The past year is the year of big losses for charter97.org website. It was the year of criminal cases, raids, arrests, and death of journalist.
Natallya Radzina has been forbidden to live in Minsk after her arrest and 40 days in jail. Her passport has been taken away and she has been released on her own recognizance prohibiting her to leave her town (as if she could go somewhere without her passport). Natallya is not going to run away. As she says, she needs to do a lot at home…
We came to the Radzina’s family house on February 19, two months after the events on Independence Square in Minsk.
“Belarusian journalists hadn’t understood where they work before December 19,” Natallya says. “Everyone thought Lukashenka is just a game. They thought they would criticize a little, show their views a little and keep on living in such a way. If one newspaper is closed, they’ll go to another one, if this one is closed too, they will work on the Internet. Nobody believed till the end that we have a dictatorship. Now we live in a situation that we are not allowed even to write. How was it earlier? We used to attend demonstrations as a special group having a slogan “opposition members are beaten, but we are not the opposition”. Now everyone is considered to be an opposition member, everyone…”
Natallya knows what she is speaking about. She came to the pro-opposition protest action on December 19 with the only aim: covering the important event. Some hours after the beginning of the rally Natallya found herself under feet of riot police. She was kicked in her head and back so brutally that Natalya thought she would be killed.
Natallya reminds how she wanted to ask for medical aid, but saw bleeding people at the emergency ambulance and scrupled to come to doctors. She continued working in spite of a headache.
“When it became obvious how the dispersal of demonstration would end I couldn’t afford thinking about emergency aid or going to hospital. I decided to return to the office and write down everything I saw. My head was swimming and aching terribly, but I continued working: I wrote a report on the demonstration and on arrests of presidential candidates. People phoned telling me about new arrests and raids,” Natallya says.
Radzina still cannot understand why she was arrested and thrown in jail for 40 days. Her work on the square didn’t differ from that she has been doing for the last 13 years. Natallya does not even know if she will be accused of organizing mass riot or taking part in them. However, the main lesson she’s learned from the situation is not to look for logic.
“I had time to make just one call to say someone was trying to burst into the office and then I heard the door being broken with a special instrument. People in masks ran into the apartment. They took away our IDs, mobile phones, took us out and pushed into a bus. When we drove to the KGB only I was allowed to get off,” Natallya recollects the night of her arrest followed by 40 days in jail.
Natallya remains quiet when speaking about the KGB jails. She had to sleep on wooden boards on the floor, eat prison porridge, and go to interrogations.
“I have been released, but has anything changed? I am on tenterhooks and my parents are feared because they don’t know how much time I can remain with them. Iryna Khalip is under house arrest. But this is not freedom. She will be kept under house arrest till trial. The fact that she is still under arrest means the sentence will be severe,” Natallya makes a pessimistic forecast.
“We are all on the hook. We cannot write and tell the whole truth,” Natallya describes the total fear.
“When I was in the KGB jail, but knew I would be released soon, I told them I would continue to work for Charter’97. How can I stop working? I cannot afford not working when so many people remain behind bars. My moral duty is to do my best to help to release them,” she wishes she could do more, but she can’t. she cannot now.
“It’s difficult to imagine how it is possible to work in Belarus. The last year is the year of big losses. This includes opening criminal case against me personally and against the website. This is four raids (two on the office and two on the home), seizure of 19 computers, beatings, death of Aleh Byabenin, 40 days in jail. I may still face 15 years in prison. Nevertheless, it is not a reason to stop my work. The question is how to minimize losses. I need to work. Is it a crime to be a journalist?” Natallya wonders. “Maybe someone wanted to convince all people of this, but they failed to convince me.”
Yanina Melnikava, the Belarusian Association of Journalists