*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this statement indicated that Arlou was arrested. He was summoned to court, fined, and charged, but not formally placed under arrest.***

(New York, NY) – The court summons and fine levied against Belarusian writer Uladzimir Arlou after a public reading of his essay “Independence Means…” at a protest in Minsk are a violation of the rights to free expression and assembly, and all charges against him should be dropped, PEN America said in a statement today.

“Uladzimir Arlou recited his powerful reflections on state independence at a peaceful protest. To charge him with a crime and subject him to a fine in response violates the most fundamental right to speak freely,” said Polina Kovaleva, Eurasia project director for PEN America.

On December 8, writer Uladzimir Arlou – a co-founder of the Belarusian PEN Center, part of the PEN International network of independent centers – joined a gathering at Kastrysnickaja Square in central Minsk to defend Belarus’s independence from Russian influence, following reports of deepening integration between Russia and Belarus. At the protest, Arlou recited his essay “Independence Means…,” first written in 1990 as a reflection on his dream of independence from the Soviet Union. Authorities charged Arlou along with approximately 60 of the protesters on charges of “participating in unauthorized mass events” under Belarus’s oppressive protest law, and collectively fined them 55,000 Belarusian rubles ($26,000). According to Belarusian PEN Center, Arlou recited his essay again to the court and explained to the judge that he “did not perform any other acts subject to administrative proceedings against him.” The court denied Arlou a witness and fined him 540 Belarusian rubles ($255).

In a statement, the Belarusian PEN Center strongly condemned the court’s violation of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and artistic freedom. They also said that they will continue to monitor the trials following these charges and advocate for the reversal of the protesters’ sentences. 

 “The Belarusian authorities have already made it virtually impossible for people to engage in peaceful public protests,” said PEN America’s Kovaleva. “Now they are punishing people for reading their own creative work in public as well. Freedom of expression and assembly are fundamental human rights, without which there can be no meaningful public dialogue or debate. This attempt to silence the voice of a prominent writer is an especially grievous violation. PEN America stands with the Belarusian PEN Center and their calls for all charges against Uladzimir Arlou to be dropped immediately.” 

Uladzimir Arlou is a prominent Belarusian writer, historian, and poet. His essay “Independence Means…” can be found translated into English here.

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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.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892