Belarus Free Theatre Staff Arrested and Detained in Minsk
On Saturday 5 of BFT's staff in Belarus were arrested as part of a major clampdown on peaceful human rights protests in Minsk. Our actors and playwrights had been taking part peacefully in the Freedom Day protests calling for the resignation of dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
4 of our people have been released, but one - Siarhai Kvachonok (pictured) - has on Monday been sentenced to an initial 10 days imprisonment, with potential for the sentence to be extended after that. The trumped-up charges reportedly include "hooliganism, shouting, and using strong language".
Another actress, Yana Rusakevich, was found in a hospital on Sunday with a severe concussion and a temporal bone fracture. Yana has been with the company since its very beginning and was due to perform in Minsk tonight.
Video footage of the violent arrests of our company manager Svetlana Sugako, and one of our students, can be seen in this report from the BBC.
The streets have been cleared of protestors with military force and the internet was shut down in the country in a bid to stop the movement.
On Saturday, our Artistic Directors met US Senator John McCain who has called for the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained for their participation in the pro-democratic protests: https://charter97.org/en/news/2017/3/26/244905/
Today in the UK House of Commons, HM Government backed calls for the release of those brutally arrested, in response to a question from BFT's Trustee Maria Miller.
Over the last few days almost 1,000 people have been detained. These include 35 journalists, and 60 staff members of the human rights organisation Viasna (almost their entire staff besides director Ales Bialetsky).
Our Artistic Director Natalia Kaliada has been speaking to the media and to policy-makers in Brussels about what has happened. She's quoted in this article from the Guardian saying: “It’s a strategy of arrests and clearing the streets and blocking the internet that they think will spook people, but people are very angry. All these arrests and splitting up the crowds might make things a little quieter in Minsk, but now these protests are happening all over Belarus. This is the worst crackdown over the last seven years, but it would have been the biggest protest. People don’t care, they want an end to this dictator. They say ‘basta’ – enough.”
The show goes on: Sunday's scheduled performance in Minsk was cancelled because of the arrest of Siarhai and injuries to Yana - who were due to perform in that show. But the company will not be stopped and rescheduled another show which was performed instead. The performance of Discover Love was dedicated to all those caught up in the violence.
As our fellow artists and theatre makers, BFT are asking you to stand in solidarity with our company members in Belarus and to share information about what is happening there as widely as possible. It’s really important for us to make as much noise as we can and let the Belarusian authorities know that the international community is watching.
Please feel free share the image and links included in this article and you can also connect with our social media channels, which have further information and updates: