Nikolai Khalezin in hiding after the KGB issue arrest warrant for the co-founder of the Belarus Free Theatre. Mike Harris reports
Index on Censorship has been informed that the KGB has issued a warrant for Belarus Free Theatre co-founder Nikolai Khalezin. Last night, his wife, Natalia Koliada, told Index of her fears about the worsening situation in Belarus. A brutal crackdown followed this month’s disputed elections and there have been an increasing number of arrests in recent days. Khalezin is now in hiding.
The Belarus Free Theatre is a high-profile thorn in the side of Alyaksandr Lukaskenko’s authoritarian regime. On 5 December, Index on Censorship hosted a double-bill performance by the Free Theatre at the Young Vic with guest appearances from Sir Ian McKellen, Jude Law, Sienna Miller, Samuel West and Adjoa Andoh. Koliada speculated that arresting Khalezin may be an attempt by the authorities to stop a forthcoming performance in New York.
Khalezin is not just a cultural figure in Belarus. Before founding the Belarus Free Theatre with his wife, he was a renowned journalist. He was sacked from various newspapers for articles criticising the authoritarian leadership of President Lukashenko. Whilst a journalist, Khalezin mentored Natalia Radzina and Oleg Bebenin. Bebenin, a civil society activist, was found dead in suspicious circumstances just three months before the elections. Khalezin conducted the wake which brought together many from the opposition in Belarus including presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov and former President Stanislav Shushkevich. Radzina, the editor of the Charter97 website faces up to 15 years in prison after she was charged with organising a mass riot under Article 293 of the criminal code.
There are fears that Nikolai may be subject to the same charges brought against Radzina and other opposition activists. Charter97 report she has only just met with a lawyer, who saw blood dripping from her ears. Radzina was beaten by police prior to her arrest. Twenty three people are currently being detained by the KGB under Article 293 of the Belarusian Criminal Code; Charter97’s entire editorial team are in detention alongside presidential candidates Andrei Sannikov and Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu (the President of Belarusian PEN). You can see the full list of those detained here.