The Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against Andrey Strizhak and Aleksey Leonchik. They are accused of financing the activities of an extremist group and preparing individuals for participation in group actions that grossly violate public order.
Earlier, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against journalist Andrei Aleksandrov and his girlfriend Irina Zlobina under Part 1 and Part 2 of Art. 342 [Organization and financing of actions that grossly violate public order] of the Criminal Code of Belarus.
They are charged with paying fines for people who were brought to administrative responsibility for participating in the rallies, and reimbursed for their accommodation in detention facilities.
“During the preliminary investigation, the investigators, in cooperation with the GUBOPiK of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, revealed the facts of the organization and transfer of funds by Aleksey Leonchik and Andrei Strizhak through other persons for their subsequent use in the criminal activities of Aleksandrov and Zlobina.
Further, the accused used these funds to pay (both personally and through other persons) fines for administrative offences committed by other persons (protesters), as well as compensation for damage caused by their unlawful actions,” the Investigative Committee reported.
It is noted that such activities “were carried out on a systematic basis.”According to the investigation, Aleksey Leonchik is the co-founder and head of the BY_help organization, “whose activities are aimed at paying the costs incurred by the persons participating in the protests.”
“At the same time, Andrei Strizhak is a member of the so-called Coordination Council, whose activities are aimed, among other things, at seizing and retaining power in the Republic of Belarus by unconstitutional means, and is also a co-founder of BY_help and BYSOL.
The BYSOL organization finances the strike committees of enterprises, destructive courtyard communities, the so-called medical, sports and cultural solidarity funds. It was found that the associations closely interact with each other,” the statement reads.
The Investigative Committee believes that BYSOL also financed “an extremist group in the form of an association of destructive courtyard chats.” Aleksey Leonchik and Andrey Strizhak were put on the interstate wanted list, they are charged with:
- Part 2Article 342 [Preparation of persons for participation in group actions that grossly violate public order];
- Art. 361-2 [Financing the activities of an extremist group].
Andrei Strizhak is a well-known Belarusian human rights activist and volunteer. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in Belarus, he became the coordinator of the #BYCOVID19 campaign, which also involved fitness trainer and blogger Andrei Tkachev, the Imena charity media platform, the Minsk Hackerspace initiative and Global Travel ALC.
In particular, it was thanks to #BYCOVID19 that healthcare workers received the necessary personal protective equipment for work, which at first was difficult to obtain. Respirators, protective overalls, pulse oximeters, and oxygen concentrators were brought to hospitals. As of early July 2020, 483 medical institutions received assistance. More than $360,000 was collected, for which 450,000 PPE and 1,500 pieces of equipment were purchased. Healthcare workers and hospitals expressed their personal gratitude to Strizhak.
The BY_help campaign, where Strizhak was one of the organizers, has existed since 2017. It was created during the protests in connection with the decree on parasites in Belarus. With the help of this campaign, funds were collected for those who fell under criminal prosecution and to help them pay fines after mass rallies. The initiative has been working in the same way for over the last six months.
“The fact that BY_help has been working since 2017 has never bothered anyone in any way. They did not see any illegal actions in this. As for BYSOL, our team has helped and will continue to help. We will work as we did, and the accusation will not affect the quality of our work no matter what,” said Strizhak.
The BYSOL Solidarity Fund was established in August 2020. The total amount of donations collected over the past year was almost 3.5 million euros, of which slightly more than 3 million were paid. The fund paid 1 million 869.1 thousand euros to 1,222 people, who were fired or quit because of their political position. 601.1 thousand euros was allocated to support factories, of which 529.2 thousand were sent to strike committees, 53.5 thousand to those fired, 6.5 thousand were spent on paying fines.
Besides, BYSOL spent 306.8 thousand euros to support other funds and initiatives: the Sports Solidarity Fund, the Cultural Solidarity Fund, the Medical Solidarity Fund, BYPOL, courtyard initiatives. 157.7 thousand euros were paid to relocators, the money was received by 221 people. Finally, 147.8 thousand were spent on the needs of the BYSOL fund itself.
Aleksey Leonchik, a founder of BY_help, is an international media consultant. According to Deutsche Welle, he was a PhD student at City University, London, studying the development of new media in Eastern Europe.