Belarus: repressions against journalists and writers

English PEN calls for the immediate release of all journalists and activists who have been detained in the Republic of Belarus for practising their right to free expression, for the dismissal of all politically-motivated criminal cases, and for a full and proper investigation into the troubling reports of ill-treatment. English PEN calls to take urgent action by writing and sending letters of appeals to Belarusian authorities.

English PEN is deeply concerned by the worsening situation in Belarus, which has seen the continued detention, maltreatment and impending prosecution of a number of writers and journalists, including many of their colleagues at the Belarus PEN Centre.

Mass arests
Following the mass arrest of protestors who demonstrated against the result of the flawed presidential elections of 19 December 2010, Belarusian state persecution of the media has increased dramatically.

Recent developments have seen the Belarus PEN Centre’s office in Minsk raided, with computers and papers seized, whilst newspapers and pro-opposition media outlets have also been ransacked, and websites have been blocked.

At least six noted journalists have been charged with ‘organising mass disorder,’ with some facing up to 23 years in prison if found guilty. There have also been very disturbing reports that the state has attempted to seize journalist Irina Khalip’s  3-year-old son (currently staying with his grandparents). The child’s father is the former opposition candidate for president, Andrei Sannikov.

Both non-governmental and inter-governmental bodies have raised concerns regarding the repressive atmosphere in Belarus. There are reports that the EU is considering re-introducing sanctions against Belarus. The Minsk office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – which criticised the lack of transparency in the recent elections – has been forced to shut down.

20 journalists were arrested
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 20 journalists were arrested following the demonstrations. PEN can provide updates for the following writers and journalists who are currently detained:

•    Vladimir Neklyaev, right, writer, poet, former president of the Belarus PEN Centre and the Tell the Truth party’s candidate in the presidential elections, is being held in a KGB detention centre, charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organisation of riots’). He was seriously beaten by the security services and suffers from high blood pressure. It is unclear what treatment he is receiving. He has been denied access to his lawyer.

•    Pavel Severinets, opposition activist, author of several books, and a member of Belarus PEN which recently awarded him their ‘Book of the Year’ prize. He is also held in KGB detention, charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organisation of riots’).

•    Aleksandr Fiaduta, author, literary critic and member of Belarus PEN. A former staffer of Lukashenko’s administration, he resigned in 1994 and published a critical biography – banned in Belarus – of the President. He is now a member of Neklyaev’s Tell the Truth party and is charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organisation of riots’). He suffers from diabetes and it is unclear what level of care – if any – he is receiving.  

•    Nadina Radzina, who was arrested alongside all the staff and volunteers of Charter 97, was badly beaten after her arrest and there are distressing reports that she suffered bleeding from the ears. She has been charged with ‘organising and participating in mass disorder,’ two separate charges in Belarus which carry potential sentences of 15 and 8 years’ imprisonment respectively. She is being held in an isolation unit and her lawyer has been forced to sign a gagging order.

•    Dimitri Bondarenko, of Charter 97, is being held by the KGB and is charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organisation of riots’).

•    Irina Khalip, below, journalist for the Russian Novaya Gazeta and wife of opposition candidate Andrei Sannikov (also detained). She was severely beaten by police when giving an interview to the the Russian Federation radio station Echo Moskvy. She is being held in isolation by the KGB, and, like Nadina Radzina, is charged with ‘organising and participating in mass disorder’ and faces 23 years in prison if convicted. Her lawyer has been forced to sign a gagging order.

Take action!
Please send letters of appeal to the Belarusian authorities:

– Condemning the arrest and ill-treatment of Vladimir Neklyaev, Irina Khalip,  Nadina Radzina, Pavel Severinets, Aleksandr Fiaduta, Dimitri Bondarenko and other human rights activists and journalists;
– Urging that all detainees be provided with appropriate medical attention as a matter of urgency;
– Calling for an end to the persecution of press and media outlets by the Belarussian authorities;
– Urging that all journalists and human rights activists be freed immediately and for the dismissal of politically-motivated criminal cases  

Government address

President of the Republic of Belarus
Alyaksandr G. Lukashenka
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Belarus
Fax: 375 172 26 06 10 or 375 172 22 38 72
Email: pres@president.gov.by

Please note: there have been reports that the President’s email address is not working, so please consider sending your appeals via the Belarusian government website.

Similar appeals should also be sent to the Belarusian Embassy in the UK:

His Excellency Aleksandr Mikhnevich
Embassy of the Republic of Belarus
6 Kensington Court
London
W8 5DL

Messages of support
PEN members may also consider sending messages of support to these writers via Cat Lucas (cat@englishpen.org) who will arrange for them to be passed on to the Belarus PEN Centre.

Documents:

HRHN letter of concern about post-election events (English)

The letter signed by over 50 partners of the Human Rights House Network
Download »

Joint open letter by European NGOs on election aftermath in Belarus

Open letter by 9 European civil and human rights organisations to the Belarusian authorities and to the Governments of all EU member states
Download »

Call to release EHU students (English)

Co-signed by Belarusian HRH in Vilnius
Download »

Related articles:

Belarus: 4 out of 10 candidates for presidential elections are in custody

Belarus flooded with political repression

End of “liberalization” in Belarus

Election aftermath in Belarus: 600 arrested, hundreds injured

Lukashenko 4.0 – enrich, be free, but without democracy

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