Minsk activist, symbal.by founder Pavel Belavus transferred to remand prison

Pavel Belavus, the founder of the Symbal.by store, was transferred from the ‘Akrestsin’ detention centre to remand prison Nr 1 on Valadarski Street in Minsk, Telegram channel BY_culture reports.

The man has been behind bars since November 15. At first, he was tried under the Code of Administrative Offences three times, which resulted in placing him under arrest.

The latest jail term imposed on him as part of an administrative case expired on December 23, but Pavel Belavus was not released. He was taken to the Belarusian Investigative Committee instead, his flat was searched and equipment was confiscated. A criminal case was initiated against him for ‘organising and preparing actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them’ (Article 342 of the Criminal Code). If one is found guilty under this article, they may be sentenced to 4 years in jail.

The Belarusian human rights community recognised Pavel Belavus as a political prisoner.

Cultural activist Pavel Belavus sentenced to 15 days in jail

Pavel Belavus is the creator and former owner of symbal.by, an iconic store selling clothes, books, souvenirs, national symbols in white-red-white colours. He is also one of the founders of the creative venue Art Syadziba; its main goal was to promote the Belarusian language and culture among young people.

In 2020, Symbal.by got on the wrong side of the authorities due to the owners’ and workers’ civic-mindedness. In June, over 400 T-shirts were seized from the courier of the store by the Minsk police. The then inspections found some ‘violations’ at the store and a document on termination of production was issued, while the police took away nine white-red-white flags. Tax and anti-fraud agencies checked the store; utility services were refusing to turn on the electricity at the store for a week.

On 30 January 2021, officers of the Financial Investigations Department raided the store in Minsk; they detained employees Mikita Brouka, Kseniya Miklasheuskaya, Volha Ihnatava, Anastasiya Trafimchyk. Later, Brouka and Miklasheuskaya were sentenced to 20 days of administrative arrest each.

In March, both permanent and online Symbal.by shops were ultimately shut down for an indefinite period. According to Pavel Belavus, the firm was ‘killed’, but the team hopes that one day ‘it comes to life again’. The company’s website informed that all the things that had happened to them resulted in their inability to rent premises for further business activity as well as maintain the staff.

People brutally detained by riot police outside store in Minsk