May 26, 2011

BELARUS: Writers and journalists sentenced

The sentencing of writers and journalists detained in Belarus on December 19, 2010, following demonstrations against the flawed presidential elections, has taken place. One of the five persons whose cases PEN is following, Dimitri Bondarenko, was given a two year prison term, while Irina Khalip, Vladimir Neklyaev and Aleksandr Fiaduta were all given two year suspended sentences for alleged participation in riots. The fifth, Pavel Severinets was sentenced to three years “restricted freedom”. While PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee welcomes the releases on suspended sentences, it regrets that these were not unconditional and calls for all restrictions to be lifted. It continues to call for the release of Dimitri Bondarenko.

The five are among a number of opposition supporters and activists who have been tried for their involvement in the demonstrations and who have received prison terms and suspended sentences. Among them are Andrei Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister and co-founder of the Charter 97 group who was sentenced earlier in May to five years in prison. He was considered the most prominent of the seven opposition candidates who stood for election. Two other former presidential candidates, Mikalay Statkevich and Dzmitry Vus, were sentenced on May 26 to six and five and a half years in prison respectively.

Dimitri Bondarenko, a journalist with Charter 97, and member of the opposition leader Andrei Sannikov’s campaign team was sentenced to two years in prison on April 27. Originally charged with ‘organization of riots’, this was subsequently changed to a charge of ‘participation of activities that disrupt the public order’ (under Article 342 of the Belarusian Penal Code). He was also ordered to pay a fine for damages to public transport. He had admitted taking part in the mass demonstrations but denied the other charges against him. His wife, Volha Bondarenko, recently expressed alarm about his physical well being after visiting him in jail, fearing that he may be confined to a wheelchair unless he gets urgent medical attention.

Pavel Severinets, an opposition activist, author of several books, and a member of Belarus PEN was sentenced on May 17, 2010 to three years of restricted freedom without being sent to a correctional institution (so-called “chemistry”).

On May 15, 2011 Irina Khalip was given a two year suspended sentence for her involvement in the demonstrations. She is a journalist for the Russian Novaya Gazeta and is married to Andrei Sannikov. Khalip was severely beaten and arrested by police when giving an interview to the Russia radio station Echo Moskvy on December 19, 2011 and detained in isolation by the KGB for one month. She was charged with ‘organizing and participating in mass disorder’.

Vladimir Neklyaev, a writer, poet, former president of the Belarus PEN Center, and was the Tell the Truth party’s candidate in the 2010 presidential elections, was also given a two year suspended sentence on May 20, 2011. He was arrested on December 19, 2010 and charged with ‘organization of riots’. This charge was subsequently downgraded to ‘participation in activities that disrupt the public order’ (under Article 342 of the Belarusian Penal Code) for which he was convicted.

Alexsandr Fiaduta, an author, literary critic and member of Belarus PEN and a member of Vladimir Neklyaev’s Tell the Truth party, was also charged with ‘participation in activities which break the public order’ and given a two year suspended sentence.

For detailed coverage of events in Belarus, visit:
The Brussels-based

Office for a Democratic Belarus, run by Belarusian living outside the country

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that covers the Europe region.

Sign the petition below to send the following appeals:

  • Welcoming the releases of Irina Khalip, Vladimir Neklyaev, and Alexsandr Fiaduta while remaining concerned that their sentences were suspended and that they remain under threat of re-arrest
  • Protesting the two year sentence against Dimitri Bondarenko, accused of involvement in the demonstrations but where the charges are considered to be based on unfounded evidence and politically motivated.
  • Similarly protesting the “restrictive freedom” levied against Pavel Severinets;
  • Adding alarm at reports that Dimitri Bondarenko is at risk of permanent physical disability and seeking assurances that he is receiving appropriate medical attention while he remains in detention;
  • Urging that all writers and journalists held by the authorities and under other forms of restriction for the peaceful practice of their rights to freedom of expression and association be freed immediately, and that a full and proper investigation be held into reports of ill treatment during the arrests in December 2010.
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