Date of Birth: February 19, 1961 (age 62)
Arrested: Belarus, Gomel, September 2023 (exact date unknown)
Charges: Defamation against the President of the Republic of Belarus
Verdict: Verdict has not been issued yet
Place of Detention: She is currently held in Detention Center No. 3 (SIZO-3).
Arrest and remand prison for Svetlana Korol
On September 20, 2023, it became known that a well-known cycling activist, Svetlana Korol, had been arrested on criminal charges. She is currently being held in the Gomel Temporary Detention Centre. However, sources are unable to provide the exact date and place of her arrest.
It is likely that Svetlana was initially detained for three days and then her detention was simply extended. It is known that she is accused of defamation against Alexander Lukashenko under Article 367 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, which is titled “Defamation against the President of the Republic of Belarus”.
There is additional information indicating that during that time, law enforcers carried out another operation in the Gomel region. Nine people were detained in places including Gomel, Zhlobin and Rechitsa. The “repentance videos” showed individuals “confessing” to subscribing to and leaving comments on “extremist” channels. One of the detainees claimed that she allegedly had filmed the movement of Russian military equipment.
Persecution for protest activity
Svetlana Korol is a retiree and a cycling activist from Gomel, serving as the chairwoman of the regional public organization”VeloGomel”. Before that she worked as a teacher-organizer. By education, she is a music teacher, but her work mainly involved organising children’s morning meetings, high school evenings, concerts and comedy shows. She dedicated over 30 years to her work in the school system. In her city, she is well-known for promoting cycling and a healthy lifestyle.
In 2020, despite her age, the woman took part in mass protests against the falsification of the presidential election results in Belarus. Later, she joined the Gomel Coordination Council of the opposition.
The recent detention is not the first for Svetlana Korol. Previously, the pensioner and activist was arrested in 2020 for participating in protest actions. Here’s how she described it on social media: “My husband and I were digging up potatoes in the village… And suddenly, the internal affairs officers arrived. They said I was needed in Gomel for an administrative offense – ‘organizing mass events’. I warned the police that I hadn’t been feeling well for several days. They called an ambulance. I was sent to an infectious diseases hospital. The doctor wrote a note that she wouldn’t discharge me without notifying the police. Four days later, I was discharged. The medical certificate with the results of medical tests was handed over to the law enforcers who met me outside the hospital. On the same day, I was taken to court. The hearing started at 12:56, and It concluded at 13:02. The trial turned out to be fast: for a social media post, they fined me, a simple pensioner, 20 base units (approximately 175 euros). A few days later, the local police officer came to me. He politely explained that he had come to have an explanatory conversation with me about my commitment not to participate in unauthorized events.”
Since then, the police officers regularly visited Svetlana Korol for so-called “preventive conversations”. According to Svetlana herself, this happened almost on a monthly basis.
In one of her interviews, Svetlana said, “The repression, of course, has had a significant impact on both me and other people. But I’ve decided that if I can help, I will help; if there’s something good, I’ll make it better. I’m trying to sustain myself in this way until the Belarus we’re waiting for comes. I write letters to political prisoners, donate to animal shelters, and continue to promote the cycling movement. This is how I manage to keep my integrity. These are very difficult times, but what can we do? Significant changes don’t happen without major crises. If everyone preserves themselves in this way, we will find ourselves in a better Belarus.”
In April 2021, Svetlana Korol publicly expressed her indignation at the fact that the public organisation “VeloGomel” (which she headed until the end of 2020) had decided to organise a spring bike ride after a one-year hiatus. In particular, In particular, she was outraged that, some unknown reason, the Gomel City Executive Committee and the State Automobile Inspection of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were among the organisers of this volunteer independent initiative.
After that incident Svetlana shared in another interview, “Recently, a police officer knocked on my door and said that we needed to have a conversation. I was very scared because there is no functioning law in Belarus. You can be arrested for anything. How can you not be afraid? Soon there won’t be anyone left here who hasn’t been arrested or fined. Teachers and doctors, journalists and workers, rescuers, artists, IT professionals – as soon as you openly declare the election results invalid, you are automatically classified as an ‘enemy’. Administrative and criminal cases have been put on the conveyor belt. We are afraid and we don’t hide it.”
Threat of long-term imprisonment
Article 367 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, under which the Gomel resident Svetlana Korol is charged, provides for penalties in the form of a fine, corrective labor for up to two years, restriction of freedom for up to 4 years or imprisonment for up to five years. While this article was rarely and selectively used in the past, since 2020, the authorities have been using it extensively to convict opposition-minded citizens who express sharp criticism of Lukashenko or his policies.
At present, Svetlana Korol’s family has no information about when the trial is scheduled to take place and the conditions of her detention. At home, her elderly mother and her husband, who is battling cancer, are waiting for her to return. She has been looking after them.