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Belarus Weekly: Russia puts 400 more Belarusians on its wanted list

by Maria Yeryoma May 24, 2024 2:59 PM 8 min read
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his press conference at the Harbin Institute of Technology, May 17, 2024, in Harbin, China. (Contributor/Getty Images)
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The regime of dictator Alexander Lukashenko cracks down on the 257 candidates registered to join the exiled opposition council.

Over a hundred Belarusians living abroad accused of ‘forming an extremist group’ and ‘discrediting Belarus’ by celebrating Freedom Day in their countries of refuge.

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Belarus Weekly

UK intensifies sanctions against Belarus with an import ban on aluminum. Still, Minsk remains Moscow’s key loophole for sanction circumvention.

Sweden pledges $467,000 to the newly established International Humanitarian Fund for Victims of Repression in Belarus, initiated by opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Russia expands its wanted list to include 400 more Belarusians who oppose the Lukashenko regime.

Russia puts 400 more Belarusians on its wanted list

Over 400 Belarusians have been added to the criminal investigation database of the Russian Interior Ministry over the past three months, independent Russian media outlet Mediazona reported on May 15.

The Russian Interior Ministry wanted list was first found to include over 3,100 Belarusian citizens in February 2024.

The list includes independent journalists and human rights advocates, former political prisoners, and prominent opposition figures, such as members of the Belarusian United Transitional Cabinet Valery Sakhashchyk and Volha Harbunova, former Belarusian ambassador to Argentina Uladzimir Astapenka, and two advisers of exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya – Aliaksandr Dabravolski and Franak Viachorka.

Within the three-month period, about 30 Belarusians associated with volunteer units in Ukraine and 30 former political prisoners were also added to the wanted list.

Other new entries include Vadzim Prakopiev, a politician and blogger sentenced to 25 years in absentia, Pavel Mitskevich, the founder of the “Okno na Wschód” (Window to the East) aid fund, and activists Ihar Sluchak and Alina Nahornaya, who advocate for the use of the Belarusian language in the public sectors.

Opinion: Why is Ukraine rejecting the Belarusian opposition?
Immediately after World War II, the Paris-exiled Polish intellectual Jerzy Giedroyc (of Lithuanian origins, born in Minsk) coined a phrase that would come to define Poland’s foreign policy toward its eastern neighbors: “There will be no independent Poland without an independent Belarus, Lithuania,…

Uladzimir Martau, an intensive care physician who exposed the regime Alexander Lukashenko’s lies about the COVID-19 death toll, was arrested on May 14 near Saint Petersburg in Russia.

Martau has been charged with organizing an “extremist formation” for creating a podcast series with the Belarusian branch of U.S. state-funded news service RFE/RL, and faces up to seven years of imprisonment.

The Belarusian doctor is currently in detention ahead of his expected extradition to Belarus.

Mediazona also reported that 200 names had been taken off the wanted list. Russian law enforcers earlier removed Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s name from the list, allegedly after establishing that she resided in the European Union.

Currently, the Russian Interior Ministry’s list includes 3,400 Belarusians. In 2022 alone, Russia extradited 16 Belarusians accused of “extremism” – a charge widely used against political opponents of the Lukashenko regime.

Belarus and Russia are part of the Interstate Wanted Persons Treaty of the Commonwealth of Independent States or CIS, the Russian-led political alliance of former post-Soviet countries.

The international police organization Interpol has stopped executing Belarusian politically motivated search warrants. However, Belarusians are subject to extradition in Russia and most CIS countries.

Minsk opens probe against candidates to opposition body representing exiled Belarusians

Belarusian investigative authorities have opened criminal cases against all 257 candidates in the elections to the Coordination Council, the representative body of the country’s opposition in exile, Belarusian Investigative Committee press office reported on May 21.

In addition to “conspiracy to seize power,” the opposition activists are charged with calling for actions against national security, the creation of an “extremist” formation, and assisting “extremist” activities.

The security agency claimed that measures, including searches and seizures of property, had already been taken against the defendants in the case.

The creation of the Coordination Council was announced on Aug. 14, 2020, at the height of anti-Lukashenko protests in Belarus after contested presidential elections. The body, which is nominally headed by opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was established to engage in talks between the protesters and the incumbent authorities and, eventually, to negotiate a transition of power.

People attend a demonstration in support of Belarusian prisoners of conscience in Warsaw, Poland, on 18 May, 2024. (Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

However, Lukashenko, who insisted he had won the elections by a landslide, claimed the creation of the council was “an attempt to seize power.”

Most Western countries did not recognize the legitimacy of the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. Lukashenko’s claim to have been elected president was recognized mainly by authoritarian countries and dictatorships, including Russia, China and North Korea.

The Coordination Council is set to hold its first direct elections on May 25-27, rebranding itself as a proto-parliament, and an alternative to the Belarusian Parliament, re-elected in sham voting in February 2024.

The 257 candidates for the council will run for 112 seats in 12 election lists. Each list of candidates was separately ruled to be an extremist formation by Belarus’s notorious KGB security agency on May 16.

While many analysts doubt the council’s ability to impact the political crisis in Belarus significantly, it is referred to as a training ground in democracy for Belarusians after 30 years of being ruled by Lukashenko without free and fair elections.

UK sanctions Belarus’ aluminum, electronics

The United Kingdom has imposed import restrictions on Belarusian aluminum and the support services accompanying its supply, U.K. resource Global Sanctions reported on May 21.

New bans, effective as of May 16, were also introduced in trade with Belarus in goods and technologies related to electronics, navigation and avionics, aerospace equipment, and propulsion systems, Global Sanctions said.

The new provisions add to the U.K.’s sanction package against Belarus, which has been amended over the past four years to reflect Belarus’s complicity in Russia’s war against Ukraine and political repression of Belarusian civil society in the aftermath of the 2020 post-presidential elections protests.

The UK recently placed restrictions on missile producer Precision Electromechanics Plant and microelectronics manufacturer Planar, and sanctioned 17 Belarusian judges, prosecutors, and investigators who took part in politically motivated prosecutions in Belarus.

A staunch Kremlin ally, Belarus serves as a gateway for sanctioned goods on their way to Russia. Norwegian risk consultancy Corisk estimates that 10 billion euros ($10.8 billion) worth of goods reached Russia via Belarus in 2022-2023.

Belarusian opposition working to create ‘alternative’ passport, safeguard exiles from Lukashenko regime
Editor’s Note: The full names and some of the locations of the Belarusian citizens quoted in this article have been omitted at their request to protect their identities and those of their loved ones. After participating in protests and later witnessing the defeat of the Belarusian revolution in 202…

Sweden to contribute $467,000 to Belarus’ Political Prisoners’ Fund

Sweden intends to contribute 5 million krona (roughly $467,000) to the International Humanitarian Fund for Victims of Repression in Belarus, Sweden’s Minister for International Cooperation and Trade Johan Forssell has announced.

The announcement of the planned contribution was made on May 21 – the day of Solidarity with Belarusian political prisoners – when opposition Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya visited Stockholm.

Tsikhanouskaya’s visit was organized by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Stockholm Center for Eastern European Studies.

Tsikhanouskaya founded the International Humanitarian Fund for Victims of Repression in Belarus in April 2024 in Norway, with the Norwegian government pledging to contribute 10 million krone ($900,000). The funds will be used to provide medical and psychological help to political prisoners and help them rehabilitate following their political persecution.

Human rights groups currently recognize over 1,300 Belarusians as political prisoners, but the real number is likely as high as 5,000, according to former political prisoner Volha Harbunova, now Tsikhanouskaya’s advisor.

In detention, the health of political prisoners often drastically deteriorates. The humanitarian list of those in dire need of medical help that cannot be provided in detention includes 250 individuals.

At least five prisoners who were subjected to politically motivated prosecution have died in detention. Following their release, former political prisoners struggle to find a job in Belarus, and face repeated persecution by the regime.

New round of raids in Belarus targets over 100 exiled activists

The Investigative Committee of Belarus carried out raids and initiated property seizures against 104 exiled Belarusian activists in response to their celebration of a historic holiday, Freedom Day, the service’s press office reported on May 16.

The exiled activists are accused of “forming an extremist group” and “discrediting Belarus” over their alleged participation in the celebration of Dzien Voli (Freedom Day), which marks the day in 1918 when Belarus declared its independence.

Celebrating this historic Independence Day on March 25 is prohibited in Belarus itself, but it is widely observed among Belarusian diasporas.

According to the investigators, by supporting “Tsikhanouskaya’s call to mark Freedom Day,” Belarusian diaspora activists “harmed the strategic national interests of the Republic of Belarus in ensuring the independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty, and inviolability of the constitutional order.”

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A representative of the Belarusian Investigative Committee, Siarhei Kabakovich, claimed to have tracked down participants of Freedom Day rallies in Poland, Lithuania, Belgium, Georgia, the Czech Republic, the United States and other countries, identified their property, and initiated arrests and seizures of the said property.

The press office reported that in absentia proceedings and a trial against 104 activists are to follow. If found guilty, defendants face up to seven years of imprisonment, fines of up to $620,000, and the seizure of their property.

The new charges are related to the so-called “People’s Embassies” case – an investigation launched on March 20 against over 100 diaspora activists who advocated for exiled Belarusians in their countries of refuge.

Property seizures are the latest addition to the regime of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s toolkit of repression for targeting activists in exile. Following an in absentia investigation and trial, to which the defendants have virtually no access, they are found guilty and subjected to hefty fines to compensate for alleged “damages.”

To pay the fines, the convicted persons’ property in Belarus is arrested and then sold by a government-run firm that expanded its offline operations in 2023.

Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners of Belarus

Three years ago, the Viasna Human Rights Center designated May 21 as the Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners of Belarus. Belarusian activist Vitold Ashurak died in a Belarusian prison on the same day in 2021. Since then, five more political prisoners have died in captivity: Mikalai Klimovich, Ales Pushkin, Vadim Hrasko, Ihar Lednik, and Alexander Kulinich.

Besides being unlawfully prosecuted, Belarusian political prisoners all have almost no access to medical care in prison, potentially putting their lives in danger. At least 254 political prisoners face the risk of dying behind bars today, Viasna activists say.

Since 2020, politically motivated sentences have been handed down to more than 5,000 people, and at least 3,200 of them faced imprisonment in inhumane conditions. These conservative numbers continue to grow, as the Lukashenko regime opens new criminal investigations and arbitrarily detains hundreds of Belarusians every month.

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