(New York, NY) — Today PEN America condemned the continued detention of members of Belarusian fantasy-folk music group Irdorath, detained earlier this month for performing as part of demonstrations in 2020. Authorities failed to release them upon the completion of their ten day pre-trial detention on August 12, and it is now assumed that they will remain in custody until their trials. As of August 14, two of the band members were relocated to the Volodarka pre-trial detention prison in Minsk. For their participation and use of music in the protests, six band members face up to four years in prison. 

“The cruel detention of the Irdorath members demonstrates the Belarusian authorities’ incessant attempts to silence all sectors of Belarusian society, including musicians, whose only crime was their playing of instruments,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia program director. “Such arrests continue to display the Belarusian regime’s fragility in the face of civil and artistic opposition. We condemn the Belarusian authorities’ continued assaults on Belarusians’ freedom of expression and the baseless arrests and continued detention of the Irdorath members.”

“The detention of the Irdorath band is yet another example of the Belarusian government’s assault on artistic freedom of expression. This government is determined to weed out all independent thoughts and forms of activism, through any means necessary,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “The musicians were arrested by plainclothes soldiers with no warrant and denied due process. We condemn the Belarusian government for the callous detention of these artists and call for their immediate release.” 

According to the latest report from PEN Belarus, since the beginning of 2021 alone there have been 621 instances of cultural rights violations and human rights violations of cultural figures, and 39 cultural figures currently remain in prison on political grounds.

PEN America follows the developments in Belarus concerning freedom of expression and artistic freedom through its Eurasia program and leads the Artists at Risk Connection, a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.