The songs of Tor Band have become a symbol of mass protests that spread across Belarus like wildfire when authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko remained in power after 2020 elections condemned by the West as fraudulent.
Now, three of the band’s members have been given long jail terms as part of his internal crackdown on dissent.
Tor Band leader Dzmitry Halavach has been given nine years in prison, Yauhen Burlo was jailed for eight years, and Andrei Yaremchyk for seven and half years.
Human rights groups speak of blacklists carrying the names of musicians, bands and artists banned from performing.
Those deemed “disloyal” to the Lukashenko government are often replaced with artists from Russia, says PEN Belarus, part of a worldwide association of writers which focuses on freedom of expression.
“Independent culture has literally returned to the practices of the Soviet era – it went underground,” said the group’s head, Tatyana Nyadbai.
The musicians of Tor Band were convicted in the southern city of Gomel last week of multiple criminal charges, including creating an “extremist formation” and insulting the Mr Lukashenko.
The band members were arrested in October 2022 after the biggest crackdown on protests under Lukashenko’s 30-year rule.
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