Belarus after elections: state terrorism and its hostages

On 19 December 2010, the day of the presidential elections in Belarus, thousands of people went out to protest against the election fraud that resulted in the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko for the fourth term.

Late at night, specially trained police forces conducted a rigid and inadequate operation to disperse the peaceful rally. Around 700 people were imprisoned that day, and hundreds were arrested later. Seven of Lukashenko’s opponents were arrested  on the day of elections. This is an unprecedented event for Belarus, where election fraud has become standard practice in the last 15 years.

Most of the arrested  spent 10 to 15 days in prison. The so-called “pipeline trials” took place. The verdicts sounded equally absurd. For example, one of the arrested was convicted of calling out anti-government slogans. The convict turned out to be dumb.

Dozens of those arrested are still in custody. Most of them are contained in the internal KGB prison, some are under house arrest. Sometimes they are called political hostages of the regime, as in fact the authorities treat them as goods for trade. (This is also a standard practice in Belarus after elections). Our officials hope to make a profitable deal, exchanging the freedom of victims for weakening of international sanctions against the Belarusian government. It is hard to resist the temptation to call all this state terrorism.

There is no exaggeration in this definition, especially considering the climate of fear that has been created by the state security services in the Belarusian society. On 19 December, thousands of Belarusian citizens were registered as protesters via their mobile phones, and within a few weeks many of them were called in for questioning by the KGB. (As for me, I’ve been to the rally, but was lucky not to be arrested and not even be summoned for questioning later. My friends are joking that this is because I have no phone.)

The pervading fear is also increased as a result of mass searches  of the offices of political and social organizations and private apartments by the police and the KGB. On 28 December 2010 the office of the Belarusian PEN Center was searched without a warrant. The police confiscated all the computers of PEN-Center and of the independent newspaper Nasha Niva, with which the PEN center shares office.

But let’s go back to the really important things. Among the politicians imprisoned by KGB are Andrey Sannikau, who ran for president, and his wife, a famous journalist Iryna Khalip, recently transferred from the KGB prison under house arrest. The family faced a particularly cynical blackmail of the authorities, who tried – fortunately, with no result – to take away their three years old son from his grandparents.

Among the prisoners there is also an ex-presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich, who announced a long-term hunger strike. At the same prison are still sitting two writers, members of the Belarusian PEN – critic Alexander Fiaduta and essayist Paval Sevyarynets.
Separately it is necessary to  mention Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, one of the most famous Belarusian poets, the former chairman and now – the honorary chairman of the Belarusian PEN-Center. In 2010, Nyaklyaeu  ran for president of Belarus – and, as a creative person, had the most vivid and memorable campaign among all alternative candidates. Maybe this vivid and memorable show appeared to be something unforgivable for the regime as Nyaklyaeu was repressed the most brutally.

On December 19, unlike the other candidates, Uladzimir Neklyaevu was not even allowed to walk to the square where the rally was about to take place. A group of unknown assailants brutally beat him up, so he was immediately hospitalized with an injured brain and other serious injuries. On the same day Nyaklyaeu was kidnapped from the hospital by the KGB – just as his wife Volha watched. In the next few days there was no news from him, bad rumors only. Later it became clear that Nyaklyaeu was in prison, where for a long time he was not allowed to meet even with his attorney.

Finally, on January 29, 2011, after 40 days in jail, Nyaklyaeu was transferred under house arrest, where he still remains. His current living condition is far from comfortable. One of the rooms in his one-bedroom apartment is constantly occupied by two employees of the KGB. The health of the poet leaves much to be desired. He regularly complains of headaches and memory problems.

Nyaklyaeu is not allowed to talk on the phone, use the Internet, watch the news, and even to come close to the window, which would be regarded as an attempt to contact the press. Nyaklyaeu is banned from meeting people, including his two daughters. A few days ago, the writer was allowed to use the laptop, but under a specific condition: the guard had to control the process of writing and check the text in his notebook immediately before and immediately after. The poet refused such permission.

I’d like to finish this report on an optimistic note, but without lyrical clichés and wishful thinking Therefore, I’ll just use the word “solidarity”, which I believe hasn’t been totally compromised yet. An unprecedented wave of solidarity has risen recently in Belarus and abroad. Hundreds of friends and often strangers within the country brought money and warm clothing for the prisoners, came to courts to support the accused, and replaces the equipment of independent organizations that was confiscated during the searches. There was an international wave of solidarity with Belarus – numerous appeals and pickets in front of the Belarusian embassies in different countries, articles in the media, charity concerts and readings of work by Uladzimir Neklyaeu and other Belarusian writers. Many thanks to the members of the PEN-Center and friends from Poland and Sweden, Lithuania and the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Russia, as well as many others!

Apparently, solidarity inspired the members of the Belarusian PEN-Center to nominate Uladimir Neklyaeu’s for being considered for the Nobel prize for literature on February 17, at the PEN meeting . A few days ago, in the name of solidarity, the Union of Belarusian Writers joined in. Every manifestation of solidarity in this matter from the international and national PEN, as well as other writers’ organizations, of course, would be greatly appreciated. Since we believe that each publication of works by Nyaklyeau in Europe and worldwide today may lead to the release of their author – the author, who recently was doing everything to bring about the liberation of Belarus.

The recent publication of Nyaklyaeu’s writing in Belarus is hardly surprising. This is not a book of poetry or prose as their distribution as well as any mention of the author in state media are unofficially banned in Belarus. This is a tattoo, which one girl made on her arm. Four lines of a poem by Nyaklyaeu. A Russian poet Alexey Tsvetkov, who translated these words into his language and posted a translation on the Internet, said that such a publication is an object of envy for any poet.

A statement from our colleagues at Belarus PEN, 26 March 2011.

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