Belarus: The government must immediately stop prosecution and harassment of exiled journalists’ families

On November 9, seven-gun men believed to be members of Belarusian police raided the house of the exiled author and journalist, took away his father, and told his ailing mother: “Say thank you to your son.'”

In 2021, PEN International declared the Belarusian author and journalist Sasha Filipenko a victim of censorship. He currently lives in Switzerland with his wife and son, as he is unable to return home due to severe threats to his life.

In response to the raid this week, Filipenko wrote on Facebook: “It is obvious that they [Belarusian authorities] are putting pressure on me and want me to stop speaking out in the European press.”

PEN Norway calls on Belarusian authorities to immediately end its harassment and prosecution of exiled journalists’ families, including releasing Sasha’s father, and allow journalists to exercise their journalistic duties freely and independently.

Journalism, access to rights to information, and activism in Belarus have become increasingly dangerous and life-threatening jobs after the 2020 controversial elections in the country that handed a sixth term to President Alexander Lukashenko. Since the 2020 elections, journalists, bloggers, and political and rights activists have faced large-scale repression. Thousands of independent voices have fled persecution and sought refuge abroad while continuing their activism. However, Belarusian authorities have begun attacking, raiding, and arresting their families at home to silence exiled dissidents. Such use of force against the families of activists and journalists is part of a systematic campaign to muzzle voices in exile.

“PEN Norway closely follows Belarus and is deeply alarmed about the punitive treatment of writers and journalists, which is a clear violation of international human rights principles,” said Jørgen Watne Frydnes, the Secretary General of PEN Norway.

“We remain unwavering in our support for freedom of speech in Belarus. We will continue capacity building for PEN Belarus and support those free speakers on the run by providing them financial and other support.”

According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, a total of 36 journalists are currently behind bars in Belarus.