The protest march will begin at 5pm outside the offices of PR Company Grayling to highlight the company’s continued business within Belarus:
Please arrive promptly, as we will then be walking en masse to the Houses of Parliament.
Following the march, at 6pm the Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) will be performing at the House of Commons. Actor Jude Law, a supporter of Free Belarus Now, will be taking part in a reading with BFT in the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons. This will be the first time in recent history that the dissident theatre company has done so inside a working chamber of a Western Parliament. The event will be hosted by Denis MacShane MP, Pamela Nash MP and John Whittingdale MP and will begin with an introduction by Sir Tom Stoppard. The event is in association with the Belarus Committee, of which English PEN is a member, and Free Belarus Now and is supported by the Young Vic and Almeida theatres.
Natalia Koliada and Nikolai Khalezin founded BFT five years ago. Its performances highlight the human rights abuses that take place in the Republic of Belarus, such as the murders and disappearances of activists, the harassment of journalists and those who promote free speech and expression, and censorship by the State.
The Theatre performed at the Young Vic in London two weeks before the presidential elections in Belarus, after which hundreds of people were arrested for their involvement in a pro-democracy rally. Many – including presidential opposition candidates – remain in prison or are under house arrest. Natalia and Nikolai are among those forced to leave Belarus after the arrests for fear of imprisonment.
“We strongly feel that if British Parliamentarians hear us speak to them about Belarus through the arts, that they will be persuaded to take action against Lukashenko,” says Natalia.
BFT have recently been in the U.S. to raise awareness of the situation in Belarus. Thirty American theatres joined BFT to protest in the streets of New York, insisting on an unconditional release of all political prisoners. The U.S government has placed economic and political sanctions on Belarus and has condemned what it described as the ‘brutal crackdown’ by Lukashenko’s regime after the elections.
“British society has been one of the most active in protesting against injustice in the world and it is a great honour that Belarus is supported by British citizens,” says Natalia. “For years we have had substantial support from the United Kingdom, especially the theatre community.”
Sir Tom Stoppard has supported BFT since 2005 and is a patron of Free Belarus Now. Steven Spielberg, Sigrid Rausing, Sir Mick Jagger and actors such as Jeremy Irons, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Kim Cattrall, Ian McKellen among many more in the global artistic community are helping BFT to raise awareness through the ‘Global Artistic Company in Solidarity with Belarus’.
“We ask all people from all professional backgrounds to come and join us to Free Belarus Now!” says Natalia.
For more information on the Free Belarus Theatre, follow them on Facebook.
For press enquires please contact Mike Harris on 0207 324 2534 / 07974 838468; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natalia Koliada, the co-founder of the Belarus Free Theatre; Irina Bogdanova, the sister of imprisoned presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov; Sir Tom Stoppard; and representatives of Index on Censorship, H20 law (who represent the families of those detained), the Young Vic and Almeida Theatres will all be available for interview on the day.
English PEN continues to call for the release from detention of the journalists Dimitri Bondarenko, Aleksandr Fiaduta and Pavel Severinets, for the release from house arrest of Vladimir Neklyaev and Irina Khalip, and for the lifting of the severe restrictions placed on the movements of Natalia Radzina. We also call for the dismissal of the politically-motivated criminal cases against them.
Chair of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, Salil Tripathi, has said:
“What the prisoners have experienced is outrageous. Their rights of free expression, legal representation, and political participation must be respected. Their ill-treatment must end; they should have access to lawyers and medical professionals, and their rights must be upheld immediately.”
We strongly urge all our members to send messages of support to these writers and their families, details of whom are included below:
Vladimir Neklyaev, is a writer, poet, former president of the Belarus PEN Centre, and the Tell the Truth party’s candidate in the 2010 presidential elections. He was arrested on 19 December 2010, held for a month in a KGB detention centre (in Belarus the security services are still called the KGB), and charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organisation of riots’). In January 2011 he was moved from the detention centre and placed under strict house arrest, where he has two KGB officers living with him. He is not allowed access to the telephone, the internet or newspapers. His family are not allowed to see him and he is only permitted visits from his lawyer. Neklyaev was seriously beaten during his arrest and was denied adequate medical treatment in prison, where he suffered four serious episodes relating to his hypertension. He faces 15 years in prison if convicted.
Irina Khalip is a journalist for the Russian Novaya Gazeta and wife of opposition presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov (still in detention). On 19 December 2010, whilst giving an interview to the Russian radio station Echo Moskvy, she was arrested and severely beaten by the police. She was held in isolation by the KGB for one month and charged with ‘organizing and participating in mass disorder.’ Like Neklyaev, she was placed under strict house arrest in January 2011 and has two KGB officers living with her. She is denied access to the internet, telephone and newspapers, and is only allowed visits from her mother and her three-year-old son. Shortly after her arrest, the authorities attempted to take her son from the family (he was staying with his grandmother) and place him in state custody. He and his grandmother were forced by the authorities to undergo a series of psychological and invasive medical tests before it was agreed he could stay with her. Khalip faces between 15 and 23 years in prison if convicted.
Natalia Radzina is a journalist for the pro-democracy news website Charter 97. She was arrested alongside all the staff and volunteers at the website on 19 December 2010. She was badly beaten after her arrest and there were distressing reports that she suffered bleeding from the ears. She was charged with ‘organizing and participating in mass disorder,’ and faces between 15 and 23 years in prison if convicted. Radzina spent one month in a KGB isolation unit and was then released. She was forced by the authorities to relocate from Minsk to the town of Kobrin and her passport has been confiscated. She is not allowed to leave the town, must report to the local police daily, and is barred from speaking about the case against her. Her lawyer has been forced to sign a gagging order.
Pavel Severinets is an opposition activist, author of several books, and a member of Belarus PEN which recently awarded him their book of the year prize. He was arrested on 19 December 2010 and is still in KGB detention. He is charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organisation of riots’). Very little information is known about his current condition. If convicted, he faces 15 years in prison.
Aleksandr Fiaduta is an author, literary critic and member of Belarus PEN. A former member of Lukashenko’s administration, he resigned in 1994 and published a critical biography – banned in Belarus – of the President. He is a member of Neklyaev’s Tell the Truth party. He was arrested on 19 December 2010 and was charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organisation of riots’). He is still detained. He suffers from diabetes and it is unclear what level of care – if any -he is receiving. He faces 15 years in prison if convicted.
Dimitri Bondarenko is a journalist at Charter 97. He was arrested on 19 December 2010 and is still being held by the KGB. He was charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organisation of riots’), and faces 15 years in prison if convicted. According to information received by the WiPC, he has not seen his lawyer since 29 December 2010.
Messages of Support
Some of these writers and journalists have been prevented from receiving post, but messages of support for all six of them and their families can be sent to our PEN Centre in Belarus:
Post box 218, 220050,
(messages will be passed on to the families)
Messages to the following detainees can be sent to the same prison address at:
Post box 8, 220050,
Севярынец Павел Канстанцінавіч (name in Russian Cyrillic)
Фядута Аляксандр Іосіфавіч
Бандарэнка Дзмітры Яўгеньевіч
Letters of appeal
Please send letters of appeal to the Belarusian authorities:
– Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Dimitri Bondarenko, Aleksandr Fiaduta and Pavel Severinets;
– Calling for the lifting of the severe restrictions placed on the activities of Vladimir Neklyaev, Natalia Radina and Irina Khalip;
– Condemning the arrest and ill-treatment of human rights activists and journalists following the post-election protests;
– 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 for the dismissal of politically-motivated criminal cases.
President of the Republic of Belarus
Alyaksandr G. Lukashenko
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Fax: 375 172 26 06 10 or 375 172 22 38 72
Similar appeals should be sent to the Belarusian Embassy in your own country.
His Excellency Aleksandr Mikhnevich
Embassy of the Republic of Belarus
6 Kensington Court
The Belarus Committee
English PEN is part of The Belarus Committee which seeks to help the people of Belarus chronicle violations of international law and universal human rights and campaigns at home and abroad to end them.
The Committee seeks to provide a platform and coordination for joint action of association organisations. Together we will be pressing the government of Belarus to meet international human rights standards, in particular on the rights to free speech and free association. We believe that the people of Belarus must be free and unfettered to choose their own destiny through immediate free and fair elections according to international standards and declared by international monitors, and that all Belarusians must be allowed fair and equal opportunity to campaign in the new elections.
The Belarus Committee aims to ensure that:
a) All prisoners of conscience currently held in Belarus are immediately released without condition;
b) Prisoners have access to appropriate medical care, legal assistance and justice;
c) There is support for the families of those imprisoned;
d) There is an end to threats against those helping prisoners of conscience;
e) That is international solidarity with the families of those detained, Belarusian non-governmental organisations, lawyers and civil society;
f) That there is international awareness abroad about the current situation in Belarus through media work and public action.
The committee is comprised of representatives from Anglo-Belarusian Committee, Association of Belarusians in the UK, Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, English PEN, H20 Lawyers, Index on Censorship, International PEN, alongside Sir Tom Stoppard and Irina Bogdanova on behalf of the families of those detained.
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/belarusfreetheatreandjudelawtoperforminthehousesofparliamentfollowingaprotestmarchforprisonersofconscience/