Popular Belarusian blogger Syarhei Tsikhanouski’s being held in prison has been extended for two months, to April, 29. The husband of opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has been behind bars since late May.
In the spring of 2020, Syarhei Tsikhanouski, the author of Youtube channel Страна Для Жизни (A Country for Life), revealed his presidential ambitions while serving a 15-day jail term for participating in unauthorised mass events. However, the Belarusian Central Election Commission refused to register his initiative group. According to them, only a person who intends to campaign for the presidency must sign the documents. As Syarhei Tsikhanouski was in custody at that moment, all the necessary documents were signed and filed by his wife. On the back of the situation, his wife Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya managed to get her initiative group registered instead.
On May 29, the police arrested Syarhei Tsikhanouski, head of his wife’s nomination group, and at least 15 persons during a peaceful picket in Hrodna. It should be noted that one of the women (Alena K.) who showed up at the picket attempted to stir up a conflict with Tsikhanouski, which resulted in pushing and jostling. According to the official version, one policeman fell down and had to be taken to hospital. On May 30, the Interior Ministry initiated criminal investigation into an alleged act of violence against two police officers. Later, the Belarusian Investigative Committee stated that Syarhei Tsikhanouski and other persons were charged under Art. 342-1 (planning actions that grossly violate public order) of the Criminal Code of Belarus.
In June, he was also accused of ‘obstructing the course of elections’ (Art. 191 of the Criminal Code). The charge may stemmed from a complaint that Lidziya Yarmoshyna, Head of the Central Election Commission (CEC), had filed against Tsikhanouski. The top official appealed to the Investigative Committee with the request to check whether there had been elements of crime set out in Art.191 in Tsikhanouski’s actions. In she blamed him for impeding the work of the CEC.
In late November, he was also charged with ‘incitement to racial, national, religious or other social hatred or discord committed by a group of persons or causing death through negligence or other serious consequences’ (Art.130-3 of the Criminal Code). If found guilty, he may be sentenced to up to 12 years in jail.
By that moment, Tsikhanouski had already spent half a year in custody; the authorities should have either released him or sent his case to court. However, the investigators took a different track and brought another charge, which allows them to keep him prisoner for up to 18 months. Belarusian human rights watchdogs recognised him as a political prisoner.