A wave of mass repressions against the opposition, activists and the media is underway in Belarus. The vast majority of cases end in real significant terms of imprisonment for their defendants. Moreover, according to our information from sources in the Ukrainian special services, the process of Russia’s creeping “absorption” of Belarus continues: the republican KGB currently employs many representatives of the FSB of the Russian Federation.
The judiciary has finally degraded, so even the slightest ways to protect one’s rights do not exist. People are driven to despair, some commit public suicide.
In particular, on May 25, 17-year-old Dmitry Stakhovsky, who was a suspect in the case of “mass riots” on August 9-11, 2020, committed suicide leaving a death note on social media. In it, the teenager blamed the investigative committee for his death and complained of pressure by security officers.
On June 1, political prisoner Stepan Latypov attempted suicide during a court hearing. Earlier, he stated that GUBOZ (Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption – ed.) threatened him with criminal cases against relatives and neighbors if he pleaded not guilty. According to his father Stepan, since April 11, his son has been kept in a punishment isolation cell with people with mental disorders.
Sometimes the actions of law enforcement officers become absurd. For instance, on May 31, 78-year-old pensioner Galina Ivanova was fined $1717 for a flower she laid at the death site of Alexander Taraikovsky, the first Belarusian activist to die during mass protests. The elderly woman was accused of picketing “by raising her hand and laying one tulip”.
Persecution of journalists and the media
In the last few weeks, most independent media outlets which tried to continue working inside the country have been completely destroyed.
The largest Belarusian portal TUT.BY (actually an analog of the Russian Yandex) was blocked, the website of the source is currently down, and the vast majority of employees were arrested. In late May-early June, some employees of the portal were released from jail, and those released tell about the inhumane conditions of detention, tortures, threats and more.
A similar fate befell the employees of BELSAT TV channel, some employees were detained, another part was evacuated to Kyiv, the channel continues to work, but without a studio in Belarus.
On May 18, a journalist with “The Belarusians and the Market” Artyom Mayorov was detained. He came to cover the rummage in the TUT.BY main office. Artyom was convicted of “petty hooliganism”. He was released on June 2 after 15 days of administrative arrest.
On January 29, searches of Hrodna.life, one of the few resources that remained to work and fairly covered the events in Belarus, took place. An administrative case was initiated on the fact of searches. The editorial office faces a fine of up to 14 500 Belarusian rubles (about 5,5 thousand dollars). After the searches, security officers confiscated flash drives, a laptop, four cameras, a drone, and Hrodna.life printed materials. According to the security forces themselves, the search was carried out because one of the website materials contained an image with the watermark of the telegram channel, which was considered extremist (probably Nexta live).
On May 30, Hrodna.life editor-in-chief Alexei Shota was also detained. He was later released, but a report was drawn up under Article 19.11 of the Administrative Offences Code “Distribution, manufacture, storage, transportation of information products that contain calls for extremist activities or promote such activities”.
On June 1, a journalist with the Tribuna sports portal Dmitriy Ruto was detained in a car for wearing a white-red-white scarf. He was found guilty of “illegal picketing” – Article 24.23 of the Administrative Offences Code.
Journalist Denis Ivanov received 15 days of arrest under the article on disobedience (Article 24.3 of the Administrative Offences Code), according to his relatives. He was detained on June 1 at work and taken to the Soviet District Department of Internal Affairs. He spent the night in solitary confinement.
On June 2, Tribuna journalist and “Krumkachou” footballer Alexander Ivulin, as well as “Chestnokov” project editor Yaroslav Pisarenko, were detained. They were taken from the apartment by plainclothes men and taken away in two cars in an unknown direction. In August, Pisarenko resigned from BGTRK (Belarusian state television and radio company), where he worked as a news anchor.
This is only the information that was found in open sources. Most likely, the scope of detentions is significantly bigger.
Ideological work with youth
It is obvious that the current government of Belarus has drawn conclusions from last year’s protests. Along with the detention of opposition leaders and the suppression of journalists, the Republic of Belarus is closely monitoring the youth who were the driving force behind the protest movement. To suppress opposition sentiments, the Belarusian authorities are expelling young activists from universities, detain and convict them.
In Belarus, they are also monitoring the “correct” ideological training of military servicemen, especially young people, 2021 conscripts. In such a way, according to several of our sources in the Ukrainian special services, the command of the Armed Forces of Belarus has developed recommendations to military commissariats and commanders of military units on the organization of ideological work with conscripts who took part in protests in 2020-2021.
In particular, it is recommended to send them to military units with a high level of combat training and to minimize all communication with the former environment. In such a way, the Belarusian Armed Forces hope to completely re-educate young people from the “risk group”.
In addition, the military commissariats are recommended to work with the families of opposition recruits, the administration of educational institutions, and former heads of institutions where they worked.
Roman Protasevich, the former editor-in-chief of the opposition Belarusian Telegram channel Nexta, who was detained on May 23, admitted to organizing mass riots and declared his respect to self-proclaimed President Lukashenko.
The “confession” took place in the format of an “interview” with the pro-government Belarusian TV channel ONT. There were visible handcuff wounds on the oppositionist’s wrists, and his hands were swollen.
The video with Protasevich was actively distributed by the state media and even broadcast on advertising screens in some large cities, including the capital of Belarus. Probably in this way, the authorities are trying to suppress and instill despair among all participants in opposition rallies and citizens who are dissatisfied with the current political situation in the country.
Prohibition to leave the country
The last legal and relatively easy way to leave the territory of the Republic of Belarus was by air, but after the introduced ban on flights through the country and the imposed sanctions against Belavia, leaving the territory of Belarus de facto becomes too difficult.
From December 2020, leaving Belarus through land checkpoints is temporarily restricted for both Belarusian citizens and foreigners who have a permanent or temporary residence permit in Belarus. Only transit through Russia is left.
In fact, the legislation in Belarus no longer works, but to legitimize the repression, the authorities have passed even stricter laws that close the door on any disobedience.
The amendments include a ban on rallies, a ban on journalists’ work during protests, a change in the procedure for approving protests, a total ban on collecting money to pay fines or to help detainees. Authorities also received a legal opportunity to turn off the Internet, television and block public transport, etc.
The amendments also affected the Labor Code, and new reasons for dismissal emerged. In such a way, from June 30, Belarusians may lose their jobs because of absence from work due to administrative arrest. In this case, the striking employee can be fired without prior notice or prior consent of the labor union. At the same time, the previously announced innovation in labor legislation, which could really improve the situation, has not yet been introduced.
Meanwhile, self-proclaimed President Lukashenko signed the resolution of the Security Council № 1 “On Measures to Ensure the National Security of the Republic of Belarus”. It instructs the Government of the Republic of Belarus to prepare a draft law amending the laws “On State of Emergency” and “On Martial Law” “in order to establish additional conditions for preventing and neutralizing risks, challenges and threats to national security”.
Artificial “iron curtain”
Repressions and persecutions, as well as the virtual neutralization of the opposition media, have a strong impact on Belarusian civil society. The Belarusian language and even the clothes of the colors of the national historical flag (white-red-white), with which the opposition went to protests – can cause a fine or detention. The white-red-white flag and the slogan “Long live Belarus” may soon be included in the list of “Nazi symbols”. In particular, the KGB of Belarus received the relevant draft act of the Ministry of Internal Affairs “On forming the lists of organizations and other structures, Nazi symbols and attributes” for approval.
The arrests themselves and their true number are unknown.
Also, according to our sources, many representatives of Russia’s FSB currently work in the Belarusian KGB.
Their tasks include:
- search and initiation of cases against all activists who took part in opposition events.
- search and ways to extradite opposition activists outside Belarus to the country.
An example of such “cooperation” is the demonstrative operation to detain the former editor-in-chief of the NEXTA telegram channel Roman Protasevich.
In addition, according to our sources, at each border checkpoint in the territorial offices of the KGB are three staff members of the FSB. They are based there under various legends and are engaged in interaction on operations, exchange of experience and so-called filtering actions (recruitment of the local residents, etc.).
So it is already clear that the Belarusian authorities have decided to take all protest activity in the country into a strong grip, as it:
- cleared all uncontrolled mass media,
- banned any national symbols,
- beheaded and intimidated the opposition,
- continues its efforts to bring active civil society to a state of despair and has demonstrated that any protest activity will be met very harshly,
- undertook active re-education of opposition youth in the army to eliminate disobedience,
- amended the legislation of the Republic of Belarus, in particular the Labor Code, to prevent mass strikes of employees of enterprises, as it was in 2020.
On the one hand, all these measures contribute to the establishment of an “iron curtain” between Belarus and the West and turn Belarus into a rogue state. On the other hand, an artificial impression of a non-alternative course for the further rapprochement of Belarus with Russia is being created. Moreover, the information about the presence of representatives of Russia’s FSB in the Belarusian KGB only confirms the fact that the current situation in Belarus is not only beneficial to the Kremlin but also coordinated directly from the latter.
Photo: AP Authors: Borys Hrachov, Oksana Kuzan