News / Europe

    Belarus Dissident Fights State to Rebuild Family

    Irina Khalip, dissident Belarussian journalist, describes in interview in her Minsk apartment her family's ordeal at the hands of Belarus' KGB. Her husband, the runner-up in last December's presidential elections, is serving a five year jail sentence, she
    Irina Khalip, dissident Belarussian journalist, describes in interview in her Minsk apartment her family's ordeal at the hands of Belarus' KGB. Her husband, the runner-up in last December's presidential elections, is serving a five year jail sentence, she
    James Brooke

    After 17 years of living under a Soviet-style dictatorship, some people in Belarus still stand up to the state.  Journalist Irina Khalip is one, and she keeps paying the price. 

    The last word heard from Irina Khalip was a furtive mobile phone call to Moscow’s Ekho Moskvi radio station - as she was being arrested in Minsk late on the night of December 19.

    A few minutes earlier, riot police had broken the legs of her husband, Andrei Sannikov, the runner up in Belarus’ presidential elections.  Khalip, a journalist, was taking her husband to the hospital.

    But Belarus’ KGB had other ideas.

    Restricted freedom

    Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister, is now serving a five-year prison sentence for organizing an anti-government protest.  Khalip has just emerged from five-months detention - first in a KGB prison cell, then under strict house arrest.

    Last month, a Russian journalist who interviewed her was detained, deported and banned from entering Belarus for five years.  Police erased all recordings of the interview.

    But VOA was able to sit down last week for a quiet talk with Irina Khalip over the kitchen table in her Minsk high-rise apartment.

    Paranoia, fear and panic is how Khalip describes the reaction of President Alexander Lukashenko, this nation’s dictatorial ruler, to silent protesters who walk the nation’s sidewalks every Wednesday evening.

    Yes, the fire is back in this fearless woman.

    Personal agony

    Irina Khalip during her interview with VOA's James Brooke
    Irina Khalip during her interview with VOA's James Brooke

    During the past 15 years, Ms. Khaliip has been beaten by police, has had computers and cell phones seized by the KGB, has had two newspapers closed beneath her, has won international awards for her anti-corruption reporting, has had two colleagues die under highly suspect circumstances, and has received very precise death threats.

    But the brightly colored stuffed animals covering a sofa speak loudest of the personal agonies this 43-year-old mother has gone through since her arrest six months ago.

    She has seen the state draw on old Soviet methods to try to destroy her family.

    In January, when she and her husband were held in KGB isolation cells, the government tried to take their three-year-old son Danil away from his grandmother and place him in a state orphanage.  The government of President Alexander Lukashenko only backed down in the face of world outcry.

    Khalip charges the plan to take away their son had been devised as a way to pressure her husband.

    The government finally demanded the boy and his 74-year-old grandmother undergo HIV, syphilis and psychiatric tests before the grandmother was granted custody.  And after six weeks in jail, Khalip was released on January 30 to a strict form of house arrest.

    House arrest

    In the West, people under house arrest are often monitored electronically, through ankle bracelets.  In Khalip’s case, two KGB agents were stationed around the clock in her apartment.

    She says the men used her bathroom, her refrigerator, her teapot.

    She was tightly restricted on what she could do in her apartment.

    She could not write letters, answer the door, use the telephone, use a computer, approach the windows, or receive visitors other than her parents.

    The hardest thing was to explain to her son Danil why strange men were living in her apartment and why his father did not come back from his business trip.

    She told her son the KGB agents were good men, who were there to protect her.  How, she asks, can you explain to a three-year old that the good people are in jail and the bad people are in government?

    Legal victory

    Last month she was convicted of organizing a protest against the government, but her new legal counsel won her a two-year suspended sentence.  On leaving court, she told reporters the KGB agents would be leaving her apartment, and she was going to get it professionally disinfected.

    Seated in the kitchen of her now disinfected apartment, Khalip says her priority is to rebuild her family.

    She says she has learned that the symbol of a home is not a fireplace, not a kitchen table - it is control over your house keys.

    Her concern now is for her husband, whom she has seen only twice in the past six months.

    The last time was one month ago.

    After leaving jail, she learned that for several weeks in January he was kept in a cell next to hers.  Prisoners in the KGB prison are punished for shouting out their names.  She said she laughed loudly, knowing her laugh carries through walls.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora