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This is the beginning of the series  ‘Freedom in Captivity. Solidarity without Borders‘ with Sviatlana Galaunova, lawyer of the Viasna Centre for Law and Justice. Today it will be about anarchism in and beyond the borders, reasons of sensible terms for anarchists, the creation of Belarusian national “terrorism” and ways to help here and now.

– What is happening to Belarusian anarchists in prison now?

– It is difficult to say what is happening to Belarusian political prisoners in general, not just anarchists. We do not receive information in time and in full. It is rather difficult to find out what is going on in pre-trial detention centres and colonies – as a rule, political prisoners who have already been released tell us about it. We are talking about retrospective information; we know much less about real time.

Prisoners cannot speak honestly about what is happening. Yes, in a meeting with relatives or lawyers (if the person is still in pre-trial detention) it is possible to say something, but political prisoners do not always dare to tell everything (for example, about disciplinary cells and punishment cells) in order not to upset their relatives. In general, the situation of anarchist prisoners is very difficult. Like everyone else’s. 

Anarchists are a vulnerable group. The authorities repressed them long before 2020, and today members of the anarchist movement are under more pressure than other political prisoners (remember the case of Mikola Dziadok).

Nikolai Dedok

– How many anarchists are currently in prison?

– We do not have such data. We do not make ideological distinctions between political prisoners – it is at least difficult. For example, the case of Marta Rabkova: the authorities consider her an anarchist activist simply because her case is related to anarchist activists.  But does she see herself as an anarchist? No, she does not.

Statistics about imprisoned anarchists and anti-fascists are collected by the Anarchist Black Cross of Belarus. There are not only recognised political prisoners, there are also other articles. According to the ABC, 33 anarchists and anti-fascists are currently in prison.

– What charges are usually brought against Belarusian anarchists? Why such long sentences?

– The authorities try to create a picture of the world with extremist terrorists against the state, which protects ‘quiet’ life: they invent security threats, attempts to commit terrorist acts – and anarchists fit well into such a plot. One of the charges against Ihar Alinevich is related to terrorism and carries 20 years in prison – that’s what happened. There is also the case of Maria Misyuk – also ‘terrorism’. In reality, the guys were just handing out leaflets and flyers. It is profitable for the state to create the appearance of a terrible external enemy.

– What methods of pressure and repression are used against anarchists in prison?

– It is a permanent disciplinary cell and punishment cell. When Mikola Dziadok was arrested, he was tortured and beaten for a long time, forced to record a ‘repentance’ video (today this is a universal means of pressure). If we are talking about prisons and colonies, the conditions there are bad by default, and as an additional pressure the staff restrict communication with the outside world: they forbid calling relatives, meeting family, interrupting correspondence – this is a classic.

Ihar Alinevich is the best example of state pressure on anarchists, only Ihar Losik is on his level. It turns out that the authorities fear anarchists as much as they fear Ihar Losik and Sergei Tikhanovsky.

Svetlana Golovneva, photo from her personal archive

– Can human rights defenders influence the conditions of imprisonment of anarchists?

– They can – for example, if there is a lack of medical care or restrictions on contact with the outside world.  If we raise the issue in a concrete way, if we tell them that a political prisoner’s eyesight is deteriorating or his teeth are falling out, the situation can really change. And these problems are not just concrete political ones – they affect everyone, it’s just that they don’t talk about it very much. For Belarusian anarchists, the problem of ‘double’ isolation from the outside world is particularly urgent; we need to talk about it more. 

A lot of terrible things happen in prison. Think about it: in women’s colonies there are showers once a week, and the authorities do not consider this a violation of human rights.

– Are there any organisations that support Belarusian anarchists?

– There is support – both public and non-public.  As for the public: there is ‘Viasna’ and BYSOL. Among those who highlight the cases of imprisoned anarchists – Dissidentby and ABC Belarus

The very existence of such organisations means that political prisoners are not forgotten, their cases are covered, they are supported, lawyers are found and they are helped after their release.

– How to help anarchists in prison?

– Write letters. Yes, it is morally difficult, there is no guarantee of interesting correspondence, and the answer will not always come – but it is important. Support initiatives that help political prisoners both in prison and released (the latter still need psychological support after serving their time) and spread information about the inhuman conditions of detention of political prisoners.

The struggle of Belarusian anarchists is not only about suffering in punishment cells and inhuman pressure, but also about love, sincerity, conviction and inspiration. From the little we know about the heroes of the ‘Solidarity without Borders’ cycle, it is clear that they do not give up and continue their struggle in prison, ‘thinking to the will’, drawing strength from their own convictions, because this is the only way to remain oneself (and a human being in general) in prison. 

 Their stories remind us that the desire for freedom and justice cannot be suppressed even in the conditions of a Belarusian prison. This is a great inspiration to us and to all those who fight against oppression and injustice. Supporting prisoners and spreading information about their struggle is our contribution to the common cause of freedom and equality.

Will in captivity is possible if we don’t give up and help our friends. May the courage and determination of the Belarusian anarchists be a testimony to us, and their struggle an inspiration. 

Long Live Belarus! Solidarity forever.

 P.s. You can read about other anarchists behind the crates on the website of the ABC Belarus.

Materials from the rubric ‘Freedom in Captivity. Solidarity without Borders’:

“The end justifies its means”

‘I couldn’t miss these pivotal historical times-I’ve waited 20 years of my life for them’

‘The court is like a performance for me alone’

‘I know – the future belongs to us’