On April 6, seven Belarusian human rights watchdogs issued a joint statement on the arrest and criminal prosecution of artist and activist Ales Pushkin.
Ales Pushkin, whom the Belarusian authorities accuse of ‘rehabilitation of Nazism’, was detained in late March. Earlier, Hrodna prosecutor’s office opened a criminal case against him, Pavel Mazheika (the head of the private institution ‘Centre for Urban Life’ and Belsat journalist) as well as other persons for ‘committing deliberate acts aimed at the rehabilitation and justification of Nazism’ (Article 130-3 of the Criminal Code).
On March 19, the exhibition in the Centre showed a portrait of soldier Yauhen Zhykhar with an automatic gun on his shoulder, the author of the work is Ales Pushkin. According to the case materials, during the German occupation in the summer of 1944, Zhykhar was trained in the special unit of the Abwehr and in December of the same year was planted by the Nazis in Polatsk district. During the exhibition, Ales Pushkin characterised Zhykhar as a fighter against the Bolsheviks, which might have drawn the authorities’ anger down on him.
On March 27, security forces raided Pushkin’s house in the village of Bobr. Notably, five OMON riot policement and officers of the Investigative Committee started searching the place at about 2 am. They seized computer equipment and mobile phones from all family members, including Pushkin’s two minor kids. In addition, the intruders destroyed the paintings and broke the glass in the artist’s studio.
According to the Belarusian human rights activists, making a portrait of Yauhen Zhykhar is in no way an attempt to justify the ideology and practice of Nazism. They state there is no corpus delicti in the artist’s actions, because he never incited hatred or propagated war. As the human rights activists believe the criminal prosecution to be political motivated, they have recognised Ales Pushkin as a political prisoner. The signers call on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release Pushkin and other political prisoners as well as to drop criminal charges against them.
As of today, 323 persons have been declared prisoners of conscience in the country.