On the anniversary of Belarus' contested presidential election of Aleksandr Lukashenka, one that sparked the largest protests the country has ever seen, a court formally dissolved the local organization PEN Belarus. In late July, the government of Belarus moved to dissolve the local branch of PEN after the freedom of speech organization released a report showing 621 instances of human rights violations, including arrests and imprisonments, against culture workers in the first six months of 2021
"This fraudulent regime is so scared of writers, so afraid of those who dare to speak, that it has trained its energies on trying to snuff out an organization of literary luminaries that stands for books, stories, and a reverence for the written word," PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said. "The writers of Belarus won’t be silenced and PEN Belarus will not disappear. PEN America will be there every step of the way to amplify their voices and keep up the fight until PEN Belarus can once again swing open its doors in a free home country. Now it’s up to the EU, the U.S., the United Nations, and all those who believe in human rights to stand alongside the brave thinkers and activists of Belarus with one message: Enough is enough.”
Yesterday, the European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations (CEATL), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), and the European Writers’ Council (EWC), representing a total 490,000 members offered a joint statement in support of PEN Belarus. It noted that since Lukashenko’s reelection, over 40,000 people have been arrested in Belarus, including over 500 media workers, 1,200 cultural workers – writers, translators, musicians, actors – and human rights activists.
“It’s a radical crackdown against the free press," EFJ president Mogens Blicher Bjerregård said. “In recent weeks, the newsrooms of 70 media outlets have been raided, 28 journalists and media workers arrested and 50 websites blocked. EFJ member, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), is to be liquidated; the court case will start on 11 August. Arrested journalists, bloggers and editors have had to serve prison sentences and are being abused in prison. The situation of press freedom in Belarus is worse than it has been since independence in 1991.”
The statement went on to ask for support for writers and affiliated professionals who want to flee to be given visas by neighboring countries, and for further support from related organizations. "We also call on our colleagues in the press and the book sector to give a voice to those who are denied it in Belarus. Do not stop reporting on Belarus, print “banned books”, advocate for local scholarships and residencies. Because our commitment to democratic and human rights proves to those in Belarus who are fighting for their democracy that their resistance and immeasurable suffering is worthwhile."