Minsk, 9 August. Judge Hanna Sakaloŭskaja of the Supreme Court of Belarus on Monday ordered the Belarusian PEN Center liquidated at the request of the justice ministry, according to the organization’s deputy chairperson, Tacciana Niadbaj.
In its lawsuit seeking the Belarusian PEN Center’s liquidation, the justice ministry described donations made by Sviatlana Alieksijevič [Svetlana Alexievich], a renowned writer and the organization’s chairperson, to the organization as illegal foreign aid, claiming that the Nobel prize winner was a permanent resident of a foreign country, Ms. Niadbaj told BelaPAN.
Representatives of the Belarusian PEN Center argued that Ms. Alieksijevič was only a temporary resident of a foreign country. She has been staying abroad since last September. The argument was ignored by the judge.
Ms. Niadbaj said that the organization viewed its liquidation as part of the government’s campaign to purge the NGO sector.
The activist stressed that the Belarusian PEN Center would not halt its activity and would appeal the ruling.
On July 14, officers of the interior ministry’s Main Organized Crime and Corruption Department came to search the Minsk office of the Belarusian PEN Center. They had a search warrant signed by the prosecutor general.
Given the coronavirus pandemic, no representatives of the Belarusian PEN Center were in the office at the time, so the officers conducted a search at another organization that has the same legal address as the Belarusian PEN Center and seized all its equipment.
A criminal case was opened under a number of Criminal Code articles, including those penalizing “calls for actions aimed at damaging the national security of Belarus,” “conspiracy to seize state power in an unconstitutional way,” and the establishment of an extremist group.
At least 30 searches were conducted and more than 10 people were arrested in the Belarusian authorities’ crackdown on human rights groups and other NGOs across the country on July 14.
A few days later, it turned out that the Belarusian authorities had frozen the bank accounts of the Belarusian PEN Center and several other NGOs targeted in the raids.
Founded in 1989, the Belarusian PEN Center has promoted the Belarusian culture and defended the freedom of expression and the rights of journalists, writers and cultural figures.
The organization has been part of PEN International since 1990.