Hrodna activist and musician Ihar Bantser goes at large

Іhar Bantser. Hrodna, 15 May 2021. Photo: МК / Belsat

Political prisoner and activist Ihar Bantser has been released on Friday. He was sentenced to 1.5 years of restriction of liberty, and the term has expired today, human rights centre Viasna reports.

Ihar has been held in solitary confinement for the last 22 days.

In the summer of 2021, the authorities started to exert pressure on Ihar Bantser in the wake of his refusal to file a pardon petition to Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Since August, the activist has spent about 80 days in punitive confinement. The man was serving his term in open-type correctional facility Nr 9 in the Belarusian city of Vitsebsk.

In October 2020, Ihar Bantser, a punk rock musician and activist from Hrodna, was detained and taken into custody. The reason was one of the street performances he staged: on the night of September 5, Ihar put off his underwear and danced in front of a police car. A criminal case was opened against him under Article 339 of the Criminal Code (‘hooliganism’).

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After the arrest, the musician was placed in a one-man cell in Hrodna prison. A bit later, he was taken to the Republican Scientific and Practical Centre for Mental Health in Minsk and forced to undergo a psychiatric examination. Upon returning to the prison, he served two weeks in solitary confinement. The Hrodna resident was deprived of any contact with his relatives and friends.

Ihar Bantser refused food and water on March 3. On that day, he stood trial; during the hearing, Ihar was holding posters with the inscriptions ‘Hunger Strike’ and ‘There Is No Justice’. In mid March, Belarusian human rights activists recognised Ihar Bantser as a political prisoner.

On 19 March 2021, a local court passed a verdict in the case of Ihar Bantser, who had been on a dry hunger strike for 16 days. Judge Natallya Kozel took heed of the prosecution’s demand and sentenced Bantser to 1.5 years of restriction of liberty over ‘hooliganism’. He was released in courtroom under the written pledge not to leave the country. The court also ruled to take into account the five months he had spent in custody, one day in jail is to be equal to two days of being under the restriction of liberty.

In June, Bantser was sent to open-type correctional facility Nr 9 in the Belarusian city of Vitsebsk. He is known to have spent about 40 days in punitive confinement and have started hungerstriking there. On September 29, judge Dzyanis Alyakseyenka ruled to send Bantser to a penal colony for ‘violating rules’, but in late October, the political prisoner was taken back to the above mentioned correctional facility.

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