Famous dissident rock band in Belarus convicted, members sentenced to community service

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — on Friday convicted a famous dissident rock band, designating the band and its three members as extremist and sentencing them to two years of correctional labor. It was the latest in a yearslong crackdown on dissent that has engulfed this country of 9.5 million people. The band members — Alyaksandr Ilyin, Siarhei Kulsha and Dzmitry Khalyaukin — were charged with “organizing and plotting actions grossly violating public order.” In 2020, when Belarus was rocked by mass protests that erupted after won a sixth term in office in a disputed election, the band released “Rules,” a song that became the protests’ anthem. A music video for the song was filmed at one of the demonstrations against the country’s authoritarian leader. Lukashenko’s government unleashed a brutal crackdown in response to the protests, arresting more than 35,000 people and violently beating thousands. Many have been labeled as “extremists,” a designation frequently used against critics. The repressions have continued to this day. In addition to the sentencing, the band and the musicians were also added to the state registry of extremists, which effectively means a ban on its songs and exposes Nizkiz’s fans to prosecution. The band was founded in 2008 in the city of Mogilev in the east of the country. In January 2024, Ilyin, Kulsha and Khalyaukin were arrested and initially faced petty charges, but then authorities opened a criminal case against them. They have been behind bars since then. In February, the Belarus human rights center declared them political prisoners. According to the group, which is the oldest and the most prominent in the country, there are currently 1,387 political prisoners in Belarus, including Viasna’s founder Ales Bialiatsky, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022. Belarus’ opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Friday urged musicians around the world “to express solidarity with their Belarusian colleagues, who were convicted over the songs of freedom.” “The Belarusian regime continues a ruthless attack on our culture,” Tsikhanouskaya said in written comments sent to The Associated Press. “Nizkiz’s songs sounded during the 2020 protests,” she said. “That’s why the members of this popular band were brutally detained in their apartments and then convicted. It is yet another shameful act of the regime’s revenge.”