Belarus: Well known literary translator Volha Kalackaja sentenced to two years’ house arrest

This statement was originally published on on 26 March 2021.

A court in Belarus this week sentenced translator Volha Kalackaja to two years of house arrest after a one-day trial. Kalackaja – who has translated the works of Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Tennessee Williams, and William Golding – was first arrested in January after taking part in peaceful demonstrations in a Minsk neighborhood. She was charged with “malicious hooliganism” and held in pre-trial detention for two months. PEN America today said the sentence is cruel and wholly unwarranted.

“Volha Kalackaja’s sentence is simply unacceptable,” said Polina Sadovskaya, director of Eurasia programs at PEN America. “It is an unfortunate reminder that protests across Belarus have been met with violence and repression, and that the government continues to seek ways to silence those who have raised their voices to call for democracy. Kalackaja’s sentence was announced on the eve of Belarusian Freedom Day, when the opposition had been expected to begin a new series of peaceful protests, suggesting it was intended as a warning to all that demanding freedom in Belarus is not allowed. This warning is one the international community must refute; it is imperative that organizations and states continue to demand justice for political prisoners in Belarus.”

In November 2020, Kalackaja allegedly slapped a state journalist who was harassing passersby and questioning civilians’ ability to grieve for Raman Bandarenka, an artist and protester reportedly beaten to death by Belarusian security forces. Prosecutors argued that Kalackaja violated not only the safety of the journalist, but also the “norms of societal morality.” The defense will appeal Kalackaja’s sentence.

Earlier this year, PEN America and Margaret Atwood jointly called for Volha Kalackaja’s immediate release. PEN America, along with the international PEN community as a whole, continue to stand in solidarity with Kalackaja. As a number of writers, journalists, artists and other Belarusians victimized and punished for their speech continues to grow, the newly established International Accountability Platform for Belarus, supported by 19 countries including the United States, will document human rights abuses across Belarus in order to assure the safety and security of victims and witnesses alike.

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Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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