May 21 is the Day of the Political prisoner in Belarus: show your solidarity! Updated with events schedule
Viasna human rights center has designated May 21 as a Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners in Belarus. On this day two years ago, political prisoner Vitold Ashurak died in the Škloŭ penal colony No. 17. No criminal proceedings have been initiated following his death, while the situation with political prisoners has significantly deteriorated. Last year, the Day of Political Prisoners theme was the yellow tag used in colonies to mark inmates. It was Ashurak who first talked about it in his letter. This year human rights defenders propose to make the theme of the Day of Solidarity with political prisoners in Belarus letters and the right to correspondence, which the Belarusian authorities have deprived hundreds of political prisoners. Viasna calls on people to express solidarity with all political prisoners on May 21, draw the attention of the Belarusian and international community to their problems, and once again demand the release of all political prisoners from the authorities.
Why May 21 is an important day for Belarus
Human rights defenders chose the date of the Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners in Belarus for a reason. May 21 marks the anniversary of the death of political prisoner Vitold Ashurak in the colony.
Ashurak, a well-known activist from the town of Biarozauka, Lida district, was sentenced to five years in jail in a closed trial over his participation in 2020 protests. He was sent to serve his term in the Škloŭ penal colony. On May 21, 2021, the 244th day of his imprisonment, political prisoner Vitold Ashurak suddenly died. The reported cause of death is cardiac arrest, although, according to relatives, the man did not have any complaints about his health. No investigation into his death has been started. Ashurak was the first to talk about mass labeling political prisoners in colonies with yellow tags. He wrote about this in his letter:
“There is no shortage of political [prisoners] here [in Škloŭ colony]. So there is no reason to be sad. Moreover, the administration has issued an order to have yellow-colored tags on clothes and political prisoners can be distinguished from afar.”
In letters to the outside world, Vitold Ashurak often wrote about the solidarity and support of Belarusians. Here is what he wrote in his last letter to his mother, dated April 14, 2021:
“Fortunately, we have wonderful people, and they have supported me wholeheartedly. And now, when I have temporarily ended up in prison, people support me even more, sending letters and postcards, passing on packages and sending money, paying my subscription to newspapers, and praying in churches and cathedrals all over Belarus! There are so many letters that I can barely keep up with the replies!”
The problem of political prisoners in Belarus only intensifies over time as their numbers continue to grow, with women and men being held in inhumane conditions, tortured and beaten, and not getting proper medical care. In detention facilities, they face rights violations and pressure. Political prisoners’ right to defense and correspondence is limited; they are deprived of packages and visits from relatives and are forced into hard labor.
“The authorities want us to forget the word ‘solidarity’”
Human rights defenders of Viasna chose letters and the right to correspondence as the theme for this year’s Day of Political Prisoners. We want to draw the Belarusian and international community’s attention to blocking mail for political prisoners. Viasna human rights defender Dziyana Pinchuk comments:
“Today in Belarus, we have an unprecedented situation where the authorities have effectively deprived hundreds of political prisoners of their right to correspondence. Although it is still guaranteed by law, like many other rights, it is blatantly violated during times of legal default. The situation worsened significantly with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in 2022; political prisoners have been increasingly denied solidarity letters in pretrial detention centers, prisons, and colonies, not only from concerned people and friends but often from family members as well. Sometimes colony staff destroys letters in front of political prisoners.
By blocking correspondence for political prisoners, the authorities want us to forget the word ‘solidarity’ and live as if our prisons and colonies are not filled with political prisoners and new arrests are not happening daily.
But we will continue to support them because, as Ales Bialiatski said during his trial, “It is in the tradition of the Belarusian people to help people in need.”
Human rights defenders firmly believe that we must continue to write letters to political prisoners, as, even if they don’t reach the addressee, detention officers will see that people remember, care, and wait for their release.
How to join us: Political Prisoner’s Day activities
- Organize or join a solidarity action in your city on May 21 to support Belarusian political prisoners and commemorate Vitold Ashurak.
- Organize an event for signing letters and postcards of solidarity.
- On May 21, attach a paper bird with a political prisoner’s surname or a yellow tag to your clothes, take a photo, and post it on social media with hashtags #FreeThemAll #WeStandByYou.
- Record a video of yourself reading a letter from a political prisoner and post it on social media with hashtags #FreeThemAll #WeStandByYou.
- Write a letter to a political prisoner and post it on social media with hashtags #FreeThemAll #WeStandByYou. The letter can be sent to the prisoner online through the Solidarity Postcards Atelier.
- Support political prisoners in another way by sending parcels, telegrams, and money transfers.
- Other ideas are welcomed! Use your creative power to stand up in solidarity with political prisoners in Belarus.
Use our hashtags #FreeThemAll #WeStandByYou and tag Viasna on social media.
[NEW] International events schedule
[updated: May 12, 2023]
Events for Belarus Political Prisoners' Solidarity Day will take place in various countries and cities:
May 19, Friday
- Vilnius, Lithuania, 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM. The signing of postcards and letters for political prisoners in Belarus. Venue: CreateCulture Space, Karmelitų g. 5.
May 20, Saturday
- Warsaw, Poland, 6:30 PM. Vitold Ashurak commemorative gathering. Friends and relatives will share their memories of Vitold and his life principles. There will also be a musical part. Venue: Belarusian House in Warsaw (ul. Kryniczna 6).
- Bremen, Germany. Belarusians in Bremen, Razam Bremen, and activists from Salidarnast will gather to create postcards and write letters to political prisoners on the eve of Political Prisoners Day. The time and location can be found in the Razam Facebook group.
May 21, Sunday
Vilnius, Lithuania, 11:00 AM. The Reading of the Names of the 1,500 Belarusian political prisoners will take place near the mural of Nobel Peace Prize laureate political prisoner Ales Bialiatski. Address: Mindaugo g. 18.
- Vilnius, Lithuania, 12:00 PM. Action in support of political prisoners. Details will follow.
- Warsaw, Poland, 12:45 PM – 2:00 PM. Rally for Belarusian Political Prisoners' Day. After the rally, there will be a demonstration from Constitution Square to Krakowskie Przedmieście where the program will continue. Location: Constitution Square (Plac Konstytucji) 6.
- Warsaw, Poland, 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM. Rally and chain of solidarity with those currently imprisoned for political reasons in Belarus. The event is organized by a group of former political prisoners, supported by the National Anti-Crisis Management, Museum of Free Belarus, Veterans of Kastuś Kalinoŭski Regiment, BY_POL Initiative, and the Association of Belarusian Businessmen ABBA. Location: Copernicus Square (Plac Konstytucji).
- New York, USA. On May 21, a picnic of the Belarusians of New York and surroundings will be held in Central Park to support Belarusian political prisoners and commemorate Vitold Ashurak. The event is organized for like-minded individuals who care about the fate of our compatriots behind bars. The signing of solidarity letters and postcards is planned, with the support of the Solidarity Postcard Atelier. More details can be found on Instagram.
- In Rome, a mass in support of Belarusian political prisoners will be held on May 21 at 11:00 AM. Venue: Via di San Sebastianello 11, Roma
- In Vilnius, the Orthodox community of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will join the Day of Political Prisoners. Venue: Bokšto g. 2. Schedule:
- 8:40 AM – 9:50 AM: Mess and common prayer for the release of all those unjustly condemned
- 9:50 AM – 10:05 AM: Prayer for all the unjustly convicted and imprisoned before the icon “Joy of All Who Sorrow”. Remembrance of the names of political prisoners of Belarus
- 10:00 AM – Symbolic lighting of the “Prayer candle for freedom”
Freedom to political prisoners!