On September 28, security forces broke into the Minsk apartment of Andrey Zeltsar, an employee of Epam Systems, who was reportedly suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. A shooting broke out, during which Andrey and one of the security officers, a KGB officer, were killed.
During 2020–2021, Belarus has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of criminal cases initiated under ‘terrorist’ articles. Belsat.eu found out whom the Lukashenka regime considers ‘terrorists’ and how the authorities manipulate the topic of the terrorist threat.
Until 2020, the use of accusations of ‘terrorism’ for political purposes was rare. Most often it was not so much about persecution as about preventive intimidation of society at the propaganda level. For example, in the run-up to the 2006 presidential election, then-KGB chairman Stsyapan Sukharenka said that the actions of protesting people would be considered terrorism and punished even by death. However, these threats were not realized: in 2006, a ‘terrorist’ article was not used to persecute protesters.
In fact, until 2020 there was only one case where Art. 289 of the Criminal Code (‘Act of Terrorism’) became a means for real criminal prosecution of dissidents: this is the ‘Autukhovich case’ of 2009-2010. Mikalai Autukhovich was then accused of attempting to assassinate the Deputy Minister of Taxes and Duties and the chairman of the Hrodna regional executive committee. However, the charges of terrorism were dropped in court.
Last year the situation began to change. In the context of the political crisis and mass protests, the secret services turned ‘terrorist’ articles of the Criminal Code into one of the key means of persecuting opponents and intimidating society.
The new course was launched on October 27, 2020 – the day on which Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya called a nationwide strike. Then the KGB stated that some actions of the protesters could be considered acts of terrorism. In particular, this is how the KGB proposed to qualify cases of arson and closure of railways in order to stop the movement of trains. The next day, Alyaksandr Lukashenka publicly approved this approach:
“These are actions of organized criminal groups with signs of terrorism. We are beginning to face terrorist threats.”
The special services soon announced the first detainees accused of ‘terrorism’: the so-called Alinevich group and the Autukhovich group.
Anarchists Ihar Alinevich, Dzmitry Dubouski, Dzmitry Razanovich and Syarhei Ramanau were detained in late October 2020 near the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. They were accused of setting fire to the traffic police department in Mazyr and cars near the prosecutor’s office in Salihorsk.
Mikalai Autukhovich was detained in early December, along with 12 other people whom the KGB considers his accomplices. Autukhovich’s group is accused of three attacks. The first two took place on October 2, 2020 in Vaukavysk: a car of a local police inspector and his unfinished house in the Paudniovy district were set on fire.
The third action, attributed to Autukhovich’s group, is the blow up of the car of riot policeman Aleh Sedach. The incident took place on the night of November 20 in Hrodna. It was a light ‘clap’, which led to only minor damage to the front of the car – even the windshield remained intact.
The cases of the ‘Alinevich group’ and the ‘Autukhovich group’ are united by two fundamental circumstances. First, both Alinevich and Autukhovich really did not believe in the effectiveness of peaceful protests and allowed violent methods of struggle. As Valyantsina Alinevich noted, her son believes that he and his associates ‘used the right to revolt, because they left no other way to change the regime of the people’.
Secondly, no one was harmed by the actions of Alinevich and Autukhovich. The very nature of such actions suggests that their organizers specifically wanted to avoid casualties: the arson took place at night, when no one was around and people could not be hurt.
It is noteworthy that initially, for the actions attributed to Autukhovich and Alinevich, law enforcement officers at the local level opened criminal cases for ‘malicious hooliganism’ and ‘deliberate destruction or damage to property’. However, then the top management intervened and reclassified the charge under Art. 289 (‘Act of Terrorism’). Obviously, it was a political decision.
Previously, such arsons and ‘claps’ were never considered terrorist attacks by Belarusian special services. In 2010, activists Yauhen Vaskovich, Artsyom Prakapenka, Pavel Syramolatau threw ‘Molotov cocktails’ at the KGB building in Babruisk, and in 2012 a Vitsebsk resident blew up a primitive explosive device near the building of the regional State Security Committee. In both cases, no one was injured, and the authorities opened cases under less severe articles. But in 2020, for similar actions, the secret services already filed cases for ‘terrorism’.
In total, according to official statistics, in 2020 10 criminal cases were instituted in Belarus for ‘act of terrorism’ (Article 289 of the Criminal Code), 2 cases for ‘terrorist financing’ (Article 290-1 of the Criminal Code), and one case each for ‘aiding and abetting terrorist activity’ (art. 290-2) and ‘creation of a terrorist organization’ (art. 290-4). But that was just the beginning.
In 2021, the authorities turned the theme of ‘terrorism’ into a complete propaganda myth. There were rumours about the terrorist attacks (according to Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey, there were eight of them in 2020) and about the preparation of new ones. The secret services reported hiding places with explosives and frightened the society that Lukashenka’s opponents were ready to commit any crimes, ‘without sparing women or children’.
In late March, opposition politicians Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Pavel Latushka, as well as a number of former security officers linked to the ByPol initiative, were declared terrorists. The reason for these accusations was a very dubious story with the detention of 36-year-old Vyachaslau Maleychuk, who allegedly intended to detonate two improvised explosive devices (one in Minsk on a playground, the other near a military unit in Pechy), but was stopped by special services. The official version sounded like this: allegedly ByPol representatives anonymously gave an order to a random person to commit terrorist acts via the Internet. Moreover, the man himself had no skills in explosives, and an unknown citizen, whom he met in a Telegram chat, helped him make a bomb.
Absolutely no evidence of involvement of Tsikhanouskaya, Latushka and ByPol in this story was given by the security forces, which did not prevent them from accusing the regime opponents of ‘bloodthirstiness’ and equating the democratic opposition to international terrorists. In April, Deputy Interior Minister Mikalai Karpyankou even hinted that the security forces were ready to proceed with their physical liquidation as soon as the relevant order was received.
Authorities continued to promote ‘terrorist’ hysteria. In May, Lukashenka complained that no country in the world had ever faced such ‘multifaceted, multilevel terror’. But there were still no victims of this ‘terrorism’.
On July 2, Lukashenka announced that security services had allegedly exposed ‘sleepy terrorist cells’ aimed at ‘forcible change of government on X-Day’. In particular, he mentioned the Telegram-channel Civil Self-Defence Detachments of Belarus (CSDB), through which the activities of “terrorists” were allegedly carried out. At least five people were arrested in the case.
The State Security Committee accused the CSDB of carrying out three radical actions: an attempt to set fire to logging equipment, an attempt to blow up the Russian communication centre ‘Vileyka’ and an attempt to attack propagandist Hryhory Azaronak. All of them were prepared with the active participation of established KGB agents and had a controlled, staged nature.
For example, it was an armed KGB officer who started a fight with Azaronak. And Dzmitry Sasnouski, whom Lukashenka called the main perpetrator of the attack, at the time of detention did not even have time to approach the propagandist and did not have any weapons with him. The driver who brought Sasnouski and the KGB officer to the scene, apparently, was also a secret service officer.
The other actions were held according to a similar scheme. Therefore, many people have a question: was there no provocation or incitement to crime in this case? Moreover, the KGB acknowledged that the information resource of the CSDB was controlled ‘by introducing employees into the chat under the guise of participants’.
The so called CSDB case was the reason for a ‘large-scale operation to clean up radicals in July’. Through searches, interrogations and detentions under Art. 289 of the Criminal Code passed dozens and dozens of people. Their only fault was that they were subscribed to one or another protest chat or just once participated in the protests. It seems that most of the detainees were released during the July ‘sweep’ for 10 days. Some remained suspects or witnesses.
Since the fall of 2020, the KGB’s ‘terrorist list’ has included more than 40 Belarusian citizens – politicians, public figures, bloggers and ordinary citizens. This was done arbitrarily, without any explanations or court decisions. Whole families were recognized as terrorists. For example, in the case of Autukhovich, the Razanovich family was declared terrorists (Dmitry, Syarhei, Pavel and Lyubou Razanovich are included in the list). Lyubou Razanovich is a former businesswoman, her husband Siarhei is the rector of the Holy Church Archangel Michael in Zhabinka district. All their fault is that Autukhovich lived in the house of this family for some time.
In September the KGB reported the detention of the Vaitsyahovich family, who had allegedly planned ‘terrorist attacks’ for ‘Western money’. It was the most ordinary family: 54-year-old Vital worked in the production of windows, his wife, 47-year-old Volha, did manicures, their 26-year-old son Vital was a taxi driver, and his wife Anastasiya worked in a pet store.
The Vaitsyahovich family was accused of throwing two ‘Molotov cocktails’ at the house of deputy Aleh Haydukevich. There was no fire, no one was injured and could not be injured, because no one was at home at that time. But the secret services still described it as an ‘act of terrorism’.
A 45-year-old native of Lida, Syarhei Sakalou, was soon detained. The KGB also accused him of plotting to assassinate Haydukevich and other attacks. He allegedly prepared ‘weapons caches for other extremist groups’.
The railway blockade is also considered an act of terrorism in Belarus. Only in the period from October 2020 to March 2021, 92 criminal cases were initiated for this, four of them under ‘terrorist articles’.
On September 25, 2021, the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced the detention of “perpetrators of terrorist attacks” in Mahiliou region: three residents of Babruisk aged 27, 30 and 45. The men are accused of laying ‘explosive-like objects’ on the rails, as well as near a tobacco kiosk. According to the video of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, it was not about bombs, but about training mines and dummies. That is, from these actions, even theoretically, no one could suffer. The security forces also described the arson of the shooting range belonging to unit 5527 as a ‘terrorist attack’. There were no victims there either.
A press release dedicated to the detention of Babruisk residents noted that other people “who may be involved in an act of terrorism in the capital” are being identified. At the same time, it was not specified what “act of terrorism” was in question in Minsk and when it took place.
The exact number of ‘terrorist cases’ initiated in the period 2020-2021 is unknown. But, judging by the data from open sources, there are at least fifty of them (only in the KGB terrorist list there are more than 40 names).
Only one judgment under Art. 289 of the Criminal Code has been issued so far. 26-year-old Minsk resident Yahor Mikhailau was accused of throwing a ‘Molotov cocktail’ with the inscription ‘CSDB’ into a T-72 tank in a military echelon at the railway station in Stsyapyanka. The crew was in the tank, the patrols at the station did not even notice the fire, and the authorities initially called the information about the incident fake. But as a result, Yahor Mikhailau was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Human rights activists recognized him a political prisoner. They emphasize that the sentence was disproportionate and inadequate, as the arson did not cause damage to property and did not threaten people. And Mikhailau’s actions were caused by the lack of investigation of the crimes of the security forces and ‘disappointment in the ability of the authorities to stop the lawlessness’.
Since the summer of 2020, the most massive repressions in the recent history of Belarus have taken place. During the year more than 4,690 criminal cases involving protests were opened across the country. As of September 29, 702 people were recognized as political prisoners.
Since the summer of 2020, thousands of protesters across the country have been the victims of targeted torture, with about 35,000 people detained administratively. According to various estimates, 4 to 15 people died as a result of the actions of security forces. No one was prosecuted for torture or murder.