Under Attack in Belarus: Iryna Khalip's Lawyers Targeted; Secret Trials Begin
February 18, 2011 -- While famed Belarus journalist Iryna Khalip remains under house arrest with 24-hour KGB guards, her former lawyers have been stripped of their licenses to practice law.
“She is in prison with two guards at home,” her sister-in-law Irina Sannikov told the IWMF. “Her 3-year-old son is with her, but they are under incredible stress. She can’t communicate with anyone or they will send her back to prison.”
Sannikov and other Belarus activists came to Washington this week, lobbying for the United States to step up sanctions against authoritarian Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. The U.S. and the European Union have banned travel and frozen assets of Lukashenko and more than 150 of his associates after widespread arrests following his disputed December election.
“We want President Obama to speak out against the regime,” said Irina Sannikov, who has organized a website to support the imprisoned activists called FreeBelarusNow.org. “We must not forget Belarus.”
Former U.S.S.R. President Mikhail Gorbachev, actor George Clooney, playwright Tom Stoppard, former President of Czechoslovakia Vaclav Havel, actor Josh Brolin and dozens of others have formed the freebelarusnow.org website. They are also planning to expand a Facebook page to press the government of Belarus to meet international human rights standards and release prisoners.
Khalip, who is married to jailed opposition presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, was released from prison and placed under house arrest in recent weeks. She could face up to 15 years in prison, if she is convicted of charges of inciting a riot. Khalip, an IWMF Courage in Journalism Award winner, is a reporter and editor in the Minsk bureau of Novaya Gazeta.
Khalip’s father, Uladzimer Khalip, told RFE/RL that his daughter’s lawyers resigned suddenly when Belarus authorities warned them that they would lose their licenses if they continued to represent her. He believes authorities want to force his daughter to accept a state-appointed lawyer who would be under government control.
Belarus faced another wave of protests this week, when opposition activist Vasuk Parfyankow was sentenced to four years in a high-security prison for taking part in a post-election protest on Dec. 19. More than 46 other people – among them four of nine presidential candidates -- are charged in the so-called riot case.
The Washington Post editorialized against Lukashenko this week, urging the Obama administration to attempt to persuade E.U. governments “to adopt sanctions against the oil monopoly, Beineftekhim” and appealing to President Obama to personally and publicly condemn Lukashenko.