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

Video Snowstorm Sweeps Northeastern US

'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says; he had warned storm could be one of worst in city history More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle With Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid