February 22, 2011

Alyaksandr G. Lukashenka
President of the Republic of Belarus
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 / +375 172 22 38 72

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing on the two-month anniversary of the contentious presidential election of December 19, 2010, to reiterate our concern about the continued imprisonment of Dimitri Bondarenko, Aleksandr Fiaduta, and Pavel Severinets; the house arrest of Vladimir Neklyaev and Irina Khalip; and the restrictions placed on Natalia Radzina.

According to our information, on January 28, 2011, Vladimir Neklyaev, a writer, poet, former president of the Belarus PEN Center, and the Tell the Truth party’s candidate in the 2010 presidential elections, was released from the KGB detention center where he was held for a month and placed under strict house arrest, where he has two KGB officers living with him. He is not allowed access to the telephone, the Internet, or newspapers. His family is not allowed to see him and he is only permitted visits from his lawyer. Neklyaev was seriously beaten during his arrest and was denied adequate medical treatment in prison, where he suffered four serious episodes relating to his hypertension. He still faces charges under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus and could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Irina Khalip, a journalist for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and wife of opposition presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, who remains in detention, was also placed under strict house arrest in January 2011 after spending a month in isolation in KGB detention and has two KGB officers living in her home. She is denied access to the Internet, telephone, and newspapers, and is only allowed visits from her mother and her three-year-old son. Khalip faces between 15 and 23 years in prison if convicted.

Natalia Radzina, a journalist for the pro-democracy news web site Charter 97, spent one month in a KGB isolation unit and was then released. She was forced to relocate from Minsk to the town of Kobrin and her passport has been confiscated. She is not allowed to leave the town, must report to the local police daily, and is barred from speaking about her case. Her lawyer has been forced to sign a gag order. She also faces between 15 and 23 years in prison if convicted under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus.

Pavel Severinets, an opposition activist, author of several books, and a member of Belarus PEN, which recently awarded him their book of the year prize, is still in KGB detention, as are Aleksandr Fiaduta, an author, literary critic, member of Belarus PEN, and former member of your administration, and Dimitri Bondarenko, a journalist with Charter 97. None have adequate access to their lawyers, and all are charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (Organization of riots). If convicted, they face 15 years in prison. Fiaduta suffers from diabetes and it is unclear what level of care he is receiving, if any. There are mounting concerns for his well-being.

PEN American Center believes that these writers have been charged and imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is a signatory. We therefore call for the unconditional and immediate release of Dimitri Bondarenko, Aleksandr Fiaduta, and Pavel Severinets, for the release from house arrest of Vladimir Neklyaev and Irina Khalip, and for the lifting of the severe restrictions placed on the movements of Natalia Radzina. We also call for the dismissal of the politically-motivated criminal cases against them.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee                 

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Mr.Oleg Kravchenko
Charge d’Affaires a.i.
Embassy of Belarus
1619 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Fax: (202) 986-1805

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