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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs