On 23 January, according to the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, 84 people were detained in Belarus for “participation in an extremist formation” and “financing of extremist activities”.

Foto: Stringer / EPA-EFE

The detainees included relatives of political prisoners and former political prisoners.

At the same time, the local authorities recognised as extremist the INeedHelpBy initiative, which helps pay for groceries for the families of repressed people and compatriots in a difficult financial situation after the repressions.

Irina Khalip reports on the details of what happened for Novaya Gazeta Europe.

Khapun is not only a Belarusian word, but also a Belarusian phenomenon. The origin of the word is the verb “hapatsi” (to grab). It can be literally translated as “khvatun” or draw analogies with “vintage” familiar to Russians. But if in Russian this word sounds comical, in Belarusian it is clear and convincing. This is the name of the tactics of the Belarusian police under Alexander Lukashenko, who has an animal fear of any manifestation not only of activity, but also of any “doublethink,” as well as has given the law enforcers full freedom of action without any restrictions.

On 23 January, a hapun took place in Belarus, the equal of which hasn’t happened for a long time. It is understandable that after the mass actions in 2020, people were detained by hundreds. Of course, Belarusians are arrested almost every day for participation in those August protests in 2020. The law enforcement offices are still watching videos of the Minsk marches, establishing identities.

But since Belarus made a reverse time jump and came into its thirty-seventh year, there have been no such large-scale campaigns.

84 detainees – such data were given by the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” late last night. And these are not arbitrarily taken people from old videos – these are former political prisoners and relatives of current political prisoners. According to “Viasna,” the KGB resolutions included the articles of the Criminal Code “financing of extremist activity” and “participation in an extremist formation.

Among the detainees is Maryna Adamovich, wife of Belarusian opposition leader Nikolai Statkevich. Nikolai was arrested back in May 2020, along with blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky. On 14 December 2021, he was sentenced to 14 years of special regime and sent to colony No. 13 in Hluboki. There he immediately found himself in a SHIZO, after that – in a PKT, and so on in a circle. He was deprived of calls, transfers and visits. For almost a year – since February last year – there has been no news about Statkevich. Even his lawyer is not allowed to visit him, and Marina receives standard answers to all her complaints to the Department of Corrections: the prisoner did not apply for a meeting with his lawyer. It is only known that in the colony, the 67-year-old political prisoner was four times covid, but even medical parcels with authorised medicines were returned to Marina. They were not accepted.

Белорусский оппозиционер Николай Статкевич. Фото: Michal Fludra / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Belarusian opposition activist Nikolai Statkevich. Photo: Michal Fludra / NurPhoto / Getty Images

In November, rumours leaked out of the same colony No. 13 that Nikolai might no longer be alive. Marina did not comment on anything: she is probably the most experienced wife of a political prisoner and understands perfectly well that any word she utters in public could harm Nikolai (although it could be much worse), and lead her to prison.

By the way, they got married in the colony in 2011, when Statkevich was serving his previous term. Then he, a presidential candidate in the 2010 elections, was sentenced to six years in prison under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus “organisation of mass riots” (now he is imprisoned under the same article: the sanction provides from 5 to 15 years of imprisonment). At that time Nikolai was serving his sentence in Shklou colony #17.

They have been married for 12 years, but have lived together for less than five. For more than seven years Marina Adamovich has been waiting for her husband from prison, collecting parcels that are not accepted and going to meetings with the prison authorities in the hope that at least one of them might turn out to be a human being. But they don’t. And in her Facebook experienced Marina posts only her pets (she and Nikolay have five cats and a dog) and impartially reports how many days there is no news about her husband. On 23 January Marina Adamovich’s page was deleted. It is unknown whether she managed to do it herself, while the law enforcers were breaking the door, or whether they did it after gaining access. On the night of 24 January it was only known that Maryna was taken to Zavodskoe police department of Minsk.

They couldn’t touch her Facebook page if they wanted to. Relatives of political prisoners know very well how cases of participation in an extremist formation are “sewn up”. The scheme is very simple. All independent media in Belarus are recognised as extremist formations. And any comment to such a “formation”, any answer to the most innocent question of a journalist (“tell us when you last received a letter from your husband”) is a sentence. This is an article of the Criminal Code, and there is a complete variety here: it may be 361-4 (“assistance to extremist activity”), or it may be 361-1 (“creation of an extremist formation or participation in it”).


Дочь Николая Статкевича Катя Статкевич (слева) и жена Марина Адамович, держат фотографию отца и мужа, удостоенного Специальной премии имени Вилля Брандта, в Берлине, 24 января 2013 года

Statkevich’s daughter Katya Statkevich (left) and wife Marina Adamovich, holding a photo of her father and husband, who was awarded the Will Brandt Special Prize, in Berlin, 24 January 2013

This is how Daria Losik, the wife of blogger Ihar Losik, Statkevich’s “accomplice”, ended up in the women’s colony in Homel.

Igor was sentenced to 15 years in prison (for the same mass riots, although he, Mikalai Statkevich and Siarhei Tikhanouski were detained before the protests started in Belarus). In May 2022, his wife Daria gave an interview to Belsat. She did not stigmatise the bloody regime, did not call the law enforcers criminals – she just talked about her husband, love and daughter Paulina. And in October of the same year Daria was detained. It turns out that the interview was “promoting extremist activity”. Daria was sentenced to two years in prison. The prosecutor said that Daria “positioned herself as the wife of a political prisoner”. This is also an offence. And now, in the early morning of 24 January, nobody knows when Marina Adamovich will return home.

Another detainee is 76-year-old Boris Khamaida from Vitsebsk. Probably everyone in Belarus knows Hamaida, and certainly everyone in Vitsebsk. Back in 1990 he created a club of voters “For Free Elections” in Vitebsk, and then he started to publish the newspaper “Vibor” with the money earned in the late eighties on a “shabashka” in Siberia. When the newspaper was closed down, he published underground. And for two decades he went to the centre of Vitebsk every day in any weather to distribute independent newspapers. There are no more such newspapers in Belarus, and Boris is already 76 years old. This is a man about whom even the propaganda SB-Belarus Today, the official organ of Lukashenka’s administration, wrote with respect a few years ago. On 23 January the KGB came for Barys Khamaida.


Борис Хамайда. Фото: соцсети

Boris Hamaida. Photo: social networks

At six o’clock in the morning former political prisoner Aleksei Romanau was taken from his home in Homel. Aleksei had already served a year in the colony on charges of publicly insulting Lukashenka and stayed to live in Belarus. He has a cancerous disease. He was sent to the colony as a disabled person of the second group, but after his release his disability was removed (the Belarusian penal colony is the most all-union health resort in the world).

Simultaneously with the detentions, the law enforcers distributed information about the recognition of websites, Telegram channels, chat rooms, films and pages in social networks as extremist. For example, Leninsky Court of Mahiliou declared extremist the film by Ilya Varlamov “Belarus: tyranny of Lukashenko, Chernobyl and union with Russia / Country of the KGB and collective farms,” which was filmed in 2021 and gained three and a half million views on YouTube.

And INeedHelpBy, a social solidarity project that helps the families of political prisoners and people who found themselves in difficult financial situations after the repression, has also found itself in the extremists. Those who want to help can pay through INeedHelpBy to deliver a fortnight’s worth of food to an individual or family. Just food, nothing else – no secret “Zhyve Belarus!”, no flag, no secret sign. But now buckwheat, rice and sunflower oil are also extremists. Well and all right, now at least we, Belarusians, will be in good company, we will definitely not starve to death.

Those who have never lived in Belarus, but only read about it in the news, could not help but wonder: why now? After all, no special upheavals were and are not expected in the sluggish thirty-seventh Belarusian year.

Of course, one can put a theoretical basis for any event: Lukashenko’s meeting with Putin, Lukashenko’s trip to Africa, the sale of a factory or a meeting with law enforcers. Anything except repressions. Because the question “why now?” sounds the same as “why me?”. A Belarusian law enforcer will always answer any “why” directly: by the kochan.

Published by novayagazeta.eu