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Belarus January 14, 2011
H.E. Aleksandr G. Lukashenko
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g, Minsk
Republic of Belarus
Fax: (011.375.17.2) 26.10.06
Since your election for the fourth time to the office of President of Belaruson on December 1, reports from your country tell of a massive demonstration against a suspect vote count and a brutal riot police retaliation with six hundred arrested, including scores of reporters. Not all have been released.
The world has been concerned dismayed, confused by your government’s reaction to an election of which it was said you won 80% of the vote. This week, the world learned the story of three-year-old Danil, son of opposition candidate, Andrei Sannikov, who has been jailed since the night of the election, as has his wife, Irina Khalin, correspondent for the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Reports indicate warnings that the boy may be taken from his grandmother’s care and placed in government charge. World reaction is consternation and outrage.
We are reminded of an earlier and despised period of Stalin’s rule in Soviet Russia, but there is in our time a significant difference. Today, little is hidden. Technology has made transparency the coin of democratic societies, which is your claim for Belarus. The global community knows what is happening almost as it occurs, complete with photos and videos. Governance cannot be a private affair.
We, the Freedom of the Press Committee of the Overseas Press Club of America, condemn the harsh efforts to intimidate and suppress the media, including Danil’s mother, as part of what appears to be a program to block all debate and resistance. To review:
- Irina Khalin. working for Novoya Gazeta, was giving an interview to a Moscow radio station, when she was dragged from her car with her husband, Andrei Sannikov, and beaten, the night of December 19. They were observing the crowds protesting election results. Jailed since in the KGB security prison in Minsk, they fear a 15-year prison term for “organizing and participating in mass disorder.”
- Natalya Radzina, editor-in-chief of pro-opposition news website, Charter97.org, was knocked unconscious that same night according to witnesses. She too is awaiting trial and sentence.
- The next day, the offices of Charter97 were ransacked and completely smashed and a connection with journalists working inside was lost.
- Among the 600 citizens jailed on December 19 were 24 journalists, and ten are still imprisoned awaiting investigation and/or trial. Beatings by the police left many wounded and untreated.
- Twitter, G-mail, Facebook and Yahoo were blocked on election night on computers, but Blackberry users were able to transmit the story.
- On December 28, Belorussian KGB security agents raided the offices shared by Nasha Niva and the Belorussian PEN Center and left with a dozen computers and numerous digital devices.
- On that same day, the home of Nasha Niva’s editor-in-chief, Andrei Skurko, was raided by the KGB security forces who took his computer and forcibly made him sign a gag order.
The list is long, very long, Mr. Lukachenko. Belarus has fewer friends in the world than it did. The actions concerning the little boy have led to serious opprobrium from international organizations and political leaders in a number of countries. It is most unfortunate that your expressed interest in moving closer to Western governments is challenged by all of the above.
In many languages, there is a phrase similar to the English language “You can run, but you can’t hide.” Today, it applies to political activities and elections. Many can run for office — but all is known, all is judged. We call upon you, Mr. President, to encourage journalists to write and speak freely and without fear in your country. Give orders to the KGB to respect their efforts and their property. Allow the energy of debate to stimulate your economy and your people so that Belarus can take its place in the international economy. The first step should be the immediate release of the arbitrarily imprisoned journalists, and a return to normalcy for Danil and his family, as well as for all the others.
We respectfully ask for the courtesy of a reply.
Freedom of the Press Committee
Administration of the President
Karl Marx Str., 38
220016 g, Minsk
Republic of Belarus
H.E. Oleg Krazchenko
Ambassador of Belarus to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of Belarus
1619 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washinton, DC 20009
Fax: (202) 986.1805
Ambassador Andrei Dapkiunas
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Belarus to the United Nations
136 East 67 Street
New York, NY 10021
Fax: (212) 734.4810
Mr. Michael Scanlon
Embassy of the United States of America
46 Staro Villenskaya Str
Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20520