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Belarus: Philosopher Uladzimir Mackievič sentenced to prison

Monday 27 June 2022 - 1:30pm

Uladzimir Mackievič (Credit: Andrei Schutt, CC BY-SA 4.0)

On 23 June 2022, Prominent Belarusian philosopher Uladzimir Mackievič was sentenced to five years in prison. His trial took place in Minsk behind closed doors. Responding to the news, Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, said:

‘Uladzimir Mackievič is guilty of nothing but peacefully expressing his views. His plight is a stark reminder of the relentless repression faced by dissenting voices in Belarus, where the Lukashenko regime will seemingly stop at nothing to crush any forms of criticism.

PEN International strongly condemns the conviction of Uladzimir Mackievič. We call for his immediate and unconditional release, and for his sentencing and conviction to be overturned on appeal.

The Belarusian authorities must urgently end their crackdown on independent voices. All others already behind bars simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression – including writer and human rights defender Ales Bialiatski – must also be released.’

Background information

Prominent Belarusian philosopher, essayist, and broadcaster Uladzimir Mackievič (Уладзімір Уладзіміравіч Мацкевіч) was detained on 4 August 2021 after the Belarusian KGB raided his house. He was transferred to a pre-trial detention centre on 15 August and charged with ‘organising and preparing actions that grossly violate public order’, under Article 342 (1) of the Criminal Code of Belarus.

In February 2022, Mackievič went on hunger strike for 13 days in protest of his detention and demanding that a date for his court hearing be set. In April 2022, the General Prosecutor’s Office published a note stating that the criminal case against him had been sent to the Minsk City Court. Mackievič was further charged with ‘creation of an extremist group’ under Article 361-1 (1) of the Criminal Code, and ‘insulting the President’ under Article 368 (1), after posting a video on YouTube.

The hearing started on 9 June 2022 at the Minsk Regional Court. Mackievič was given a five-year sentence in a medium-security penal colony. PEN International is seeking further information about the trial and sentencing, which took place behind closed doors. In a damning report published in March 2022, UN OHCHR denounced a situation of complete impunity in Belarus, adding that ‘systemic flaws in the rule of law facilitate the use of the judiciary as an instrument of repression and a means to avoid accountability for violations’.

Mass and largely peaceful protests have swept Belarus since the disputed presidential elections of 9 August 2020, which saw Alexander Lukashenko return to a sixth term in office. The Belarusian authorities have responded with brutality and repression against critics and moved to ‘purge’ civil society, notably dissolving the Belarusian PEN Centre in August 2021. According to the latest compelling report published by the Centre, 311 instances of cultural rights violations were recorded between January and March 2022 alone.

Uladzimir Mackievič played a key role in launching Charter’97, a civic initiative working to restore democracy and human rights in Belarus. In 2011, after being stripped of the right to teach at Belarusian public universities for criticising President Alexander Lukashenko, he co-founded the Flying University, an independent platform that promotes critical thinking. Prior to his arrest, he had been hosting ‘Talk of the Day’, a show on Belsat TV channel since 2012.

For more information about Uladzimir Mackievič and PEN’s campaign please click here.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org