Viasna activists meet with representatives of Norwegian PEN Center (video)
On 16 February, William Nygaard, President of the Norwegian PEN Center, and writer Erling Kitelsen visited the office of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, where they discussed the human rights situation in Belarus with Viasna leaders.
The Norwegians arrived in Belarus at the invitation of the Belarusian PEN Center within the Michaś Stralcoŭ International Poetry Festival. However, they were not only interested in creative activities, but also in the opportunity to meet with human rights defenders.
PEN International was established in 1921 as one of the first non-governmental organizations in the world and one of the first international organizations advocating for human rights. In a conversation with Viasna leaders Ales Bialiatski and Valiantsin Stefanovich, the guests focused on the problem of information dissemination, the work of journalists and all those who work with the word.
“We told them that Belarus has problems with journalists being persecuted for their work, new amendments to the media law have been adopted, strengthening state control over the information space on the Internet and potentially aimed at limiting the spread of information,” said Ales Bialiatski. “They were also heavily touched by the issue of the death penalty in Belarus, as in Norway it was canceled before the First World War, in 1902.”
The guests also had questions about Ales Bialiatski, who is a member of the Belarusian PEN-Center and whose fate was followed by the international writers’ organization during his imprisonment. PEN International made numerous statements and participated in campaigns in support of the political prisoner.
“I thanked them for their solidarity, and also asked them to continue monitoring the situation with freedom of speech, harassment of journalists in Belarus, so that such cases received international response. Because this reaction is one of the most effective tools that can stop the repressive actions of the Belarusian authorities,” said Viasna leader. It should be noted that this is Mr. Nygaard’s first visit to Belarus after the infamous incident in December 2011, when the Belarusian authorities prevented him and his colleagues from the Norwegian and Danish PEN-Centers from entering the country. William Nygaard mentioned this incident in a conversation with the human rights defenders.
“Discussing this, we also said that one of the key issues that would be desirable to resolve in respect of the Belarusians is the abolition of visas with the European Union, because people-to-people contacts are extremely important. It would be great if people could go to see everything with their own eyes, study, bring back home new knowledge and understanding of European standards of democracy and human rights. Such visits are very important for Belarusians to be Europeans, to understand that we are part of a common European cultural and civilization space. And we also agreed about this,” said Ales Bialiatski.
In November 2011, the Committee of PEN International “Writers in Prison” denounced the imprisonment of Ales Bialiatski. A statement, which welcomed the release of the Belarusian human rights activist and writer, noted that “Ales Bialiatski’s unjust imprisonment is emblematic of the harsh challenges facing writers and activists in Belarus, a country whose government continues to severely restrict the rights to free expression, free association and assembly”. The Committee then stated that it remained “deeply concerned by Belarus’ systematic political intimidation of both foreign and national media, which pushes writers and journalists into self-censorship”.