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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid