The 19 February 2011 sees the second-month anniversary of the mass arrests which followed demonstrations against the results of the flawed presidential election of 19 December 2010. The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International calls again 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. We strongly urge our members to send messages of support to these writers and their families, details of whom, and addresses, we include below.
The WiPC of PEN International is a member of the Belarus Committee, a group of NGOs and individuals including Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, English PEN, H20 Lawyers, Index on Censorship, the writer Sir Tom Stoppard and a representative from the families of those detained. Its patrons include Mikhail Gorbachev and Vaclav Havel. The Belarus Committee seeks the release of all prisoners of conscience in Belarus, supports the families of those imprisoned, and demands that the government of Belarus meets international human rights standards, particularly in reference to the rights to free speech and free association. The Belarus Committee has organised a demonstration outside the embassy of Belarus in London for 19 February 2011, which will be mirrored in Minsk.
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 (‘Organization 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 (‘Organization 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 (‘Organization 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 (‘Organization 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 see: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/news/belarus-three-writers-released-severe-restrictions-place-on-movements
The above writers and journalists have all been declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. For a full list of Belarusian prisoners of conscience and for more information about the Belarus Committee, please see: http://zoneofsilence.org/slider_item/prisoners-of-conscience-2/
For a report about attacks on the press in Belarus in 2010, please see: http://www.cpj.org/2011/02/attacks-on-the-press-2010-belarus.php