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Belarus: Release Volha Kalackaja

Tuesday 23 March 2021 - 4:53pm

Volha Kalackaja

Update - 24 March 2021

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.

23 March 2021 – The Belarusian authorities must immediately release translator and English language tutor Volha Kalackaja, PEN International said today, as a verdict in the case is expected tomorrow.

Volha Kalackaja has translated into Belarusian the works of some of the world’s most renowned authors, including Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, William Golding and Tennessee Williams. Following the presidential election of 9 August 2020, Kalackaja took part in mass protests against the widely disputed official results, which saw President Alexander Lukashenko elected to a sixth term in office. On 18 January 2021, she was giving a private tuition class at her home in Minsk, when police entered the residence and took her for questioning. She has been held in pre-trial detention since. Her trial opened in Minsk today and is due to conclude tomorrow.

Volha Kalackaja has been charged with ‘malicious hooliganism’ under Article 399 of the Belarusian Criminal Code. PEN International believes that the charges against her are disproportionate, and fears that she is being targeted for taking part in peaceful protests. Scores of writers and translators have called for her immediate release, including Margaret Atwood, the European Writers Council, the European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations and several PEN Centres.

The PEN Community stands by Volha Kalackaja and urges the Belarusian authorities to release her immediately.

PEN International featured Volha Kalackaja’s case on International Women’s Day. Her plight was further highlighted in PEN’s Annual Women Writers Committee Meeting.

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: