Last week one of our former colleagues and correspondents – Andrei Aliaksandrau – was detained in Belarus. Our friend, colleague and human rights defender is now being arbitrarily held for defending the right to free expression.
Our team is anxious for news and, honestly, even though we report on and cover attacks on journalists every day and campaign for people to be released from prison, we still feel impotent about what we can do to help.
Andrei and his partner, Irina Zlobina, are expected to be charged with “education or other preparation of persons for participation in group actions that grossly violate public order, as well as financing or other material support of such activities”.
Under Lukashenko’s regime these charges could result in a two-year sentence. Two years in prison for supporting people’s peaceful right to assembly. Two years’ detention for demanding free and fair elections. Two years for standing up for free speech. Their lawyer has been forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so we are struggling to get information about their wellbeing and future legal sanctions.
As upset as we are, Andrei’s case wasn’t the most unsettling part of the week.
Andrei and Irina are just two of the 187 people that the Viasna human rights center identify as political prisoners – journalists, activists and citizens who have been arrested and detained by Lukashenko’s regime. Their collective ‘crimes’ are being brave enough to keep fighting against tyranny and to stand up for both what is right and their human rights.
Statistics can be shocking – 187 prisoners of conscience logged with the EU. But behind every statistic there is a person, a family, a story, a life. Andrei is a friend to many of the Index family so we know he was a Liverpool fan. We know that he likes malt whisky and when in London a visit to the Betsey Trotwood pub. We know he loves dogs. We know that because we know him.
And we know that Andrei wouldn’t want us to forget about the others that have also been arrested. He wouldn’t want us to stop exposing the actions of Lukashenko. He wouldn’t want us to be silent. So, for him, for Irina and the hundreds of other people currently detained in Belarus we will keep using our voices to fight for their freedom, while they cannot.
Index was established to be a voice for the persecuted – our friend is being persecuted and we will make sure his voice is heard – together.