Sergey Sergeevich Petrukhin and Alexander Aleksandrovich Kabanov are well-known bloggers and civic activists in Belarus. They filmed videos showing problems of the Brest region – mainly the protests of Brestʼs residents against the construction and launch of a battery plant near their city – and posted those on the YouTube channel “Narodny Reportyor”. They were participating in these protests as well. Both were detained in June 2020 and their trial began on February 11, 2021. During the trial, the prosecution argued that it was also their previous activity that fuelled the later mass protests in the country after the 2020 elections. The court found them guilty of organising and preparing activities that grossly violate public order (Article 342 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus) and sentenced them to three years of imprisonment in general regime. Just recently, in December 2022, they were released from prison. But in Belarus are currently still many other activists who must endure the consequences of dubious accusations and persecution by the state authorities.
Victor Aleksandrovich Fenchuk is the programme coordinator for Belarus at the Frankfurt Zoological Society. He advocated the need to cancel the spring hunting of waterfowl and protect wolves, and besides that he was involved in activities which led to the successful re-wetting of drained peatlands. Victor coordinated major environmental programmes in Belovezhskaya Pushcha and Polesie. He is a professional ornithologist and was the director of the environmental organisation “Akhova ptushak Batskaushchyny” (Protection of Birds of the Fatherland). On August 31, 2021, after a search of the organisation’s office in Minsk, he was arrested by the police. After his arrest, the police subsequently did not release him, and the prosecutor initiated criminal proceedings against him under Article 342 of the Criminal Code for activities at group events that grossly violate public order. According to the file, he allegedly blocked traffic on the roadway and shouted various slogans. The prosecution demanded a prison sentence for him and compensation in the amount of 196,000 roubles (€1672) for the municipal transport enterprise “Minsktrans”. The organisation of which he was the director was liquidated in the spring of 2022 on the basis of fabricated political reasons. On May 12, 2022, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison under a strict regime, and on November 4, 2022, the Ministry of the Interior placed him on the “List of Persons Involved in Extremist Activities”. It is a list of people convinced for political reasons that is officially recognised by the Belarus state regime. People included on the list face professional and financial constraints.
Stepan Sergeevich Latypov – the most famous arborist in Belarus, an active member of the Union of Arborists, and a lecturer at the Belarusian State University of Technology was detained on September 15, 2020 while protecting the mural “DJs of Change” from destruction by security forces. This symbolic mural, first created on August 18, 2020, which is located at the “Square of Changes” in Minsk, became the central point of contestation between the emerging neighbourhood community and the Belarusian authorities. Despite numerous efforts on the part of the state authorities to paint it over or even destroy it, the mural was re-created time and time again by the opposing protesters. At the hearing as part of the criminal trial against him, Stepan spoke about oppression and torture during his stay in pretrial detention. On August 16, 2021, the Sovetskiy District Court of Minsk handed down a verdict sentencing him to detention in an enhanced regime for eight years and six months. In September 2022, the sentence was changed to two yearsʼ imprisonment.
Andrey Alekseevich Kuznechik, a cycling activist and freelance journalist who was detained by the police on November 25, 2021, and whose apartment was searched. After his arrest, Andrey was never released, and criminal proceedings were initiated against him. On June 8, 2022, the Regional Court in Mogilev, according to Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code, found him guilty of participation in an extremist group and sentenced him to six years of imprisonment in a high-security prison. The Ministry of Internal Affairs placed Andrey on the “List of Persons Involved in Extremist Activities”.
Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Rubashko, Aleksander Andreevich Belov, and Artiom Dmitrievich Solovei are activists who joined the “Food Not Bombs” initiative to distribute vegan meals made from leftovers to homeless people. All three were detained in July-August 2021 and charged under Article 342 (group activities grossly violating public order) and Article 361-1 (participation in an extremist group) of the Criminal Code. On April 22, 2022, the Minsk Regional Court sentenced them to five years of general prison. In August 2022, the Ministry of the Interior placed them on the “List of Persons Involved in Extremist Activities”.
Pavel Ivanovich Nozdrya is an activist of the “Green Patrol” in Mozyr who was monitoring the implementation of environmental legislation, registering its violations, and solving environmental problems. He was a participant in the campaign for protection of the Pripyat River and floodplain lakes in the Mozyr district in 2017. He initiated the creation of the “Zoozashchita” society and the opening of a temporary shelter for homeless animals, as well as conducting local activities called “Zrobim” to clear up waste from green areas. He drew the attention of the city to many problematic issues and demanded their solution by the authorities. On May 13, 2022, Pavel was detained and subsequently charged under Article 361-4 (facilitating extremist activities) of the Criminal Code for allegedly publishing information about the movement of Russian troops on the “Belarusian Gayun” Telegram channel. On September 15, 2022, the Regional Court in Homel sentenced him to two years of general imprisonment.
Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Merkis is a social activist from Homel, a freelance journalist and the host of the “Deep People” podcast, in which he often discussed topics related to the development of small towns and regions for a better life. He was writing about ecological topics and drawing attention to the urban and ecological problems of Homel. For example, he drew attention to the reduction of municipal budget resources reserved for greening. He spoke out against the felling of trees during the widening of the road and in 2019 he organised an event in which young trees on Proletarskaya Street in Homel had black mourning ribbons tied around them in connection with their possible felling. On September 13, 2022, the police searched Yevgenyʼs home, seized electronic data carriers, and detained him. He was accused according to Article 361-4 (assistance in extremist activities) of the Criminal Code and sentenced to four years in prison under an enhanced regime.
Maksim Anatolyevich Puchinsky is the deputy director of the Minsk Bicycle Society and a specialist in cycling infrastructure. He deals with the development of cycling as a form of tourism and urban transport and is also one of the organisers of the big cycling carnival “Viva Rovar”. On November 29, 2022, Maksim was detained at work and taken to his apartment, which was being searched. The outcome of the trial for him was two and a half years of restrictions on his liberty without a referral.
Snezhana Inanets is a journalist for TUT.BY and later for the Onliner portal. In her work, she dealt with environmental topics. Snezhana wrote, for example, about the problem of dense housing, the rescue of horses, the pollution of the Loshitsa River in Minsk with sewage water, and the state of the Titovka River. On October 6, 2022, she and her husband were detained, allegedly for subscribing to Telegram channels which the Belarusian authorities identified as extremist, as well as for participating in protest marches in 2020. The charges were brought under Article 342 of the Criminal Code – organisation and preparation of activities that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them. Snezhana and her husband Alexander Erastovich Lychavko were sentenced to two and a half to three years of restrictions on their liberty without a referral.
After the protests of civil society, which erupted in Belarus against the falsifying of the results of the latest presidential election, held in August 2020, the police and courts intensified their interference with citizens’ rights. Active Belarusian citizens are now persecuted and punished to a greater extent than previously for participating in anti-regime demonstrations, which, according to the local law, is a criminal offence. It is hard not to see it as a way in which the regime wants to settle accounts with its critics and inconvenient people.
The Aarhus Convention, of which Belarus is a signatory, prohibits the prosecution of activists exercising their environmental rights. However, the Belarusian state authorities have kept flouting these principles. The Aarhus Compliance Committee drew attention to this fact in its report of March 9, 2020. The committee noted that “persons seeking to exercise their rights under the Convention in the Party concerned remain at risk of penalisation, persecution, or harassment for doing so”.
Belarus refused to accept the findings of an independent investigation of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee and subsequently even, something without precedent, withdrew from the Convention. Despite this standpoint on the part of Belarus, the investigation report of the Compliance Committee was confirmed at the Seventh Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention. Not only the findings in the Committee’s report, but the cases gathered above provide evidence that Belarus has been persecuting and imprisoning environmental activists. This constitutes a violation of international law, and Belarus should ensure the cessation of such actions by its authorities against citizens.
BLR 20/12/2022 Happy holidays to eco-activists political prisons, Editor, Ecohome
BLR 13/01/2023 Who is Maxim Puchinsky? Ecodom will tell!, Telegram Ecohome
ENG 14/04/2021 Court Sentenced Bloggers “Who Started Protests In Belarus” To 3 Years In Jail, Belarusian Association of Journalists Media Watch
ENG 19/03/2022 APB/BirdLife Belarus shut down after 24 years of activity, BirdLife International
ENG 05/06/2023 Call Extremism - Article 19 Ms. Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus, Article19.org
ENG 09/11/2020 Strategies of Protests from Belarus, Karolina Koziura, Aliaksandr Bystryk, Public Seminar
ENG 2020 Brest activists under arrest for protests against battery factory, Stop-persecution.org
ENG 2020 Arrest of Irina Sukhy: Belarus authorities exploiting the political turmoil to persecute environmental activists, Stop-persecution.org
ENG 2020 Marina Dubina from Ecohome imprisoned. Arnika repeatedly calls for an end to the persecution in Belarus, Stop-persecution.org
ENG 09/03/2020 The international public concerned by persecution of defenders of environment in Belarus, Stop-persecution.org
ENG 27/10/2021 Belarus should stop persecuting environmental activists, UNECE countries insist, Stop-persecution.org
ENG 30/01/2023 Belarus has withdrawn from the Convention on environmental democracy, Arnika – Prague