The violent detention of journalists, literary figures, and activists by authorities in Belarus ahead of planned demonstrations is an effort to silence voices of opposition and a violation of the right to protest peacefully, PEN America said Wednesday.

The wave of arrests reported across the country this week followed a statement by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday claiming that a group of militants seeking to fuel unrest in the country had been identified. The actions come after an unusual period of protest in Belarus, where independent media, public opposition, and other forms of free expression are strictly limited by the authoritarian Lukashenko government.

The demonstrations were sparked by the implementation of the so-called “tax on parasites,’’ which imposed a fine on those without officially registered employment, a category that includes independent writers, artists, tutors, and others who do not work for state entities. Another nationwide demonstration is planned for Saturday.

Among those presumed detained is bookseller Ales Evdaho, who was still unaccounted for on Wednesday after being arrested Tuesday night following his participation in a literary award ceremony organized by PEN Belarus. Miroslav Lozovsky, from the publishing house Knigasbor, was also arrested Tuesday night. Activist Dmitry Dashkevich was taken by police from the home of PEN Belarus Member Vladimir Orlov, a well-known writer and historian, who said police broke down the door and hacked into the apartment. Dashkevich’s wife, Anastasia Palazhanka-Dashkevich, herself an activist, journalist, and winner of Hillary Clinton’s 2011 International Women of Courage Award, was also arrested when she went to a police station to check on her husband. She managed to publish a quick Facebook post, and later was released.

According to Belarusian media, arrests were also made in the cities of Pinsk, Dobrush, Brest, and Kobrin

“The recent events in Belarus are a clear attempt by President Lukashenko to silence protesters on the eve of a nationwide rally against his policies,’’ said PEN America’s Free Expression Programs Coordinator for Eurasia Polina Kovaleva. “We urge the government of Belarus to follow international human rights standards, and for international observers to closely monitor the situation.”

The protests began in February, and participants have been arrested and sentenced to 13–15-day jail terms for engaging in unauthorized demonstrations. A list of those arrested, maintained by RFL/RL, includes more than 100 names. Last week, the European Union called on Belarus to respect freedom of assembly and association by peaceful protesters. Another protest is planned for Minsk on Saturday, March 25, which is also known as Freedom Day.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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