In response to Belarusian translator and English language tutor Volha Kalackaja being convicted today of ‘hooliganism’ and sentenced to two years of house arrest, Romana Cacchioli, PEN International Executive Director, said:
‘Although the PEN Community is relieved to see Volha Kalackaja finally going home after spending weeks behind bars, her sentencing and conviction are blatantly excessive and disproportionate. We continue to stand by Kalackaja, and all the writers, artists, and cultural workers in Belarus who tirelessly fight for the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest’.
Volha Kalackaja was arrested on 18 January 2021, at her home in Minsk. Like thousands of others, she took part in mass protests following the presidential elections of 9 August 2020, which saw President Alexander Lukashenko elected to a sixth term in office. She had been held in pre-trial detention since. She is freed pending the outcome of her appeal but is not allowed to leave the country.
The PEN community has repeatedly denounced the crackdown unleashed by the Belarusian authorities since the elections, notably highlighting the plight of writers, artists, musicians, and performers who have played an important role in the protests, using their art as tool of cultural resistance against oppression.
According to a report by the Belarusian PEN Centre, over 590 writers and artists were persecuted between August and December 2020, with over 230 detained and many suffering beatings and torture.
In February 2021, 49 PEN Centres signed a global appeal condemning the scale of the repression against the cultural sector and calling for an end to attacks against writers, artists, and cultural workers.