PEN International is deeply concerned by the worsening situation in Belarus, which has seen the continued detention, maltreatment and impending prosecution of a number of writers and journalists, including members of the Belarus PEN Center. PEN calls for the immediate release of all writers, journalists, and activists who have been detained for practicing their right to freedom of expression, for the dismissal of politically-motivated criminal cases, and for a full and proper investigation into reports of ill-treatment.

Background Information

Following the mass arrest of protestors who demonstrated against the result of the flawed presidential elections of December 19, 2010, Belarusian state persecution of the media has increased dramatically. Recent developments have seen the Belarus PEN Center’s office in Minsk raided, with computers and papers seized; newspapers and pro-opposition media outlets have also been ransacked with web sites blocked. At least six noted journalists have been charged with "organizing mass disorder," with some facing up to 23 years in prison if found guilty. There have also been very disturbing reports that the state has attempted to seize journalist Irina Khalip’s three-year-old son, who is currently staying with his grandparents. The child’s father is the former opposition candidate for president Andrei Sannikov.

Both non-governmental and inter-governmental bodies have raised concerns regarding the repressive atmosphere in Belarus. There are reports that the EU is considering reintroducing sanctions against Belarus. The Minsk office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which criticized the lack of transparency in the recent elections, has been forced to shut down. 

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 20 journalists were arrested following the demonstrations. PEN can provide updates for the following writers and journalists who are currently detained:

  • Vladimir Neklyaev, writer, poet, former president of the Belarus PEN Center and the "Tell the Truth" party’s candidate in the presidential elections, is being held in a KGB detention center, charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus ("organization of riots"). He was seriously beaten by security services and suffers from high blood pressure. It is unclear what treatment he is receiving. He has been denied access to his lawyer.
  • Pavel Severinets, 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, charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus ("organization of riots").
  • Aleksandr Fiaduta, author, literary critic and member of Belarus PEN. A former staffer of Lukashenko's administration, he resigned in 1994 and published a critical biography of the president that has been banned in Belarus. He is now a member of Neklyaev's "Tell the Truth" party and is being charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus ("organization of riots"). He suffers from diabetes and it is unclear what level of care, if any, he is receiving.
  • Nadina Radzina, who was arrested alongside all the staff and volunteers of Charter 97, was badly beaten after her arrest and there are distressing reports that she suffered bleeding from the ears. She has been charged with "organizing and participating in mass disorder," two separate charges in Belarus which carry potential sentences of 15 and eight years’ imprisonment, respectively. She is being held in an isolation unit and her lawyer has been forced to sign a gag order.
  • Dimitri Bondarenko, of Charter 97, is being held by the KGB and is being charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus ("organization of riots").
  • Irina Khalip, journalist for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and wife of opposition candidate Andrei Sannikov (also detained). She was severely beaten by police while giving an interview to the Russian radio station Echo Moskvy. She is being held in isolation by the KGB, and, like Nadina Radzina, is being charged with "organizing and participating in mass disorder" and faces up to 23 years in prison if convicted. Her lawyer has been forced to sign a gag order.

Write A Letter

  • Condemning the arrest and ill-treatment of Vladimir Neklyaev, Irina Khalip, Nadina Radzina, Pavel Severinets, Aleksandr Fiaduta, Dimitri Bondarenko, and other writers, human rights activists, and journalists;
  • Urging as a matter of urgency that all detainees be provided with appropriate medical attention;
  • Calling for an end to the persecution of press and media outlets by the Belarusian authorities;
  • Urging that all journalists and human rights activists be freed immediately and that all politically-motivated criminal cases be dismissed.

Send Your Letter To

President of the Republic of Belarus
Alyaksandr G. Lukashenko
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Belarus
Fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 or +375 172 22 38 72
Email: pres@president.gov.by
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