Nina Baginskaya in front of the police. Wikipedia photo by ya_gulyayu, CC0 1.0 (public domain).

On 9 August, the Supreme Court of Belarus ruled to close down the Belarusian PEN Centre. IFEX, the global network for defending and promoting freedom of expression, informed about the reaction of the PEN International, a worldwide association of writers with member organizations in over 100 countries.

Responding to the news Jennifer Clement, PEN International President, said:

‘The PEN Community strongly condemns the closure of the Belarusian PEN Centre. That the Belarusian authorities moved to shut down the Centre on the one-year anniversary of the country’s disputed presidential elections last year is a tragic reminder of the myriad violations faced by the brave people of Belarus in recent months, and their resolve in the face of adversity. The PEN Community stands by the Belarusian PEN Centre and all the people in Belarus who continue to tirelessly fight for their rights. We call on the Belarusian authorities to immediately reverse the dissolution of the Belarusian PEN Centre, and to urgently uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly’.

The Belarusian authorities have unleashed a brutal crackdown following the disputed presidential elections of 9 August 2020, which saw Alexander Lukashenko return to a sixth term in office. In the time since, they have arbitrarily detained over 35,000 people and subjected hundreds to torture and other ill-treatment.

The European Union considers these elections as fraudulent and has instituted sanctions against the Lukashenka regime.

Since July 2021, the Belarusian authorities have escalated their ruthless attack on independent media and civil society, detaining dozens of journalists and shutting down over 100 human rights and civil society organisations, including the Belarusian PEN Centre. Founded in 1989, the Centre was admitted to PEN International in May 1990 at the 55th International Congress, held in Madeira, Portugal. It had been a member of PEN International ever since. In a statement published on 10 August 2021, the Belarusian PEN Centre said it was ‘proud of our work, our friends, partners, and volunteers.’

PEN International calls on the Belarusian authorities to urgently end their crackdown on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. All those held for peacefully expressing their views must be immediately and unconditionally released. The harassment and criminal prosecution of independent media and civil society must be stopped, and the arbitrary dissolution of NGOs, including that of the Belarusian PEN Centre, must be reversed.