New York City, December 9, 2011—A delegation from the Norwegian and Danish PEN centers that was on its way to meet writers and assess the situation for freedom of expression in Belarus was detained at the airport in Minsk and refused entry to the country early this week.

The delegation, which included three members of Norwegian PEN and a member of the board of Danish PEN, flew to Minsk on the morning of Monday, December 5, 2011, for planned meetings with Belarusian PEN, members of the Belarusian Writers Union and Belarusian Association of Journalists, and other writers and publishers in a country often described as “Europe’s last dictatorship.” All had paid their visa fees but were denied visas on arrival, held overnight with no food or water, and forced to return to their home countries the following morning. The group reportedly received no explanation for the visa denial.

In an emotional letter sent to the members of the delegation on Wednesday, Belarusian PEN member and former presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyaev wrote:

Please accept my apologies for the awful behavior of the Belarusian regime. By accepting money for your visas and then denying you entry to the country, holding  you at the airport without food or water and then kicking you out of the country as if you were criminals, the regime has again, for the whole world, demonstrated its brutality and lack of respect for its own citizens and their guests. And, basically, a lack of respect for human rights. At the same time this is a demonstration of the regime´s attitude to culture in the broadest possible sense.

Neklyaev, a former president of Belarusian PEN, knows well the attitude of the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, a former Soviet official who became president of Belarus in 1994. Last year, Neklyaev was beaten and taken to the hospital during an opposition rally on election day, December 19, 2010, and then abducted from the hospital and jailed. He was released on January 31, 2011, as the European Union was preparing to impose sanctions on Belarus for its persistent human rights violations.

PEN American Center has protested the refusal to admit the PEN delegation, which it said “clearly violates the spirit of international covenants guaranteeing freedom of expression and association.” In a letter to Charge d’Affaires Oleg Kravchenko at the Belarusian embassy in Washington, PEN pressed for an explanation for the visa denial and assurances that the delegation would be allowed to carry out the mission as originally planned.

PEN American Center’s letter to the Belarusian embassy can be found here.

Norwegian PEN’s release on the visa denial can be found here, and the full text of the letter from Vladimir Neklyaev of Belarusian PEN is here.
Danish PEN’s release, in Danish, is here.

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of PEN International, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work, please visit


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