Belarus Pen Offices Searched and Equipment Seized
PEN International has learned that on December 28, the Belarus PEN Center’s office in Minsk was raided, and computers and papers were seized. This action is part of a general crackdown on opposition activists who had protested against the flawed presidential elections earlier this month. Hundreds of protestors were arrested, among them writers and journalists, including leading members of Belarus PEN. PEN is increasingly alarmed at the continued crackdown and that many who were arrested around December 19 remain imprisoned, among them Vladimir Neklyaev, former president of Belarus PEN, who had stood as an opposition candidate in the presidential election. PEN calls for an immediate end to the attacks on writers, journalists, human rights defenders and all those who have practiced their right to freedom of expression.
According to reports, Belarus State Security Agency (KGB) officers entered the Belarus PEN offices in Minsk on December 28, seizing computers, CDs and flash drives. The home of Belarus PEN Vice President Andrej Skurko was also raided, as was that of another PEN member, Mikhas Bashura, a poet and publisher. Skurko is also editor in chief of the independent newspaper Nasha Niva, whose web site is currently blocked. Belarus web sites report that the homes of a number of other civil and political rights activists have been raided in recent days, including the offices of the pro-opposition radio station Euroradio. A similar raid on the independent TV station Belstat was thwarted as staff, who had anticipated the raid, had dismantled and taken home the broadcasting equipment.
On December 21, PEN International issued the following alert. The concerns raised in the alert remain acute:
PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee is increasingly alarmed by the December 19, 2010, mass arrests of demonstrators, among them writers and journalists, including members of the Belarus PEN Center. It calls for an immediate end to the arrests, the release of all those who are held for their legitimate rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression, and a full and proper investigation into reports of ill-treatment.
Reports today suggest that over 600 people who took part in demonstrations in Minsk on December 19 against the outcome of the recent presidential elections have been arrested and will remain in prison for up to 15 days. Some may then find themselves charged with "mass disturbances" and, if convicted, could serve several years in prison. Among them are a number of writers and journalists, details of whom are being gathered by PEN International (see below). One of the most well known to be arrested is Vladimir Neklyaev, writer and former president of the Belarus PEN Center, who was severely injured, as reported in a PEN Rapid Action Alert issued on December 20, and who was taken from a hospital to an unknown location. Belarus PEN reports that he is now being held by the Belarus State Security Agency (KGB).
"The PEN International community is responding with deep concern and compassion to news of the beating and arrest of our colleague, Vladimir Neklyaev, former president of the Belarus PEN Center, and of other writers and journalists who took part in or attempted to report on events in Minsk," said Marian Botsford Fraser, chai of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International. "These writers and journalists have had the courage to speak out for democracy in the face of repression. We urge the Belarus authorities to immediately order the release of Mr. Neklyaev and all others arrested in violation of their right to free expression and peaceful assembly, to ensure that those who have suffered beatings be given necessary medical treatment and to address the troubling reports of a profoundly flawed election. We also extend our sympathy to Mr. Neklyaev and his family, and to our colleagues in Belarus PEN."
PEN has received reports of the following arrests of writers and journalists:
- Vladimir Neklyaev, writer, poet, leading member of the Tell the Truth party and its candidate in the presidential elections, and former president of the Belarus PEN Center. He is now being held in a KGB detention center.
- Pavel Severinets, an opposition activist, author of several books, and a member of Belarus PEN, which recently awarded him their book of the year prize. He is also being held in KGB detention.
- Aleksandr Fiaduta, an author and literary critic, member of Belarus PEN. He was a former staffer of Lukashenka's administration, but resigned after a few months in 1994, and then published a critical biography of the president which, although available in Russia, is banned in Belarus. He is now a member of Neklyaev's Tell the Truth party and is among those held by the KGB.
- Nadina Radzina, Dimitri Bondarenko, and all staff and volunteers of Charter 97, said to be Belarus's only independent online web site, were arrested after the site had suffered a cyber-attack believed to be government initiated. Radzina was reportedly beaten and both she and Bondarenko are said to be held by the KGB.
- Natalia Koliada and Tiomo Zhalianzniak, founders of the Belarus Free Theatre, which recently performed in London, and to which the UK playwright Sir Tom Stoppard is a patron. Koliada was held briefly and is now said to be in hiding. Zhaliazniak's whereabouts are unknown.
- Irina Khalip, journalist for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and wife of opposition candidate Andrei Sannikov, also arrested. She was severely beaten by police while giving an interview to the Russian radio station Echo Moskvy. She is being held by the KGB.
- At least 20 journalists are reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists to have been arrested. CPJ reports of police violence against Belarusian and foreign journalists attempting to cover the demonstrations, with cameras and recording equipment seized and smashed, beatings and injuries.
Write A Letter
- Condemning the arrest and ill-treatment of Vladimir Neklyaev and other writers, human rights activists and journalists;
- Expressing alarm at reports that some have been beaten and that they are held in poor prison conditions;
- Calling as a matter of urgency that all prisoners be provided with any necessary medical attention, and that their whereabouts be made known;
- Urging that all writers and journalists held by authorities for the peaceful practice of their rights to freedom of expression and association be freed immediately, and that a full and proper investigation be held into reports of ill treatment.
Send Your Letter To
President of the Republic of Belarus
Alyaksandr G. Lukashenka
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 or +375 172 22 38 72
Email: [email protected]
Via web site: http://www.president.gov.by/en/press10650.html
Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Belarus in your country if possible.
Please contact PEN if sending appeals after January 10, 2011: ftw [at] pen.org