June 2, 2011

Alyaksandr G. Lukashenka
President of the Republic of Belarus
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 or +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 to welcome the release of writers Irina Khalip, Vladimir Neklyaev, and Aleksandr Fiaduta on suspended sentences. However, we remain concerned that these releases were not unconditional and that Dimitri Bondarenko was sentenced to two years in prison.

According to our information, on April 27, 2011, Dimitri Bondarenko, a journalist with Charter 97 and member of the opposition leader Andrei Sannikov’s campaign team, was sentenced to two years in prison. Originally charged with “organization of riots,” he was ultimately convicted of “participation of activities that disrupt the public order” under Article 342 of the Belarusian Penal Code. Bondarenko was also ordered to pay a fine for damages to public transportation. He had admitted taking part in the mass demonstrations of December 19, 2010, but denied the other charges against him. Bondarenko is reportedly suffering from several herniated disks in his back and it is feared that he may soon be confined to a wheelchair unless he receives urgent medical attention.

On May 15, 2011, Irina Khalip, journalist for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was given a two-year suspended sentence for her involvement in the demonstrations. Khalip, who is married to Sannikov, now serving a five-year prison term, was severely beaten and arrested by police when giving an interview to the Russian radio station Echo Moskvy on December 19, and was detained in isolation by the KGB for one month. She was charged with “organizing and participating in mass disorder.”

On May 17, 2011, Pavel Severinets, an opposition activist, author of several books, and a member of Belarus PEN, was sentenced to three years of restricted freedom without being sent to a correctional institution. On May 20, 2011, Vladimir Neklyaev, a writer, poet, former president of Belarus PEN, and opposition candidate in the 2010 elections, was given a two-year suspended sentence. The original charge, “organization of riots,” was subsequently downgraded to “participation in activities that disrupt the public order.” Aleksandr Fiaduta, an author, literary critic, and member of Belarus PEN and Neklyaev’s Tell the Truth party, was also charged with “participation in activities that disrupt the public order” and given a two-year suspended sentence.

PEN American Center is relieved that Irina Khalip, Vladimir Neklyaev, and Aleksandr Fiaduta have been released from detention; however we remain concerned that they were convicted of the charges and that they remain under threat of re-arrest, and that their colleague Pavel Severinets is facing similar restrictions. We are also seriously concerned that Dimitri Bondarenko has been convicted and sentenced to a three-year term on charges that are considered to be based on unfounded evidence and that he is at risk of permanent physical disability, and we urge authorities to assure that he is receiving appropriate medical attention while detained. We believe that all five writers have been targeted in violation of 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, and we therefore call for Bondarenko’s immediate and unconditional release, and for the lifting of all restrictions against Khalip, Neklyaev, Fiaduta, and Severinets.

Thank you for your 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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