December 21, 2010

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

Dear President Lukashenka,

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 express our grave concern regarding the mass arrests of demonstrators on December 19, 2010, including poet, presidential candidate, and former Belarusian PEN President Vladimir Neklyaev.

According to our information, over 600 of the reported 10,000 individuals protesting the presidential elections in Minsk were arrested on December 19. Many of those individuals were beaten by security services, including Vladimir Neklyaev, who was taken to the hospital after losing consciousness but was removed shortly thereafter by unidentified men to an unknown location. We now understand that he is being held by the Belarus State Security Agency, or KGB.

Many of those arrested, we understand, will remain in prison for up to 15 days, and some may then be charged with “mass disturbances” and, if convicted, could serve several years in prison. Among those arrested, in addition to Neklyaev, are Pavel Severinets, an opposition activist, author of several books, and a member of Belarusian PEN; Alexsandr Fiaduta, an author and literary critic, member of Belarusian PEN, and a former staffer in your administration, who later wrote a critical biography; Nadina Radzina, who was reportedly beaten, Dimitri Bondarenko, and all staff and volunteers of Charter 97, said to be Belarus’s only independent web site, who were arrested after the site had suffered a cyber-attack; Belarus Free Theatre founders Natalia Koliada, who was briefly arrested and now said to be in hiding, and Tiomo Zhalianzniak, whose whereabouts are unknown; Irina Khalip, journalist for the Russian Novaya Gazeta and wife of opposition candidate Andrei Sannikov, who was severely beaten by police when giving an interview to the Radio station Echo Moskvy; and at least 20 other journalists.

PEN American Center is appalled by the treatment of demonstrators by security forces in Minsk, and is seriously concerned by the arrest and ill-treatment of Vladimir Neklyaev and many other writers, human rights activists, and journalists, many of whom have been beaten and are held in poor prison conditions. We therefore call for all prisoners to be provided with all necessary medical attention, and urge that their whereabouts be made known as a matter of urgency. We also urge you to facilitate the immediate and unconditional release of all writers and journalists held for the peaceful practice of their rights to freedom of expression and association, as protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is a signatory, and that a full and proper investigation be launched into reports of ill-treatment.

Thank you for your consideration of 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
Embassy of the Republic of Belarus to the United States
1619 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Fax: (202) 985-1805

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