstances would undoubtedly lead to automatic arrest and imprisonment due to his active involvement in the “NO Means NO” campaign.
On June 15, 2023, we diligently prepared all the required documentation and together with Vitali, submitted an application for his political asylum in Lithuania.
As of June 19, 2023, migration authorities provided Vitali with a free lawyer to appeal the decision. Regrettably, the assigned lawyer did not respond to his calls for many days, and only on June 28 he was found, after all the appeal deadlines had already passed.
On June 20, 2023, Vitali voluntarily arrived at the refugee camp, but he was isolated in a room that could best be described as a prison cell. There were bars on the windows. While Vitali was provided with food, he was given no spoon or fork to eat with, and he had to use the lid of a glass as an improvised eating utensil. Concerningly, the cell where Vitali was held was locked from the outside, and the call button was disabled. This raised serious safety concerns, as in case of a medical emergency, such as a heart problem, he would be unable to call for help, potentially putting his life at risk. Vitali tried pressing the button to test it, but no one responded or came to check on him.
On June 27, 2023 the court ruled in favor of Vitali, obligating the migration authorities to restore his temporary residence permit. The court overturned this migration decision and ruled to reinstate Vitali’s temporary residence permit. The court concluded that Vitali did not pose a threat to Lithuania’s national security, canceled the 5-year entry ban and decided that migration should restore his temporary residence permit. Yet, the Lithuanian migration and the Department of National Security have appealed to the court and want to appeal this court decision.
On July 28, the Lithuanian second-instance court imposed a fine on the Lithuanian Migration Office in the case of Vitali Dvarashin. The fine was issued due to the migration authorities’ failure to meet the court’s response deadlines, which the court considered as contempt of court.
Ivan Strashkevich, a Belarusian born on September 1, 1993, is an ethnic Lithuanian who previously served as a border guard in Belarus. However, disillusioned with the military, he made the decision to refuse further service and pursue a peaceful life. Ivan did not want to be associated with the armed forces, as they represent violence, hatred, and evil. He realized that he did not want to be a part of the machinery of violence and oppression. Ivan had to fight to leave the military.
In early 2019, he left for Poland and then moved to Lithuania on a work visa. This decision was influenced by Ivan’s mother, who is Lithuanian and was born and raised in Lithuania. Additionally, Ivan has other relatives in Lithuania. Ivan chose to move to Lithuania because it’s his mother’s homeland.
In 2021, Ivan Strashkevich was shocked by the cruelty with which Lukashenko deceived and organized the flow of migrants from the East, some of whom died at the border. Ivan even appeared in a documentary film, protesting against such mistreatment of people.
When the war broke out, two of his close friends went to Ukraine to participate in the war as part of the Belarusian Regiment named after Kastus Kalinovsky. Both of them have already died. Ivan didn’t go because he no longer wanted to associate his life with the army and war, but he was shocked to lose his friends whom he had known for many years. It was a tremendous personal loss for him, further solidifying his conviction that he should not join the army again.
On June 5, 2023, Lithuanian migration authorities refused to extend his work visa based on his previous military service, despite his active anti-war and anti-regime activism. They also imposed a 60-month ban on his entry into the European Union and Lithuania.
On June 6, 2023, Ivan applied for political asylum and was scheduled for an interview on June 14, 2023. However, five hours after the interview on June 14, 2023, the immigration authorities detained him and forcibly transported him to a refugee camp, where on June 16, the court decided to keep him in detention for one month, until July 14, 2023.
Whilst in the refugee camp in Pabradė, Lithuania, Ivan;s laptop and phone were confiscated, and he is only allowed to use the phone for 30 minutes per day. He is staying in a room with barred windows, which is locked, and he doesn’t even have the opportunity to file an appeal because he lacks a laptop, phone, and practically any means of communication with the outside world.
Ivan was being held in custody in a Lithuanian refugee camp, despite having a valid residence permit in Poland that has not been revoked. The entry ban to the European Union deprived him of the opportunity to seek political asylum in Poland under the Dublin Agreement, as he could have done if he hadn’t applied for a humanitarian visa in Lithuania. Ivan Strashkevich managed to send a letter to “Our House” with a request for assistance, enclosing all the materials he had, asking us to represent his interests and fight for him.
On August 2, 2023, Ivan Strashkevich was supposed to be deported to Poland (Poland agreed to take him back). Since August 2, his fate was unknown, and there were no updates or information regarding his current whereabouts. The fate of Ivan’s personal belongings and his private car, which he was not allowed to take with him during the deportation, remained uncertain. It was unclear who should transport Ivan’s car to Poland and who will bear the expenses for this transfer.
Ivan was eventually deported to Poland, is at large, and has requested political asylum there. Ivan Strashkevich wrote approximately 70 complaints about the living conditions, which he submitted to the head of the refugee camp in Pabradė. As per our understanding, none of his complaints were registered, and no written responses were received for any of them. Ivan reported that the camp’s head had responded only verbally to all his complaints and solely in a negative and derogatory manner, using expressions implying that he had become insolent.
3. Nikita Svirid: This is an example of the Deliberate and prolonged delay in processing the political asylum request for Belarusian deserter Nikita Svirid, in violation of Lithuanian legislation
Despite Lithuanian legislation providing a maximum period of 6 months for the consideration of political asylum applications, Lithuanian migration deliberately prolongs the cases not only for Belarusian human rights defenders but also for Belarusian deserters, who, among other risks, face the threat of the death penalty in Belarus.
On May 25, 2022, Nikita deserted from the Belarusian army, illegally crossed the Lithuanian border, and immediately requested political asylum. To date, he has not received any response to his application, even though more than a year has passed.
Nikita received a draft notice for compulsory military service in the army in the fall of 2021. By February 24, 2022, his term of service was only four months, but he had already taken the oath. However, he did not know how to handle a weapon properly and had only fired a couple of times. During his time in the army, Nikita mostly had to endure numerous ideological lectures about Western countries being enemies and Nazis, the white-red-white flag being used by occupiers during the war, and the notion that anyone supporting the opposition should be shot. Most of the soldiers fell asleep during such lectures. Additionally, Nikita was frequently exploited as a free labor force.
Nikita also experienced degrading treatment that violated human dignity while in the army. Any officer can insult and humiliate a private. Once, while officers were drinking on the training ground, a drunken officer kicked Nikita in the back because he thought Nikita was using a phone. There was another instance when a senior officer struck him in the shoulder. Hazing is prevalent in the army, and the officers are aware of it, but they do nothing to address the issue. Soldiers often mock each other, especially sergeants who hold minimal authority. They force soldiers to shave their heads bald and prohibit them from putting their hands in their pockets, considering it a sign of showing excessive self-importance. There are cases of sleep deprivation as punishment. There are duty assignments where a soldier sleeps 4 hours during the full 24 hours and only with the permission of the sergeant. There were cases when a soldier refused to obey, and the sergeant allowed him to sleep for only 15 minutes in an entire 24-hour period.
Nikita started preparing for his escape a week in advance because he realized he didn’t want to go to war in Ukraine and feared being sent to fight. He studied the map of the area, figured out the route to take, and planned the best time to run. Nikita chose the early morning when everyone would still be asleep, thinking he would have a couple of hours of advantage. While preparing for the escape, he knew that he could seek asylum in the EU and thought it was a mission to be accomplished, as he could no longer stand the military service morally. He changed out of his uniform, left the weapons with live ammunition along the way, and abandoned his phone. A long-haul truck driver gave him a ride to the border without asking any questions, which was incredibly fortunate. Crossing the state border naturally couldn’t be done through an official checkpoint, so Nikita had to overcome several fences. The first fence was a steel one with barbed wire and blades on top. He was caught on camera there, making him realize time was running out. While climbing the fence, he sustained a minor injury and fell to the ground. Then there was a fence over a ditch, and he managed to crawl under it. The next fence had rotting posts, and he broke it. Afterward, he realized he was already across the border and decided to surrender. Once on Lithuanian territory, he realized that he would not see his family and loved ones for a long time. After his escape, Nikita’s relatives faced pressure from the KGB to force him to return.
Since February 21, 2023, desertion in Belarus is punishable by death penalty. However, despite this, Nikita has still not received any decision on political asylum, in violation of Lithuanian legislation.
4. Belarusian conscientious objector AA
Belarusian conscientious objector AA (name changed) graduated from the Military Academy in Belarus in 2004, and was forced to serve for 5 years in the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus as part of compulsory distribution system following state education in Belarus. In Belarus, refusal to comply with such compulsory distribution after completing education results in serious sanctions, primarily financial. The forced student distribution system has been recognized as forced labor by several Belarusian and international organizations. As soon as the opportunity arose, he completed his distribution obligation and immediately resigned due to his unwillingness to serve the criminal regime of Lukashenko and be a part of his armed forces. Since then, he has led a peaceful life and has had no affiliation with the Belarusian military in any way.
In 2020, as he never supported Lukashenko’s criminal regime, he decided to leave Belarus because he could not tolerate the level of violence against peaceful citizens in the country. On October 10, 2020, he signed an employment contract with one of the Lithuanian companies and has been working there since then. On February 17, 2023, he applied to the Lithuanian Migration Department for a blue card. On June 5, 2023, he received a response via email stating that his application for a blue card had been denied, as he posed a threat to the national security of the Republic of Lithuania. On June 9, 2023, he also received a letter from the migration authorities informing him that he was banned from entering Lithuania for 5 years. His valid residence permit in Lithuania was revoked as well.
5. Belarusian conscientious objector BB
This case is borderline, but we also classify it as a conscientious objector due to the fact that the woman worked in a militarized structure.
Belarusian conscientious objector BB (name changed), a 33-year-old woman, in 2015 got a job as an accountant in the paramilitary department of the Belarusian railroad and went on maternity leave in 2016 (in Belarus one child can be on maternity leave for 3 years), she was on maternity leave for 6 years. Her husband took part in protests, was arrested, survived torture, had his home searched, and is currently in asylum status. The family has two daughters, ages 3 and 7. In April, she requested a temporary residence permit to be with her husband. She was refused because of her job as an accountant for the railroad. She even had to spend several days in solitary confinement in a refugee camp.
Now Belarusian conscientious objector BB is under the threat of deportation to Belarus, with a ban on entry to the EU for 5 years, and it is dangerous for her husband to return to Belarus because of criminal prosecution for participation in protests. There is also a question that the family is forcibly separated for 5 years, since she cannot travel to him because of the ban to on entry to the European Union, and he cannot come to her because of repressions.
2.2 Cases of the Belarusian conscientious objectors: Announced as threats to national security of Lithuania with a ban on entry for the term of 5 years in the Lithuanian and Belarusian media
Two former servicemen, working at the Lithuanian office of the Belarusian company Wargaming, were recognized as threats to the national security of Lithuania
On July 21, 2023, employees of the Lithuanian office of the Belarusian company Wargaming that had been forced to relocate to Lithuania because of the participation of a large number of its employees in the protests-2020, received a letter from the management of the company, obviously based on the information obtained from the competent bodies of Lithuania. (22, 27, 28, 29)
In the letter, the administration warned the company employees that Lithuania can revoke residence permits to those who had served in the Belarusian army under the contract. The letter said that Lithuania was revoking residence permits issued to Belarusians who had previously served under contract in the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus. It regards warrant officers and officers. Also, residence permits are revoked without any warning, people are just put before the fact. The administration of the company warned all the Belarusian conscientious objectors working for the Belarusian Wargaming to be prepared for the situation. Moreover, it became known from the letter that at least two Wargaming employees had already been deprived of their residence permits. 986 people are working for the Lithuanian office of Wargaming. The net profit of the Lithuanian brunch in 2022 constituted over 2.2 million EUR. The company is among the top three taxpayers of Lithuania in the IT sphere. More information is available here.
Devby.io has published an article about a former serviceman who was a driver in the army. In 2018 he entered the service at the 62nd Central Communication Node: the man was subject to general conscription (i.e., obligatory military service) and instead of military conscription, chose the service under contract as it was materially more profitable, and he had to serve for that period in any case, by conscription or under contract.
In 2020, as soon as the term of his obligatory military service expired, he resigned from the position of the “senior driver” in the rank of a corporal, as he did not want to pursue the military career. After that, for two years he was a truck driver in a private firm, and sometime later moved to Lithuania. In October, 2022, the young man received a temporary residence permit. However, the firm he was planning to work for shut down. At the end of February, 2023, he filed his documents again, filled out in the same form as the first time. Once again, he specified that he had served under the contract at the army, as the first time when applying for a residence permit. Yet, at the beginning of June, 2023, he received an answer that his application had been turned down. His residence permit was revoked, he was deported and banned from entering Lithuania for the term of 5 years. Now, he is currently in Belarus looking for employment.
A reader of the Belarusian media devby.io makes reference to a former EPAM employee (the second Belarusian IT company in Lithuania) who had his residence permit revoked and was banned from entering the country for the term of 5 years because of his military education; in the result, he moved to Russia. The EPAM employee wrote about his military education in an application form which he filed a year and a half ago.
Devby.io is also writing about another two cases that involve regular Belarusians that were working in Lithuania doing simple jobs: one was a taxi driver, and the other – a builder/electrician. Additionally, the taxi driver had lived in Lithuania for about 3 years. Both had their residence permits revoked due to military service under the contract. One of them managed to win the trial, and the decision to revoke his residence permit was overruled. The media does not say how the second story ended (30).
The Lithuanian media Delphi and the Belarusian media Zerkalo wrote about two cases that they know of about revocation of residence permits of two Belarusians for the reason of “threats to the national security”, but due to their military service under the contract in the past.
For more information:
- https://devby.io/news/lithuanian-residence-3; https://euroradio.fm/ru/smi-uznali-za-chto-belorusu-mogut-annulirovat-vnzh-v-litve
2.3 Cases of Belarusian HRDs organizations in exile working with Belarusian political refugees and Belarusian conscientious objectors – under risks in Lithuania
a. The case of Dapamoga
There was an illegal search without a search warrant in the office of the organization, which is at the same time a shelter for people that have suffered from political reprisals in Belarus and have escaped in Lithuania (The confirming documents are in the possession of “Our House“).
On June 03, 2023, a search was conducted at the premises of the Belarusian organization Dapamoga, providing help to Belarusian refugees, in the framework of the pre-trial investigation on the case of a Belarusian woman who was neither living nor registered in that building. Actions of the police operatives were incorrect and raised a lot of questions.
First of all, an obvious violation of rights was committed, as the officers executing the search did not present neither a judicial authorization to conduct such a search, nor any other document, which would give them permission to do so. When the head of the organization Dapamoga demanded to present a warrant, an officer told her that he would execute such a document immediately. That means, when they arrived, they had no document authorizing them to conduct a search.
Natalia Kolegova claims that the document was written by the officer in her presence and in the presence of other Belarusians, who can confirm the unlawfulness of actions carried out by officers. The search warrant was executed post factum. Thus, the right to inviolability of the dwelling, enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, was infringed as well as the rules of criminal procedure were violated.
Second, during the search, the police officer forcefully detained Natalia in a room, did not allow her to go out of the room, to go to the toilet, forbade her to call a lawyer. Natalia said she had a right to call a lawyer, but the police officers did not allow her to do that. As a result, a third person, another Belarusian who was in the building, managed to do that.
On July 12, 2023, Dapamoga appealed to the prosecutor’s office with a request to conduct investigation into the illegal actions of the police officers.
b. The case of Our House
Deliberately extending the term of the procedure for granting a political asylum in Lithuania and violation of the Lithuanian legislation in relation to Olga Karach, head of Our House, as well as including irrelevant information in the form of rumors and gossip into her case.
On September 1, 2022, after the Lithuanian lawyer, Mantas Danielius, who was collecting information regarding the organization Our House to transfer it to the KGB, had been disclosed (31, 32, 33, 34, 35), Olga Karach filed an application for political asylum in Lithuania. Olga Karach is a human rights defender with disability, a mother of two underage children, she is recognized as a terrorist by the Belarusian KGB for her human rights activity (her name is published in the terrorist list on the website of the KGB under the number 773; in Belarus a person accused of terrorism faces death penalty). In addition, she is the head of the organization Our House, which together with all its informational resources was recognized as extremist in Belarus.
Although the Lithuanian legislation provides for 6 months as the maximum period of consideration of an application for political asylum (and not any longer) (36), as of the date of August 7, 2023, i.e., 11 months later, Olga Karach still did not have any answer to her application. All her requests to provide any information were answered with formal automatic messages and promises to “consider the case as soon as possible” (the latest promised term was April 1, 2023); however, she has not received an answer to her application up till now.
On July 31, 2023, Olga Karach was summoned to the Department of Migration, where she was asked strangequestions. Judging by the nature of the questions, she made a conclusion that the migration service had collected irrelevant information about her, based on rumors, assumptions and gossip from the Internet, and had not even to double checked them with a simple Google search. All that is evidence that the Migration Department is deliberately delaying and prolonging the procedure of granting political asylum, in spite of all the risks Olga Karach is facing even in the territory of Lithuania.
Disregard for the security threats faced by Belarusian women human rights defenders in Lithuania, who work under attacks from the KGB:
On September 28, 2022, Lithuanian lawyer Mantas Danielis was apprehended by the Department of National Security of Lithuania and the Criminal Police on suspicion of espionage for the KGB. All evidence of his espionage and information leakage to the KGB was collected by Belarusian female human rights defenders and submitted to the competent authorities in Lithuania. Mantas Daniėlis, the Lithuanian lawyer, had approached two Belarusian human rights organizations, “Our House” and “Dapamoga,” with the alleged intention of providing assistance to Belarusian political refugees in Lithuania, as well as conscientious objectors and deserters from Belarus who sought refuge in Lithuania due to fear of being conscripted into the army and sent to fight in Ukraine.
Despite the high-profile nature of Mantas Danielis’ arrest in the Lithuanian media, not a single government representative has reached out to the Belarusian female human rights defenders regarding the threats to their safety in Lithuania. No assistance has been offered, and no support has been provided in developing security protocols. On the contrary, Belarusian female human rights defenders faced hate and victim-blaming from Vytis Jurkonis, the Lithuanian director of the American human rights organization Freedom House.
On October 7, 2022, Vytis Jurkonis, a Lithuanian human rights defender and political scientist, in his article titled “Jurkonis kelia klausimą, kaip Danielius infiltravosi į baltarusių bendruomenę: organizacijos turėtų prisipažinti pasielgusios neatsargiai” for the Lithuanian Delphi publicly demanded that Olga Karach and other Belarusian female human rights activists should repent and “acknowledge their mistakes and negligence” in their communication with the Lithuanian lawyer Mantas Danielius, and issue an apology for it. (37)
Vytis Jurkonis is the relevant individual who provides recommendations to the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs based on the conducted verification of individuals regarding the issuance of humanitarian visas and passage through the humanitarian corridor. These individuals later turn out to be KGB agents openly engaged in espionage and cybercrime on the territory of Lithuania, including targeting Belarusian women human rights activists (case of Ilya Begun (38)). Moreover, Vytis Jurkonis not only fails to take any measures to reduce the risks of his irresponsible behavior concerning poor verification of individuals, but he also shifts the responsibility for capturing KGB spies on the territory of Lithuania onto exiled Belarusian women human rights activists. In other words, he places this burden on those who are in a vulnerable position, with disabilities, small children, without any protection, and lack the tools for verifying individuals. People, who are allowed into Lithuania based on Jurkonis’s verification, subsequently pose risks and threats to Belarusian women human rights activists in exile, including threats of murder and physical violence.
Therefore, Belarusian female human rights activists in Lithuania become victims twice: first, they become targets of espionage by the KGB, and second, they are subjected to attacks from male Lithuanian human rights defenders. This double victimization places them in a distressing and even more vulnerable position, highlighting the urgent need for better protection and support.
- Ensure a system of protection for human rights defenders and peacebuilders, providing the necessary resources for them to continue to work in safety.
- Ensure legal assistance for Belarusian conscientious objectors in Lithuania, including those who have no financial means.
- Ensure provisions to protect Belarusian who exercise their human right to conscientious objection. Refrain from deporting them to Belarus.
- Contribute to humanitarian corridor to Europe for Belarusian conscientious objectors and ensure asylum procedure for them within the EU.
- The International Peace Bureau’s Nobel Peace Prize Nominees: https://www.ipb.org/the-international-peace-bureauipb-has-announced-its-intention-to-nominate-three-remarkable-organizations-with-a-focus-on-the-right-to-conscientious-objection-for-the-2024-nobel-peace-prize/
1. The law “On Amendments to the Codes on Criminal Liability”, National Legal Internet Portal of the Republic of Belarus, 14 March 2023 https://pravo.by/document/?guid=3961&p0=H12300256
On March 14, 2023, the law “On Amendments to the Codes on Criminal Liability” was published on the National Legal Internet Portal of Belarus. The amendments to the criminal liability codes, which include the death penalty for officials and military personnel convicted of state treason, as well as criminal liability for terrorism propaganda and discrediting the army, will come into effect from March 25, 2023.The main goal of the document is noted as “strengthening the counteraction to extremist (terrorist) and anti-state crimes. “Criminal liability for “state treason” committed by a public official extends to all individuals holding government positions. Moreover, for “state treason” committed by a public official or military serviceman, the possibility of imposing the exceptional punishment of the death penalty is introduced. The law introduces criminal liability for “propaganda of terrorism, discrediting the armed forces, other troops and military formations, militarized organizations, and violation of requirements for protecting state secrets.” The detention period for individuals suspected of committing state treason, conspiracy, or other actions aimed at seizing state power, espionage, and clandestine activities is increased from three to ten days.
2. Decree of the Belarussian Defense Ministry and the Belarussian Ministry of Health dated January 18, 2023, “On Amendments to the Decree of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Belarus and the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Belarus of January 3, 2020, No. 1/1”, National Legal Internet Portal of the Republic of Belarus, 4 February 2023, https://pravo.by/document/?guid=12551&p0=W22339478&p1=1&p5=0
On February 4, 2023, a joint resolution of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Public Health was published and entered into force, making amendments to the instruction of determining requirements to the state of health of citizens subject to military duty. Now, Belarusians with the body mass over 100 kg are found unfit for military service in special operation forces of the Armed Forces. Before, the limit was 90 kg. Besides that, young people with obesity of the second degree and body mass index 37 kg/m² are recognized as fit for compulsory military service. Before that, they received the status of NGM (unfit for military service in peace time, partially fit for military service in war time).Also, according to the new instruction, people with myopia of any eye in one of the meridians from 6.0 to 8.0 diopters, with hemorrhoids without prolapse of nodes, with mild form of bronchial asthma (or without attacks for over 5 years), with some forms of platy podia or foot deformity are also found fit for military service (for more details, read the graph «г» of the clarifications under subparagraph 13.5 of the instruction). The amendments to the instruction also affected the conscripts with diseases of the endocrine system, eating disorders, diseases of the nervous system and heart, skin diseases, spinal diseases.
3. The law “On Amendments to military duty and military service”, National Legal Internet Portal of the Republic of Belarus, 16 March 2023
On May 16, 2023, amendments to the law “On military duty and military service” were published in Belarus. It was amended and received the status of a law. The most important amendment that has been made is that studying abroad is no longer considered to be a ground for deferment from military duty. The deferment from the military service for Belarusians studying abroad has been canceled. Only those students shall be granted such a deferment who are studying abroad by the assignment of the republican government bodies in the framework of implementation of state programs. However, there are exceptions: the deferment can be obtained if on the date of entering of this law into force the student was studying in a foreign educational establishment in intramural form of study and had entered those educational establishments before the age of 18. The law also stipulates that in case several citizens in one family are subject to call-up for compulsory military service, service in the reserves and have a right to deferral, it can be “granted to one of them according to the request of the family members (relatives)”.
4. “Security Council raises the issue of abolishing military service deferment for students”, Tochka.by (https://tochka.by/), 21 June 2023 https://tochka.by/articles/policy/sovbez_snova_vyskazalsya_ob_otmene_otsrochki_ot_sluzhby_v_armii_dlya_studentov/
5. Lucy Ash, “A police officer with a conscience who left Belarus”, BBC News, Warsaw, 1 December 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-55135636
6. Ksenia Churmanova, Anna Pushkarskaya, “Did you catch this hunk?” How Lukashenko’s Associates Hunt for Belarusians in Russia, BBC News Russian Service, 3 December 2021, https://www.bbc.com/russian/features-59513839
7. “28-Year-Old Draft Dodger from Lida Sent to Prison Despite Being Out of Draft Age. What’s the Matter?”, “Zerkalo” edition (https://news.zerkalo.io/), 6 July 2023, https://news.zerkalo.io/life/43154.html
8. Natalia Stukalova, “Resident of Chashniki District Earns Criminal Record for Dodging Draft”, “Chyrvony Pramen” (https://www.chashnikinews.by/) 7 July 2023, https://www.chashnikinews.by/2023/07/zhitel-chashnikskogo-rajona-zarabotal-ugolovku-za-uklonenie-ot-prizyva/
9. Sofia Golub, “In Belarus, a 23-Year-Old Guy Who Escaped Military Service to Russia Was Given a Show Trial”, newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda” (https://www.belarus.kp.ru/), 5 April 2023, https://www.belarus.kp.ru/online/news/5212363/
10. “Conscientious Objectors Sentenced for Draft Evasion in Belarus”, Tby (https://tochka.by/), 2 December 2022, https://tochka.by/articles/incidents/kak_v_belarusi_nakazyvayut_uklonistov_ot_prizyva_v_armiyu/
11. “Deputy Speaker of the Seimas: Parliament Should Consider Unifying Restrictions for Russians and Belarusians”, Delfi (https://www.delfi.lt), 8 August 2023, https://www.delfi.lt/ru/news/politics/vice-spiker-seyma-parlament-dolzhen-rassmotret-unifikaciyu-ogranicheniy-dlya-rossiyan-i-belorusov-94144945
12. “Lithuania Aims to Reassess its Approach to Belarusians Residing in the Country”, EurAzia Daily (https://eadaily.com/ru/), 7 August 2023, https://eadaily.com/ru/news/2023/08/07/v-litve-hotyat-peresmotret-otnoshenie-k-belorusam-nahodyashchimsya-v-strane
13. Laurina Virelyunayte, “Lithuania Expels Increasing Numbers of Russians and Belarusians: Previously a Rare Occurrence”, Delfi (https://www.delfi.lt), 22 May 2023, https://www.delfi.lt/ru/news/live/iz-litvy-vysylayut-vse-bolshe-rossiyan-i-belorusov-ranshe-takaya-prichina-byla-redkoy-93421691
14. “Lithuania’s Migration Service Reveals How Many Belarusians Have Been Identified as a National Security Threat”, edition “Zerkalo” (https://news.zerkalo.io/), 4 August 2023, https://news.zerkalo.io/economics/45395.html
15. “Lithuania Recognizes Over 900 Belarusians as a National Security Threat”, Tochka.by (https://tochka.by/), 4 August 2023, https://tochka.by/articles/policy/litva_priznala_bolee_900_belorusov_ugrozoy_natsbezopasnosti/
16. “In Lithuania, 1164 Citizens of Russia and Belarus Recognized as Security Threat”, Radio Liberty (https://www.svoboda.org), 4 August 2023, https://www.svoboda.org/a/v-litve-1164-grazhdan-rf-i-belarusi-priznali-ugrozoy-bezopasnosti/32534694.html
17. “Lithuania Recognizes Group of Belarusians and Russians as a National Security Threat: Unprecedented Figures”, Delfi (https://www.delfi.lt), 7 August 2023, https://www.delfi.lt/ru/news/live/litva-priznala-gruppu-belorusov-i-rossiyan-ugrozoy-nacionalnoy-bezopasnosti-takih-cifr-prezhde-ne-bylo-94130875
18. Olga Valeryeva, Alexander Nesterov, “How military training is conducted in schools in Belarus and Russia”, UNION Belarus/Russia, 23 November 2022, https://rg.ru/2022/11/23/kak-v-shkolah-belarusi-i-rossii-vedetsia-voennaia-podgotovka.html
19. Svetlana Isaenok, “My name is Danik, I’m 9 years old. And I want to be in the special forces”: The first meeting of the “Lynx” club took place at Military Unit 3214; newspaper “Sovetskaya Belarus” (https://www.sb.by/), 19 September 2021, https://www.sb.by/articles/menya-zovut-danik-mne-9-let-i-ya-khochu-byt-spetsnazom-v-voyskovoy-chasti-3214-proshlo-pervoe-zaseda.html
20. Gleb Nerzhin , “Karpenkov’s Project: How Security Forces Engaged in Ideological Upbringing of Belarusian Children”, Belsat (https://belsat.eu/), 2 August 2022, https://belsat.eu/ru/news/02-08-2022-proekt-karpenkova-kak-siloviki-zanyalis-ideologicheskim-vospitaniem-belarusskih-detej
21. “480 Military-Patriotic Camps Organized in Belarus During the Summer Period”, Belta (https://www.belta.by/), 29 August 2022, https://www.belta.by/society/view/v-belarusi-v-letnij-period-organizovali-480-voenno-patrioticheskih-lagerej-520967-2022/
22. “Several Wargaming Employees in Lithuania Experience Unexpected Revocation of Residence Permits”, Delfi (https://www.delfi.lt), 21 July 2023, https://www.delfi.lt/ru/news/live/neskolkim-sotrudnikam-wargaming-v-litve-neozhidanno-annulirovali-vnzh-93990521
24. “Data Reconciliation of Military Conscription Completed in Belarus”, Homel Region Executive Committee ( https://www.gomel-region.by/ru), 11 January 2023, https://www.gomel-region.by/ru/society-ru/view/v-belarusi-zavershilis-meroprijatija-po-sverke-uchetnyx-dannyx-voennoobjazannyx-45065-2023/
25. “I Attended Protests: Former Belarusian Border Guard Detained in Lithuania and Faces Possible Deportation – Could Receive Sentence for Political Activities Back Home”, edition “Zerkalo” (https://news.zerkalo.io/), 6 July 2023, https://news.zerkalo.io/life/43085.html
26. “At the Refugee Camp, There Was No Desire to Sleep or Eat”: Former Belarusian Border Guard Deemed Dangerous in Lithuania Handed Over to Poland”, edition “Zerkalo” (https://news.zerkalo.io/), 2 August 2023, 2023, https://news.zerkalo.io/life/45248.html
27. “Sudden Revocation of Residence Permits for Several Wargaming Employees in Lithuania. Details Uncovered”, edition “Zerkalo” (https://news.zerkalo.io/), 20 July 2023, https://news.zerkalo.io/life/44230.html
28. “Five-Year Entry Ban to the EU Followed: Residence Permits in Lithuania Might Be Revoked for More Than Just Contracted Service – New Details”, edition “Zerkalo” (https://news.zerkalo.io/), 22 July 2023, https://news.zerkalo.io/life/44372.html
29. “Some Wargaming Employees (and Others) May Have Their Lithuanian Residence Permits Revoked”, Dev.by (https://devby.io), 21 July 2023, https://devby.io/news/wargaming-lithuanian-residence
31. “Lithuanian citizen detained for spying”, Delfi (https://www.delfi.lt), 4 October 2022, https://www.delfi.lt/en/politics/lithuanian-citizen-detained-for-spying-91402291
32. Saulius Jakucionis, “Lithuanian lawyer arrested on suspicions of spying for Belarus”, Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT) media group (https://www.lrt.lt/), https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1792973/lithuanian-lawyer-arrested-on-suspicions-of-spying-for-belarus
33. “Court Extends Detention Period for Espionage Suspect by Two More Months” (Teismas dar dviem mėnesiams pratęsė suėmimą šnipinėjimu įtariamam Danieliui), Delfi (https://www.delfi.lt), 28 November 2022, https://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/lithuania/teismas-dar-dviem-menesiams-pratese-suemima-snipinejimu-itariamam-danieliui.d?id=91871475
34. Ingrida Steniulienė, “Daniel Arrested Again on Suspicion of Espionage” (Šnipinėjimu įtariamas Danielius vėl suimtas) Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT) media group (https://www.lrt.lt/), 27 February 2023, https://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/lietuvoje/2/1924314/snipinejimu-itarimas-danielius-vel-suimtas
35. “Lithuanian citizen once again arrested in espionage case”, Delfi (https://www.delfi.lt), 27 February 2023, https://www.delfi.lt/en/politics/lithuanian-citizen-once-again-arrested-in-espionage-case-92658501
36. The Law of the Republic of Lithuania on the Status of Refugees in the Republic of Lithuania, University of Minnesota Human Rights Library, http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/russian/asylum/Rlithuania4.2.03.html
37. Gailė Jaruševičiūtė-Mockuvienė, “Jurkonis Raises the Question of How Danielius Infiltrated the Belarusian Community: Organizations Should Admit Acting Carelessly” (“Jurkonis kelia klausimą, kaip Danielius infiltravosi į baltarusių bendruomenę: organizacijos turėtų prisipažinti pasielgusios neatsargiai”)
38. Lukas Andrukaitis, “Informer and Disinformer: The Story of Ilya Begun’s Infiltration into Exiled Opposition in Lithuania”, Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT) media group (https://www.lrt.lt/), 31 January 2022, https://www.lrt.lt/ru/novosti/17/1602508/informator-i-dezinformator-istoriia-infil-tratsii-il-i-beguna-v-oppozitsiiu-v-izgnanii-v-litve