“I am personally so moved by the courage of the people of Belarus who won’t be silenced, even knowing the danger they are putting themselves in,” Belarusian journalist and human rights defender Andrei Aliaksandrau wrote in a letter in December 2013. He was working in London at the time as Index on Censorship’s Belarus Officer, and his letter was aimed at raising awareness of Index’s work ahead of a fundraising appeal.
Today our friend and former colleague, Andrei, will spend his 400th day behind bars in Belarus. On returning to Belarus from London in the mid-2010s, Andrei was well aware of the risks of continuing his work in defence of human rights, but he refused to be intimidated or to be silenced.
“All across the world secrets are the lifeblood of dictatorships and oppressive regimes, which is why the journalists, human rights activists and campaigners Index works with live under the fear of attack from the police services,” he wrote in the letter.
Detained and imprisoned in January 2021, Andrei is now facing charges of “treason to the state”, which stem from allegations that he paid the fines of journalists and protesters detained during the pro-democracy protests that were triggered by the highly disputed 2020 presidential election. Belarusian law enforcement agencies erroneously equate this with financing unlawful protests. If convicted, he will face up to 15 years in prison.
“If it got that bad for me, would I still have the courage to keep speaking out[?],” Andrei wondered in his letter, referring to Andrei Sannikov, the Belarusian presidential candidate, who was beaten, arrested and left in an isolation cell with a razor blade and a piece of cord, in the hope he would kill himself.
Now Andrei himself is subject to the regime’s brutality. He and his partner, Iryna Zlobina, are two of more than 1,062 political prisoners in Belarus.