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Two Belarusians detained in Armenia 

22 March 2024
Maksim Vaitkiavichus. Photo via Epress

Human rights activists have reported that two more Belarusians, at least one of whom fled the country to evade the draft, have been detained in Armenia and face possible extradition to Belarus.

On Monday, the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor, a local rights organisation, announced that Maksim Vaitkiavichus, born in 2000, had been detained on 7 February upon entering Armenia from Georgia.

According to Vaitkiavichus’ lawyer, Ani Chatinyan, another Belarusian was detained by Armenian authorities ‘a few days ago’.

The latest arrests mean at least three Belarusians are currently being detained in Armenia, after Yaroslav Novikov, 24, was detained earlier in February at Minsk’s request.

[Read more: Belarusian deserter detained in Armenia]

In their statement on Monday, the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor demanded Vaitkiavichus’ immediate release.

Vaitkiavichus was arrested while attempting to cross the Georgian-Armenian border with his partner, on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Belarus on charges of evading military service. Chatinyan told OC Media that while Vaitkiavichus was aware that a criminal case might have been opened against him, he did not know this could be enforced in Armenia. 

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Vaitkiavichus had his detention extended by another two months earlier in March. 

Chatinyan added that they had appealed both the decision to initially arrest Vaitkiavichus and the decision to extend his detention, with an application also submitted to the migration service for political asylum. 

Belarus’ General Prosecutor’s Office has submitted an extradition request for Vaitkiavichus. 

The Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor stated that Armenia should reject the request on legal and human rights grounds.

According to the group, Armenia would otherwise become both party to and a direct participant in violating the rights of a person subjected to political persecution, adding that they had presented evidence to the authorities that Vaitkiavichus was subjected to political persecution in Belarus because of his participation in anti-government protests.

They also cited Armenia’s constitution and legislation as prohibiting extradition if the person in question might face torture, cruel, inhumane, or humiliating punishment or treatment in their home country.

Chatinyan told OC Media that Vaitkiavichus participated in the 2020 anti-government protests in Belarus, and was subsequently administratively arrested for 14 days, during which time he was subjected to ‘torture, violence, and inhumane treatment’. She added that he left Belarus shortly after his release due to the risk that he would face ‘worse situations’ during military service, moving to Georgia, where he worked as a programmer.

The lawyer added that Vaitkiavichus could only be extradited following a decision on his asylum application by Armenia’s Migration and Citizenship Service. 

She said that they had also lodged an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and that he could not be extradited while the case was pending.

Chatinyan noted that Vaitkiavichus was likely to face ‘inhumane treatment’ in Belarus. 

‘Promised political asylum’

Another Belarusian, Yaroslav Novikov, 24, was arrested after crossing into Armenia in February, also on Minsk’s charges of evading military service. 

On Thursday, the press service of Belarusian politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told independent Belarusian outlet Pozirk that Novikov’s detention had been raised during a meeting with the Speaker of Armenia’s Parliament Alen Simonyan, with ‘Armenian representatives’ reportedly stating that he would receive political asylum. 

Simonyan’s spokesperson told OC Media that the speaker had not discussed the issue, and that Simonyan had not held a meeting with Tsikhanouskaya. 

‘Mr. Simonyan and Tikhanosvkaya met by chance in the corridor of the Euronest venue and started a conversation. Only Tikhanovskaya’s reference to Armenia, which she made in her speech, was discussed’, said the spokesperson. 

She added, however, that she had no information regarding conversations that other members of the delegation might have had. 

According to Chatinyan, there are currently three Belarusians detained in Armenia, all of whom crossed the border in 2024. 

Chatinyan stated that the third was detained ‘a few days ago’, and that his relatives have contacted the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor, but that it was not yet clear what charges he had been detained on.