Wednesday, January 12, 2011

BELARUS: Letter to President Lukashenko from PEN International

Recent events following the flawed presidential elections in Belarus have seen the continued detention, maltreatment and impending prosecution of a number of writers and journalists, including members of the Belarus PEN Centre. In response to this situation, the President of PEN International, John Ralston Saul, PEN's International Secretary, Hori Takeaki, and the Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee, Marian Botsford Fraser, have addressed a letter to President Lukashenko of Belarus. The text of the letter can be found below. A copy has also been sent to the Belarussian Embassy in London. We urge PEN members to continue to send appeals. For recommended action, please see our most recent update:

Further information:

For update on the custody battle over Irina Khalip's son, please see

For an interview with the daughter of detained Vladimir Neklyaev, please see

For information about the Free Belarus Theatre Company, please see

President of the Republic of Belarus
Alyaksandr G. Lukashenko
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the PEN International community of writers, in more than 100 countries worldwide, we are writing to express our profound concern about the arrests, beatings, and ongoing detention of our PEN colleagues in Belarus. Writers and journalists, whose details are provided below, have had the courage to speak out for democracy and have been arrested in violation of their rights to free expression and peaceful assembly.

In addition to the arrest and detention of Vladimir Neklyaev, former president of Belarus PEN, and other writers, journalists and human rights defenders, PEN International has learned that on 28 December, the Belarus PEN Centre's office in Minsk was raided during which computers and papers were seized; those details also are provided below.

On behalf of the PEN community, President Lukashenko, we urge that you immediately order the release of Mr. Neklyaev and all others arrested in violation of their right to free expression and peaceful assembly, and ensure that those who have suffered beatings be given necessary medical treatment. We strongly urge for the dismissal of politically-motivated criminal cases, and for a full and proper investigation into reports of ill-treatment.

What we ask is not unusual, nor is it particular to any civilization. These are the standards accepted by your neighbours; normal international standards by which Belarus will be judged today and in the future. The wellbeing of every nation-state, its social and economic wellbeing, is dependent on the respect in which its government is held by its own citizens and their neighbours.

Yours Sincerely,

John Ralston Saul
President of PEN International

Hori Takeaki
International Secretary of PEN International

Marian Botsford Fraser
Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International

PEN International has received reports of the following arrests, detention and ill-treatment of writers and journalists as of 6th January, 2011:

• Vladimir Neklyaev, writer, poet, former president of the Belarus PEN Centre and the Tell the Truth party's candidate in the presidential elections: held in a KGB detention centre, charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organization of riots'). He was seriously beaten by the 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: also 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: 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.
• Natalia Radzina, arrested alongside all the staff and volunteers of Charter 97: badly beaten after her arrest and there are distressing reports that she suffered bleeding from the ears; charged with ‘organizing and participating in mass disorder,' two separate charges in Belarus which carry potential sentences of 15 and 8 years' imprisonment respectively. She is being held in an isolation unit and her lawyer has been forced to sign a gagging order.
• Dimitri Bondarenko, also of Charter 97: held by the KGB, charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organization of riots').
• Irina Khalip, journalist for the Russian Novaya Gazeta and wife of opposition candidate Andrei Sannikov (also detained): severely beaten by police, held in isolation by the KGB, charged with ‘organizing and participating in mass disorder' and facing 23 years in prison if convicted. Her lawyer has been forced to sign a gagging order.

Furthermore, according to reports, Belarus State Security Agency (KGB) officers entered the Belarus PEN offices in Minsk on 28 December, seizing computers, CDs and flash drives. The home of Belarus PEN Vice President, Andrej Skurko, was also raided, as was that of another PEN member, Mikhas Bashura, a poet and publisher. Skurko is also editor in chief of the independent newspaper, Nasha Niva (website currently blocked). Belarus websites report that the homes of a number of other civil and political rights activists have been raided in recent days.

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