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
TEXT SIZE - +

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.


James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

You May Like

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid