International PEN has learned that Vladimir Neklyayev, poet, author and former president of Belarusian PEN, and newspaper editor Sergei Voznyak, arrested on May 18, have now been freed. The charges of “spreading false information” remain. PEN will monitor their cases and will take further action should they be brought to trial.

Background Information

Vladimir Neklyayav and Sergei Voznyak were among scores of members of civil society groups arrested in mid May accused of distributing “false information." PEN considered the arrests to be in clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and association. Vladimir Neklyayev, age 63, a poet and author, is the leader of the organization “Speak the Truth”, set up in February this year. From 2005 to 2009, he was also president of the Belarusian PEN Center, of which he remains a member. On May 18, police descended on the homes of members of this and other civil society groups in several cities across the country, including the “Speak the Truth” head office in Minsk. Reportedly wearing bullet proof vests and carrying machine guns, the officers seized computers, mobile phones, memory sticks, books and leaflets, and scores of people were arrested. Three, including Neklyayev, had remained detained under Article 250 of the Criminal Code for “dissemination of false information." Also detained were Andrei Dmitriyev, a leader of the opposition United Civil Party, and Sergei Voznyak, editor of the opposition newspaper Tovarishch. A “Speak the Truth” activist told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that he believed that the raids are aimed at intimidating opposition groups in advance presidential elections that must take place before February 2011. In the same article, Neklyayev himself is quoted as saying that his organization wants to “prompt Belarusian society to realize the real state of affairs in the country where there is little room for the truth but where there are a lot of lies”. He explained that activists across the country had been gathering government reports that they see as being untrue and publishing them on the Internet as part of their campaign. This in turn led to the charges of distributing “false information” being made against him and other activists. The arrests have led to protests by leading academics, writers and activists in Belarus who have also publicly supported the movement.

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