(New York, NY) — Three members of an underground, independent theater company in Belarus were arrested during protests Sunday following the country’s contest presidential election. PEN America today condemned the detention of two managing directors of the Belarus Free Theatre, Svetlana Sugako and Nadezhda Brodskaya, as well as acting company member Daria Andreyanova, saying their arrests were politically motivated attempts to silence critical voices and demanding they be released immediately and unconditionally alongside all other political prisoners.

“We must call a wolf a wolf: President Aleksander Lukashenko’s crackdown on protests in the wake of this rigged election is meant to silence dissent and purge his critics,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “For years, Belarus Free Theatre has been one of the most consistently outspoken critics of Lukashenko’s government, including during the run-up to this election. That three of their members were arrested during protests on Sunday and have not been heard from since only goes to show the extent to which authorities fear the vital voices of artists. The Belarusian government must immediately release Svetlana, Nadezhda, Daria and all other political prisoners arrested for merely exercising their fundamental right to assembly and expression.”

Since their arrest on August 9, the whereabouts of Sugako, Brodskaya, and Andreyanova remain unknown. Belarus Free Theatre, which was founded in 2005, often uses its platform to shed light on human rights abuses in the country. Because the government fails to recognize the company, they are forced to operate clandestinely, performing everywhere from private apartments to warehouses to outdoor venues to railway tunnels. Members are consistently harassed and detained by authorities, and audience members invited to shows are typically asked to bring documentation in preparation for police raids and arrests. 

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection, a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. Read ARC’s profile of Belarus Free Theatre and a blog by PEN America’s Eurasia Director Polina Sadovskaya about seeing one of the theater’s performances. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.