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'Taken Prisoner On January 3': Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk's Heroic Story

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'Taken Prisoner On January 3': Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk's Heroic Story

The activist of the European Belarus inspires people with her resilience.

"I don’t get up in front of the bandits," said 48-year-old Brest resident, activist of the European Belarus Civil Campaign Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk at her trial in 2021, declaring that “political repressions have nothing to do with the trial”.

Then she was sentenced to 2 years in prison. After this, the activist was tried twice: the court added a year in prison to her sentence for “malicious disobedience to the demands of the administration of the correctional institution”.

Palina has not seen her husband and sons for more than 2 years - they are waiting for her in forced emigration.

Mediazona tells the story of this resilient woman.

Young Front, Zubr and Belteleradio

Palina was involved in activism in the 90s: she stood at the origins of Young Front, she was friends with Paval Sieviaryniets and headed the Zubr civic youth organization in the Brest region. At the 2010 presidential elections, she was one of the confidants of the presidential candidate, leader of the European Belarus Сivil Сampaign Andrei Sannikov, and later a candidate in the parliamentary elections.

"Then she became more famous and appeared on TV. Then, of course, nothing happened, but people saw her. She was not afraid to say that she considers Lukashenka a dictator, and at the same time, I believe, she made enemies - the top leadership of this regime."

Security forces arrested and detained Palina in January 2021, and the trial began in June. Then there was not enough courtroom for everyone who came to support her.

Palina was charged under three articles: insulting a government official, Lukashenka, and threatening violence against a policeman. The basis for the accusation was a video that Palina posted on the Brest: Rumors and Facts Telegram channel. She filmed the detention of her husband, Andrei Sharenda, at their residence: then she called the two policemen “punishers and fascists”. Nasha Niva wrote in a report from the court that during an inspection of the apartment, Palina spat in the face of one of the security officers.

“Captured on January 3… I do not consider you a court. Political repression has nothing to do with the course of justice,” Palina answered Brest judge Yauhen Brehan at her trial, calling a spade a spade. He asked if she wanted to challenge the court.

“You are not a court.. You are a Stalin’s troika [the NKVD troika - Ed.], country constabulary, but you are not a court,” Palina answered. “I emphasize that this is a politically motivated prosecution. This is a criminal case, in which you will then be accused. You are involved in political repressions.

"Do you admit your guilt?" the judge continued.

"Do you admit that you are taking part in political repression?" Palina asked the judge.

"No questions are asked to the court. Don't you admit that you are guilty?" the judge asked again.

“It is the honour and duty of a citizen to repulse a bandit. I am not an accused, I am a political prisoner. I demand to stop this circus," she said.

The court sentenced the activist to two years in jail.

"She was as white as a sheet of paper." Mockery.

During her imprisonment, Palina was placed in a punishment cell many times and was sent to a cell-type room for six months.

As a sign of protest against such treatment of her, Palina renounced her Belarusian citizenship. In response, she was sent for a psychiatric examination at the Navinki psychiatric hospital.

She became a suspect in a new criminal case In 2022: malicious disobedience to the administration of the colony. A year was added to her main sentence.

Palina was supposed to be released on August 6, 2023, but three days before her release she was transferred to a temporary detention facility, and from there to a pre-trial detention center, so a criminal case was again opened against her under the same article of disobedience to the colony administration.

Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk went on a hunger strike due to the conditions of detention in the Rechytsa temporary detention center. So, she was placed alone in a semi-basement room. She was not given a mattress or bed linen and had to sleep on the floor. They took away all her belongings. In fact, Palina was registered with all the possible colony’s restrictive lists: as “prone to extremism and hostage-taking,” therefore, Palina cannot be placed in a cell under softer conditions other than solitary confinement “for security reasons”.

The first court hearing in the new case took place in Rechytsa on October 2. Palina’s husband, Andrei Sharenda, said that her mother and other relatives were able to attend the trial proceedings. They reported that the activist in court called herself a prisoner of war, not just a prisoner, and did not admit the guilt.

"Palina looked very pale at the trial, her mother says she was as white as a sheet of paper. Most likely, these are the consequences of the lack of sunlight," says the activist's husband.

In the Homel pre-trial detention center, where Palina was transferred after the temporary detention center, conditions were better. Her relatives often gave her parcels with fresh vegetables and fruits. Palina was able to gain some strength and “rest” from her colony’s punishment cell.

However, in September it has become impossible to transfer the food for her. On the morning of September 1, someone handed Palina a bag with 30 kg of apples into her cell. It was a trick. 30 kilograms is the maximum that a prison inmate can receive per month. You can't transfer any more. Palina told the lawyer about this. She did not realize initially what was going on and did not have time to refuse the parcel. Inside the bag were apples that looked like someone had just picked them under a tree.

At the trial, Palina spoke about the conditions in the colony: she spent most of her imprisonment in a punishment cell. She also stated that the administration of the colony organized her beating by other prisoners. Also, Palina was deprived of letters. Her eldest son Slavamir used to send letters through an electronic service to her, but this option is no longer available. Palina’s family received only two letters from her in six months.

"Memory fades over the course of three years." The children are waiting for their mother in Vilnius

Andrei and Palina’s eldest son Slavamir is now 14, the youngest Stakh is 7. They are living with their father in Vilnius. Andrei Sharenda left Belarus in an extreme way - crossing the border illegally. He could not leave the country in any other way: a criminal case was initiated against him under two articles: insulting Lukashenka and calls to action against national security.

Now Stach and Slavamir are waiting for their mother. The eldest son, as Andrei says, understands what is going on: he reads the news about his mother and what is happening in the country. The youngest had to be told at first that “mom was taken away by some “dark people”, but she will return soon.”

"But this 'soon' is longer and longer. Finally, at the age of seven, he already perfectly understands that his mother is in a Belarusian prison, that she is a hostage. But he has not seen his mother for a long time, and it is clear that now he only has photos and short videos just to watch and hear her voice. The memory of his mother as a person has been fading for three years, he actually doesn't remember her very well anymore."

“Palina has always been a moral and persistent person, and she tried to raise her children that way,” says Andrei.

"She also understands that the sentence terms will be extended for her, and she will be behind bars as long as the regime exists. [...] She continues the struggle and resists as best she can, although her methods harm her health. So it turned out that she has been fighting for our future for almost three years in complete solitude and isolation."

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