On August 20, Belarus chief prosecutor Alexander Konyuk announced the launch of a criminal proceeding against the Coordination Council of Belarus, established by opposition leader and presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in response to Alexander Lukashenko’s reelection victory. Among the council members charged is Svetlana Alexievich, a Nobel prize-winning writer and president of Belarusian PEN. Prosecutors accused the council members of an attempt at seizing “state power and at harming national security,” following which several members resigned out of fear of imprisonment; Alexievich remains on the list of members. PEN America urges the prosecutors in Belarus to immediately drop the charges against Alexievich and the other council members, and acknowledge the right to expression of opposition leaders and participants in peaceful protests.

“The current regime has responded with nothing but brutality and callous disregard to the exercise of free expression by peaceful protesters and members of the opposition in Belarus. The prosecution of Svetlana Alexievich, as a member of the Coordination Council, is yet another deplorable development in Lukashenko’s latest attempts to quash the legitimate voices of democratic opposition in the country,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia program director. “Cultural leaders make up a considerable portion of the Coordination Council and have played a monumental role in the streets, protesting Lukashenko’s intolerant regime and its record on human rights and corruption. It is therefore unsurprising that so many artists have come under attack by the Belarusian authorities, and this criminal case is yet another hit at the creative community in Belarus. The authorities should respect the voices of the people and immediately cease this bogus prosecution of the opposition.”

PEN America, a fellow center with PEN Belarus in the PEN International network, is closely monitoring the developments in Belarus and has previously expressed grave concern over the ongoing crackdown on protesters in the country. We have also released an open letter, available to be signed by the public, in support of Belarusian people fighting for their freedoms.