February 11, 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 writer and former Belarusian PEN President Vladimir Neklyaev, and journalists Natalia Radzina, and Irina Khalip. However, we remain deeply concerned that their movements are still severely restricted and that they continue to face prison sentences of between 15 and 23 years on charges of “organizing mass disorder.”

According to our information, Natalia Radzina and Irina Khalip were released on January 28, 2011, and Vladimir Neklyaev was released the following day after spending more than a month in KGB detention. We understand that Khalip and Neklyaev are barred from leaving their apartments, from communicating by telephone or the Internet, and from reading newspapers. KGB agents are reportedly in their homes at all times in order to enforce these restrictions. Neklyaev is reportedly also being denied proper medical treatment. Natalia Radzina has had her passport confiscated and has been forced to relocate from Minsk to the town of Kobrin, where she holds permanent residence. She is not allowed to leave the town and must report to the local police daily. She has been barred from speaking about her case.

PEN American Center welcomes the release of Vladimir Neklyaev, Irina Khalip, and Natalia Radzina, but remains concerned that the charges they still face are related to an ongoing effort by the leadership of Belarus to silence dissident voices in connection with the contested presidential elections of December 2010, which the Minsk office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has criticized for their lack of transparency. The OSCE has since been shut down. We also remain concerned that several other writers, including PEN members Pavel Severinets and Aleksandr Fiaduta, remain imprisoned and are facing substantial prison sentences if convicted of the charges. We therefore call on authorities to lift all restrictions on Neklyaev, Radzina, and Khalip, drop all charges against them, and release all other writers immediately and unconditionally in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is a signatory.

Thank you for your consideration of this critical matter.

Hannah Pakula                                              
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee           
Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

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

>> Back to Rapid Action