Britain’s theatre community comes out against oppression and censorship in the “last dictatorship of Europe”.
Sir Tom Stoppard and actor/director Sam West Has led a protest of high-profile theatre practitioners outside the Belarussian Embassy at 6 Kensington Court, London, W8 5DL on Thursday 1st July at 11.30am.
They presentes an open letter to President Alyaksander Lukashenko of Belarus calling for greater democratic freedom and for an end to censorship of the Internet. Other signatories include Mark Ravenhill, Howard Brenton, Alan Rickman, Laura Wade, Caryl Churchill, Henry Goodman, Henry Porter, Simon McBurney, Simon Stephens and Lyndsey Turner.
“We urge you to allow the people of Belarus the right to express and share their opinions freely, whether this is on the internet or not. We urge you to use your powers to prevent any further repression of citizens who hold alternative, and oppositional, beliefs to you. We urge that the practice of physical abuse and intimidation against any citizen, including those who dare to hold alternative and oppositional points of view, be stopped. Finally, we urge you to protect the right to freedom of assembly in accordance with Article 21 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights to which Belarus is a state party,” – the letter says.
Sam West performed an extract of Generation Jeans, a play from the multi-award winning Belarus Free Theatre.
“Generation Jeans charts one man's journey as an activist. It captures all of the courage, the humour and the foolhardy determination that you need to resist a totalitarian regime, which makes it perfect for our protest today," says director Clare Lizzimore, co-organiser of the protest.
On Thursday 1st July a new Presidential decree on the Internet comes into force. It gives the authorities greater powers to monitor usage and will enable the Government to restrict or block access to websites that offer independent and alternative sources of information. It has been described as “a step in the wrong direction” by the European Union.
The decree is a clear attempt to curb the freedom of speech and the right to self-expression.
Playwright and co-organiser of the protest, Alexandra Wood says “The internet is a vital tool in communication and should be available to all. Lukashenko's law, imposing censorship on the Internet, particularly affects those in Belarus who oppose his regime, who want to offer the Belarusian people an alternative, which is of course, his intention.
“Clare and I were inspired to take action after spending ten days with the Belarus Free Theatre, who are some of the most courageous and passionate defenders of freedom we have ever met, and we want them to know that in the face of huge obstacles, their actions are making a difference and they have supporters in the UK."
Actor Sam West says “The purpose of theatre and the purpose of the internet is the same: to connect people, to bring them together as a collective entity, an audience, a world. Repressive regimes are rightly frightened of the internet for its ability to put free thinkers in touch with one another and give them inspiration and strength; it’s not us and them out there, it’s all us. We must oppose any withdrawal of these freedoms as anti-thought, anti-freedom, anti-human.”
His partner and playwright Laura Wade adds “This decree is potentially a disaster for the Free Theatre of Belarus. For them, the internet is a lifeline – a way to find their audience in Minsk and beyond, but also to stay connected to a global network of friends and supporters. I believe that the Free Theatre, a group of passionate and brave theatre makers, have something vitally important to say to the world. We must make sure that they can.”
Thursday’s protest was in support of the Belarus Free Theatre and is in conjunction with the Global Artistic Campaign in Solidarity with Belarus, founded by playwright, Sir Tom Stoppard.
Officers of Belarusian Embassy ran away from the protesting British
Actor Sam West performs an extract of Generation Jeans, a play from the multi-award winning Belarus Free Theatre
Organizer of the performance sir Tom Stoppard