Belarusian law students enrolled at European Humanities University are filing reports with JURIST on current circumstances in Belarus under the constitutionally-disputed presidency of Alexander Lukashenka. Here, one of them discusses the circumstances of three women currently held as political prisoners in Belarus. For privacy and security reasons, we are withholding the name of the correspondent filing this report. The text has only been lightly edited to respect the author’s voice.
During the war in Ukraine and the terrible news from there, it seems that life in Belarus is becoming calmer and the repressions of the Lukashenka regime are decreasing. But this is a false impression.
Therefore, I would like to provide news about Belarusian political prisoners over the past month.
There are more than 1,440 political prisoners in Belarusian prisons right now. Detentions continue every day. In December 2022, 208 of them are women. Belarusian political prisoners sleep on the floor, take a shower at best once a week, don’t have timely access to medical care, and often lack necessary hygiene items. Women are being pressured psychologically by threats to take their children away. After their release, they are often left alone with problems.
In this dispatch for JURIST I will write about three of them:
- Daria Losik. The wife of blogger Igor Losik was sentenced to two years in prison for an interview with the Belsat TV channel and saying that her husband was convicted illegally. Her trial took place on January 19, 2023.
Igor was arrested a month and a half before the 2020 presidential election. In December 2021, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Losik was found guilty of “organizing mass riots” and “inciting social hostility”.
Throughout this time, Daria tried in every possible way to help her husband: she tried to tell as many people as possible about what happened to her husband.
In 2022, Daria Losik recorded several videos addressed to “citizen Lukashenko”. In one of them, she stated that she was ready to be in the prison herself in exchange for her husband being released and given the opportunity to leave Belarus together with her daughter.
Daria Losik was detained on October 18 last year. Since then she has been in custody.
Their young daughter remained under the supervision of her grandparents.
- Meriem Gerasimenko. She is a Minsk singer, a soloist with the Meriem Band. She is 28 years old.
She was detained in early August last year after she played a concert in a bar in the center of Minsk. Among others, she performed the songs of the Ukrainian band in Ukrainian and shouted “Sing for Ukraine”. She was sentenced first for 15 days, then again for the same period, but she wasn’t released.
Subsequently, it became known that a criminal case had been opened against Gerasimenko. Earlier, the regime claimed that in 2020, the girl participated in protest actions. Human rights activists have recognized her as a political prisoner.
On January 20 she was sentenced to three years of house arrest.
This wasn’t the first concert of the singer and Meriem in a bar: she performed at various other events in “Bottle Cans” before, but only now propagandists attacked the institution and the artist because she sang the song “Obiimi” in Ukrainian and was wearing a white shirt with a red heart.
Here is a link to a fragment of her performance with a Ukrainian song.
- Sofya Sapega. I have already written a detailed article about her before. She is the girlfriend of Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian journalist who was one of the organizers of the Belarusian protests in 2020. Sofya is also a student of the European Humanities University International Law and European Union Law program. Alonng with Roman, she was arrested in May 2021 when their Ryanair plane was forced to land at the Minsk National Airport.
On May 6, 2022, a court in Belarus sentenced Sofya to six years in a penal colony on charges of inciting social hostility and illegally collecting information about the private lives of officials. The court also decided to recover 167.5 thousand Belarusian rubles (about 65 thousand dollars) from her in favor of the victims.
She filed a petition for clemency to Alexander Lukashenko in June 2022. Alexander Lukashenko previously talked about a different scenario. Last summer, he claimed that he was ready to transfer her to Russia: “I feel sorry for the girl. It is necessary to solve this issue. She’s a Russian. We have such a practice. We can transfer a Russian citizen to Russia. Let her serve her time there. Or they do whatever they want there. I think it’s a big lesson for her.”
On January 4, the Pardon Commission under President Alexander Lukashenko notified Sofya Sapeha that her petition for clemency had been rejected. Sofya has informed her parents about this by phone and in a letter.
This dispatch has featured only three brave women out of the two hundred and eight who are currently in Belarusian prisons. But just these three cases contain 11 years of imprisonment in total for women who once took the side of the Belarusian people and supported them.