On 14 May prominent Belarusian philosopher, essayist and broadcaster Uladzimir Mackieviç turned sixty-six while being held in pretrial detention. Mackieviç has been detained since 4 August 2021 and faces up to three years in prison for public order offences. On that day, the Belarusian KGB raided his house. He was transferred to a detention centre on 15 August and charged with ‘organising and preparing actions that grossly violate public order’. In response, Mackieviç said: ‘I understand that I was arrested because of my articles, statements, ideas, and thoughts, that is, I’m going to be tried for “malice” according to Orwell. This is what best characterizes the current regime in Belarus.’ The same month, in an interview with Deutsche Welle, he stated, ‘Repressions against philosophers and intellectuals are characteristic of totalitarian regimes that claim to rearrange the world completely, while for authoritarian regimes, it is more of a mishap and a slip-up. But since the regime did that, it put itself next to the most inhuman regimes of the 20th century.’ He also used the interview to call on the citizens of Belarus to unite.
In February, Mackieviç embarked on a thirteen-day hunger strike in protest at his detention and to demand that a date be set for his trial. Mackieviç’s relatives also launched a petition. A non-disclosure order has been placed on his lawyer, so his family does not have full information about the case. Mackieviç’s first two lawyers were disbarred. In April, the General Prosecutor’s Office published a note stating that the criminal case against him had been sent to the Minsk City Court.
Mackieviç has penned numerous articles and some fifty research papers on philosophy, politics, culture and education. He co-authored a series of books on civil society, dialogue and values entitled Belarus for Beginners (2006–9) and has published video courses on philosophy and social change. Among his many books are Belarusian Democracy: In Defiance of the Obvious (1996), Challenging Silence (2006) and Global Warming after the Cold War (2017). Mackieviç played a key role in launching Charter 97, a civic initiative working to restore democracy and human rights in Belarus. In 2011, after being stripped of the right to teach at Belarusian public universities for criticising President Alexander Lukashenko, he co-founded the Flying University, an independent platform that promotes critical thinking. Since 2012, he has hosted Talk of the Day on Belsat TV. At the time of writing no date for his trial has been set.
The disputed presidential election in Belarus in August 2020 drew hundreds of thousands onto the streets in protest. The authorities responded by clamping down on free expression and peaceful assembly and supressing basic human rights. A week after Mackieviç’s arrest, they dissolved the Belarusian PEN Centre (LR, September 2021). The same month, following a police raid, the Supreme Court closed down the Belarusian Association of Journalists at the request of the Ministry of Justice.
In March this year, the United Nations Human Rights Council published a report claiming that the government’s continuing crackdown has violated the rights of large numbers of people. ‘The authorities’ extensive and sustained actions to crush dissent and repress civil society, independent media and opposition groups, while at the same time shielding perpetrators, points to a situation of complete impunity in Belarus,’ said Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights.
PEN believes Mackieviç is being targeted for his views and writings critical of the Belarusian government. Readers might like to send appeals demanding his immediate and unconditional release and for all charges against him to be dropped, and urging the authorities to abide by their international human rights obligations and uphold the rights to freedom of expression and association and peaceful assembly.
Appeals to be addressed to:
Prosecutor General of the Republic of Belarus
Vul Internatsianalnaya 22
Minsk 220030, Belarus
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Vul Lienina 19|
Minsk 220030, Belarus
His Excellency Maxim Yermalovich
Embassy of Belarus
6 Kensington Court
London W8 5DL