Repression of the opposition in Belarus. Behind closed doors a court sentenced anarchists

From four and a half to five years in prison – such sentences were handed down to anarchists associated with the Prameń group. Their stories were described in the article about the activities of the Food not Bombs collective in Minsk. But these are not the only repressions faced by the protesters against Lukashenka’s and Putin’s policy.

Alexander Belov, Yevgeniy Rubashko and Artsiom Solova were sentenced to five years in prison, the namesake of the last convict, also Artsiom Solova, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. The men were detained in July 2021, in a wave of further arrests in the anarchist, but also more broadly, activist and opposition circles. The authorities accused them of taking part in the protests following Lukashenko’s rigged presidential election, and later added the charge of promoting extremism. The sentence was handed down on 22 April 2022.

In the sights of the authorities

The men had already been repressed for their activity in opposition to Lukashenko’s regime in 2020 and 2021, and had been detained after protests and served short sentences in Belarusian prisons. They were involved in the activities of the Minsk-based Food not Bombs collective, about which we wrote in, and participated in the work of the Prameń collective, which deals mainly with publishing activities.

A year after Lukashenko’s rigged elections, Prameń activists published a brochure called „When will we rise”, in which they analysed the lost – in their opinion – revolution of those days. They criticised the peaceful nature of the protests at the time and wrote: „Yes, we did not succeed in overthrowing Lukashenko in the summer of 2020, but the war against the dictatorship is not lost. The dictatorship will fall, and we will do everything to break its legs and become free at last!”.

Pramen has long been on the target of Belarusian services. During the investigation of the four detained anarchists, the collective was labelled an extremist organisation by the Lukashenko regime, just like a number of other organisations, associations and civic media, such as Nexta. Its former editor-in-chief Raman Pratasevich was arrested after Belarus famously hijacked a Ryanair flight from Greece to Vilnius.

What exactly was the verdict in the case of Belov, Rubashka and Solovievich – is not known. According to the Belarusian Anarchist Black Cross – a collective belonging to an international network that helps imprisoned anarchists and anti-fascists – it was announced behind closed doors.

Trial behind closed doors and beatings and torture

On 25 April, also behind closed doors, the trial of ten political prisoners began, including Marfa Rabkova, coordinator of volunteer activities of the Viasna association. Wiasna is a Belarusian human rights centre founded in 1996 which provides assistance to the repressed and political prisoners while suffering persecution.

Rabkova and Andrei Chapiuka, a Viasna volunteer will be tried along with eight anarchists. They have all been accused of organising, leading and taking part in the activities of Revolutionary Action, described as the oldest anarchist organisation in Belarus, and Ukrainian People’s Self-Defence, a left-wing political movement founded in December 2005 in opposition to then-president Viktor Yanukovych. Both organisations have been labelled extremist by the Belarusian regime.

Rabkova, Chapiuk and some of the anarchists were detained in the second half of 2020, the remaining anarchists have been in custody since March 2021.

The immediate and unconditional release of Rabkova was called for, among others, by Amnesty International. In turn, the Wiasna association reported on her deteriorating health and denial of access to doctors.

Rabkova has twice complained of loss of consciousness and has twice undergone Covid-19, in August and December 2021; she also identified symptoms of the disease in herself in early 2022. She also suffers from chronic lymphadenitis and abdominal pain. An ultrasound, for which she waited until March 2022, revealed the presence of fluid in the pelvis minor. She requires gynaecological and surgical consultation, which the authorities have consistently refused.

In a letter she sent to her parents last November, she conveyed that she could face up to 20 years in prison. Marfa Rabkova is 26 years old.

Of the defendants, together with Marfa Rabkova, at least three prisoners suffered torture and physical violence at the hands of the services.

The Viasna Association mentions Alexander Frantskevich, who, according to his fellow inmates, was tortured by the KGB. The man was, among other things, electrocuted in order to force a confession. Akikhiro Hanada and Alyaksandr Kazlianka were also beaten in custody.

Anarchists in penal colonies

Another four anarchist-partisans’ received record sentences” from 18 to 20 years in prison and were sent to penal colonies. Dmitry Dubouski, Dmitry Rezanovich, Ihar Alinevich and Sierhei Ramanau were convicted on 22 December, with a recent appeal court upholding the sentence. Viasna reports that Dubouski was placed in solitary confinement on 16 March, this punishment was extended until 5 April.

According to anarchist networks, after the appeal hearing Dubouski was able to talk to his sister. He had visibly lost weight and conveyed that he was on a hunger strike. He said to send greetings to „his comrades who from Kurdistan to Ukraine are fighting for freedom with arms in their hands”.

Mikola Dziadok, one of Belarus’ leading anarchists, is also in a penal colony. Dziadok was detained in November 2020. During his arrest, he was beaten and then forced to appear in front of a camera and deliver a self-criticism in which he admitted to anti-state activities. He spent almost a year in custody and was eventually sentenced to five years.

This is the second, such a long sentence on the account of the anarchist. Dziadok served his first sentence between 2010 and 2015. After serving that sentence, he was still active, including publishing a book „Colours of the parallel world” (the Polish translation will be published in May by Oficyna Trojka), in which he described the reality of Belarusian prisons.

Viasna, but also the Belarusian Anarchist Black Cross inform about the pressure to which Dziadok is subjected in the penal colony. He does not receive correspondence, he is put in solitary confinement, he is denied visits. On 10 March this year, he was placed in a maximum security cell for four months. Prisoners who make any contact with him are also punished. In this way, as a political prisoner, he is isolated from other prisoners.

Partisans as political prisoners

Anarchists and anti-fascists who oppose the Russian aggression against Ukraine are also sent to prisons and detention centres. We have already written about the detention of Krystyna (Kita) and Fyodor (Xvedia) Cherenkov. Kita is facing up to five years in prison for publicly proclaiming anti-war views and criticising the Belarusian authorities and the actions of the militia. Apart from Kita, criminal charges were also heard by Anna Pysznik – Anna will be responsible for supporting extremist activities, i.e. sending videos to the telegram channel Nexta.

There have also been more than ten recent cases in Belarus of active opposition to Putin’s military actions and Lukashenko’s unconditional support for him. These include direct attacks on railway infrastructure, which have resulted in stoppages in the supply of military equipment and ammunition to the Russian army. According to the Viasna centre, at least 11 people have recently been detained for guerrilla actions. The organisation has given all of them the status of political prisoners. They are:

  • Siarhei Hlebka, who blocked train crossings by placing two bales of wood on the tracks and then setting them on fire. The man was detained in early March.
  • Dmitry Ravich, Aleh Malchanau and Dzianis Dzikun, who set fire to a relay cabinet at Astankevich station. The fire caused the lights and railway transmissions to fail. Trains to the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr pass through Astenkievičy station. The men were detained on 4 March.
  • Siarheri Kanavalau, an employee of the Vitebsk branch of the Belarusian Railways was alleged to have planned an „act of terrorism”. The man allegedly planned to disable security systems on the railway. He was detained on 6 March.
  • Siarhei Pliashkun and Yuryi Selvich were said to be preparing to set fire to a transport for the Russian army, for which purpose they stored bottles with a flammable substance. They were detained on 10 March.
  • Yauhen Minkevich, Dzmitryi Klimau and Uladzimir Auramtsau allegedly burned two relay cabinets near Asipovici. The men were detained on 30 March, after a chase during which at least one of them was shot.

To prison for a sticker?

The Belarusian regime punishes severely both for active and passive resistance and for seemingly minor offences. This is most clearly demonstrated by the case of three Belarusians who distributed stickers with the inscription 'All Belarus hates cops’ and the Internet address of the Pramien collective.

The group was arrested at the end of December and sentences were handed down on 23 March. Ryta Zotava and Mikita Khilkevich each received two years in a penal colony, and Vadzim Dzienisenka received two and a half years in a penal colony.

Bartosz Rumieńczyk
Translated from