CPJ International Press Freedom Award 2011
November 22, 2011
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am Belarusian. My country, Belarus, is in the heart of Europe. Regrettably, I am certain, many in the West know very little about Belarus. They know much more about Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The misfortune of my country is in the fact that it has no oil and is not of high strategic interest to much of the West. However, ten million people live there, who every day, every hour, and every minute suffer under a dictatorship.
For 17 years, Belarus has been ruled by the tyrant Aleksandr Lukashenko. He usurped power and obliterated all rights and freedoms; he is killing and throwing his people in jail.
Back in my homeland I was subjected to criminal prosecution and I was imprisoned because of my work as an independent journalist.
I was forced to flee my country so I could continue my work. But I don't want to talk about myself. I survived and I am in New York with you, receiving this prestigious award.
But many Belarusian journalists did not live to see today.
Among them is Aleh Byabenin, the founder of the website I edit, Charter 97. Aleh was found hanged in the run-up to the 2010 presidential elections.
Among them is journalist Veronika Cherkasova, who was found dead--with 25 stab wounds to her body--just after the parliamentary vote in 2004.
Among them is journalist Dmitry Zavadsky, who was abducted and murdered in the run-up to presidential elections in 2001.
Among them are the kidnapped and killed opposition leaders Viktor Gonchar, Gennady Karpenko, Anatoly Krasovsky, Yuri Zakharenko, Anatoly Moisenya...
Today, Belarusian jails are filled with political prisoners, who are subjected to torture and inhuman treatment.
I would like to name several of them. You may not remember them, but their names must be called out here, from this podium in New York. Perhaps there in the cells of the dire Belarusian prisons, it would help them breathe a bit more easily.
Andrei Sannikov, Dmitry Bondarenko, Dmitry Dashkevich, Eduard Lobov, Nikolai Avtukhovich, Ales Belyatsky....
I don't have the time to speak all of the names--all of Belarus today is a big prison. And this prison has continued to exist for 17 years, including because of foreign indifference.
Today we witness how dictatorships around the world are being toppled. We have the power to destroy the prison in the heart of Europe as well. Please, do not forget about Belarus. My country's 10 million people are counting on you.