Belarus: Two months since the mass arrest of writers and journalists; the detention and persecution continues

Last Saturday, 19 February, marked two months since demonstrations against the result of the presidential elections in Belarus resulted in the arrests and detention of over 600 civil society activists. The Belarusian secret police arrested 34 members of the opposition, among them presidential candidates, journalists and human rights activists, many of whom are still detained.

To mark the anniversary, English PEN and other members of the Belarus Committee held a demonstration outside the Embassy of Belarus in London. Over 50 demonstrators gathered to call for the release of prisoners of conscience, and to demand that the government of Belarus meets international human rights standards. Actor Samuel West gave a moving speech and read the text of a letter from the Belarus Committee to the Ambassador to the UK Aleksandr Mikhnevich.

Samuel West and Irina Bogadona deliver a letter from the Belarus Committee to the Embassy.


English PEN is continuing to call for the release from detention of the journalists Dimitri BondarenkoAleksandr 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.

For previous RAN alerts about Belarus, please click here.

For more information on the Belarus Committee, please click here.

For a report about attacks on the press in Belarus in 2010, please click here.

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:

Belarus PEN
Post box 218, 220050,
Minsk, Belarus
(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,
Minsk, Belarus

Pavel Severinets
Севярынец Павел Канстанцінавіч (name in Russian Cyrillic)

Aleksandr Fiaduta
Фядута Аляксандр Іосіфавіч

Dimitri Bondarenko
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.

Government address
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

Please note: there have been reports that the President’s email address is not working, so please consider sending your appeals via the Belarusian government website.
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
W8 5DL

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.

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