“Zeltsar case” two years later: What happened to detainees?

On September 28, 2021, a KGB squad forcibly entered the apartment of EPAM programmer Andrei Zeltsar in Minsk, Malanka Media recalls. A shootout began, leading to the death of two people — the apartment owner Andrei Zeltsar and KGB officer Dzmitry Fedasiuk. Subsequently, Belarus witnessed another surge in repression, marked by the detainment of hundreds of people.

When the siloviki arrived at Andrei Zeltsar’s apartment, he refused to open the door and contacted the police instead. As the masked men forcibly breached the door, the programmer responded by firing at them with a hunting rifle. The entire incident was captured on video by Maryia Uspenskaya, Zeltsar’s wife.

Following the shootout leading to the death of two people, the Lukashenko regime initiated a criminal case alleging the “murder of a KGB officer on duty”. Maryia Uspenskaya was the first to be detained. She was accused of being an accessory to the murder because she had been recording a video at the scene. In June 2022, she was committed to a psychiatric hospital against her will, and the specifics of her stay there are unknown.

Zeltsar and Uspenskaya had a son. He was 10 years old at the time, and he is currently under the care of his relatives.

The shocking incident caused a significant outcry and profound outrage among thousands of Belarusians in response to the actions of the silovikis. The police detained over 100 individuals for reposting information or commenting on the “Zeltsar case”.

While in custody, they experienced harsher treatment compared to other detainees. According to the reports from the “Viasna” human rights defenders, the detention center staff refused to accept deliveries of personal items and hygiene products, resulting in some detainees enduring unhygienic conditions and lacking warm clothing for one and a half months. Criminal cases were initiated against them for “insulting the authorities online”, leading to the imprisonment of 99 individuals.

During the trial, political prisoner Ina Mozhchanka, a BelTA employee, revealed information about the conditions in the Akrestsina detention center. She described spending five days in a two-person cell occupied by 16 people. She also mentioned that in Zhodzina, a form of “educational quarantine” was organized for the detainees. In the interests of the detainees, human rights defenders from “Viasna” filed an appeal with the UN special rapporteurs about the cruel and inhumane treatment the detainees endured both following their detention and during their imprisonment.

Several prisoners, including journalist Henadz Mazheika, accountant Hanna Karneyenka, and former Ministry of Education employee Siarhei Navumchyk, were included in the “terrorist list”. Mazheika, a journalist with Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus, had done nothing more than write an article about Andrei Zeltsar, which included testimonials from acquaintances of the deceased. Following the publication of the article, the Ministry of Information restricted access to the newspaper’s website, subsequently leading to its closure, and the journalist was apprehended.

In 2023, over 30 individuals who had been arrested in connection with the high-profile case were released from detention. Among those was Homel activist Illia Mironau, who had been detained for showing his support for the family of the late Andrei Zeltsar. Illia Mironau was forced to leave the country following his release.

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