Free Belarus Now civil campaign has written an address to national ice hockey federations of all countries which are taking part in the World Championship-2014.
It is planned to hold this event in Belarus, but amid ongoing human rights violations in the country, democratic activists ask the participating countries to move the championship to a different state.
The letter was signed by activists, politicians and people of art. Late former president Vaclav Havel was an active supporter of this campaign and signed the previous letters calling upon moving the 2014 championship from Belarus.
The International Ice Hockey Federation is to hold its meeting in Helsinki in May 2012. Szymon Szemberg, Communications Director at the International Ice Hockey Federation, has informed the Civil campaign Free Belarus Now that at this meeting participants would have an opportunity to discuss appropriateness of choosing Belarus as the receiving side.
Iryna Bahdanava (Bogdanova), one of the founders of Free Belars Now civil campaign, stated: “We urge all the countries taking part in the Ice Hockey World Cup 2014 to find another country for this event, or to boycott it completely. We ask you to look to your conscience. Is a country governed by a regime that kidnaps and tortures those that oppose it an appropriate place to hold the World Ice hockey Championship?”
Mikalai Khalezin, a playwright, a founder and artistic director of Belarus Free Theatre, adds: “The dictator uses ice hockey for his own political games, for his own political expediency. When leadership of the The International Ice Hockey Federation say that the IIHF “adheres to strict neutrality in political, racial and religious spheres,” I hope they understand that when ice hockey players would step onto the ice of Ice palaces of the dictatorship, the IIHF neutrality would be put at risk and compromised.
We received an answer to the previous letter sent to the Ice Hockey glory museum, and we were said that Lukashenka’s T-shirt is no longer kept in the museum. And secondly: if we want to cancel the Ice Hockey Cup, we should address heads of federations. And this letter should be considered at the session of the Ice Hockey Federation in May. We have addressed this letter to the heads of federations and hope it would be considered. And today we know that this initiative is supported by many US and European politicians who will prepare their addresses to the IIHF.”
The full text of the letter follows:
Australian Ice Hocey League Ltd
President: Don Rurak
Austrian Ice Hocey Association
President: Karl Safron
Royal Belgian Ice Hocey Faderation
President: Pascal Nuchelmans
Bosnia and Herzegovina Ice Hockey Federation
President: Haris Muhic
Bulgarian Ice Hockey Federation
President: Krasimir Krastev
President: Bob Nicholson
Chinese Ice Hockey Association
President: Wang Yitao
Croatian Ice Hockey Federation
President: Nikola Švigir
Czech Ice Hockey Association
President: Tomáš Král
Danmark Ishockey Union
President: Henrik Bach Nielsen
Estonian Ice Hockey Association
President: Priit Vilba
Finnish Ice Hockey Association
President: Kalervo Kummola
French Ice Hockey Federation
President: Luc Tardif
German Ice Hockey Federation
President: Uwe Harnos
Ice Hockey UK
President: Eamon Convery
Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association
President: Siu Yin Yip
Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation
President: Ferenc Studniczky
Ice Hockey Iceland
President: Vidar Gardarsson
Ice Hockey Association of India
President: K. L. Kumar
Irish Ice Hockey Association
President: William Fay
Ice Hockey Federation of Israel
President: Sergei Matin
Federation of Italian Ice Sports
President: Giancarlo Bolognini
Japan Ice Hockey Federation
President: Kenichi Chizuka
Kazakhstan Ice Hockey Federation
President: Askar Mamin
Korea Ice Hockey Association
President: Park Kap-Chul
Latvian Ice Hockey Federation
President: Kirovs Lipmans
Lithanian Ice Hockey Federation
President: Petras Nauseda
Luxembourg Ice Hockey Federation
President: Rene Ludovicy
Federation Deportiva de Mexico de Hockey sobre Hielo
President: Joaquin de la Garma
Mongolian Ice Hockey Federation
President: Sumiya Ganjargal
New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation
President: Grant Hay
Ice Hockey Association of the Netherlands
President: Joop Vullers
Norwegian Ice Hockey Federation
President: Ole-Jacob Libaek
Polish Ice Hockey Federation
President: Zdzislaw Ingielewicz
Romanian Ice Hockey Federation
President: Barna Tanczos
Ice Hockey Federation of Russia
President: Vladislav Tretiak
Serbian Ice Hockey Association
President: Nastas Andric
Slovak Ice Hockey Federation
President: Juraj Siroky
Ice Hockey Federation of Slovenia
President: Matjaž Rakovec
South African Ice Hockey Association
President: Shane Marsh
Federation Espanola Deportes De Hielo
President: Maria Teresa Samaranch
Swedish Ice Hocey Association
President: Christer Englund
Swiss Ice Hockey Association:
President: Philippe Gaydoul
Ice Hockey Association of Thailand
President: Phisan Xupravatti
Turkish Ice Hockey Federation
President: Akin Kilavuz
Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine
President: Anatoliy Brezvin
President: Ron DeGregorio
Martin Schulz, European Parliament President
Helle Thorning-Scmidt, Prime Minister of Denmark
Jerzy Buzek, Former European Parliament President
José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission
Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Štefan Füle, Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Dick Durbin, US Senator
Leading World Media
13th January 2012
We write this appeal to you, unrelated though we are to the world of sport. We write to you not as leaders of the national federations of ice hockey, athletes or coaches but as fellow humans, all deserving of the same rights, respect and freedoms. We speak to you on behalf of the people of Belarus who suffer constant violations of their human rights, living under Europe’s last dictator.
Belarus, a small country with a population of nearly ten million, is located in the Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, people, for the most part, people know very little about this country. Those who do know it will often coin the phrase used most often to describe it in western press “the last dictatorship in Europe”.
For 17 years Belarus has been ruled by Alexander Lukashenko, whose autocratic and brutal rule has led to the suffering and suppression of thousands of Belarusian citizens who have tried to assert their basic human rights. Mr Lukashenko has held on to power through illegal means, falsifying election results and forcibly eliminating all political opposition.
Since 1997 no election result in Belarus has been recognized as free and fair by the international community. Many damming reports have been published by international observational missions to Belarus. In 1999/2000 five of Mr Lukashenko’s political opponents were kidnapped. These men were later found dead in mysterious circumstances. The report to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe "Disappeared People in Belarus,"1 concluded that these deaths were connected to the country’s leadership, which had created “Death squads” to carry out politically motivated killings.
The last presidential elections held on December 19th 2010, culminated in mass arrests, with over 700 people being taken into KGB custody including seven of the nine opposition candidates. These elections were declared “flawed” by international monitors.2On that night and during following days the offices of many independent media outlets were raided and ransacked. Most members of the public swept up in these mass arrests served short administrative sentences of between 10 – 15 days but approximately 40 were charged under criminal articles and faced sentences of up to 15 years. 15 of these remain in prison and have spoken publicly at their trials of the torture they had suffered whilst in KGB custody. These allegations are supported by Amnesty International3.
The EU4, USA5 and Canada6 all imposed sanctions against the Belarusian regime in response to these severe human rights violations. These sanctions have been increased and strengthened as the human rights situation in Belarus deteriorates with further arrests and interrogations of members of the opposition and the continued detention of prisoners of conscience. Members of the public can be subject to searches of their home at any time and their freedoms are even further restricted with new laws, condemned by the UN,7 being passed restricting public gatherings and access to the internet8. The last source of free press following the forced closure of several independent newspapers.
Mr Lukashenko declares a great interest in ice hockey, but his focus is not solely or even mostly on the sport itself but on the financial gain that comes from it as an industry. Many skating rinks and ice arenas are being built across Belarus despite the relative poverty of its people; an average salary in Belarus is less that $200 per month. State controlled press has been running a nonstop campaign “big ice hockey supports Alexander Lukashenko”. Despite the dire situation of the Belarusian economy massive amounts of state funds have been invested in this campaign in an attempt to sway public opinion which is largely against this policy.
Historically, after the Soviet Empire collapsed, ice hockey has developed as a sport in democratic countries, displaying all the commendable qualities of team spirit, courage and honesty. We encourage you to follow the clear and pure principles displayed in the lyrics to Baron Pierre de Couberti’s "Ode to Sport"
O Sport! You are nobility!
You overshadow with laurels only those who struggled to fight and win fairly, openly and unselfishly.
You are perfect.
You demand high morality, justice, moral purity, and integrity.
These principles have always been present in the sporting world, at the Olympics in 1968, during the national anthem, at the awards ceremony; athletes raised their black gloved hands to declare their support for all those who had suffered from racial segregation.
Today we ask you to “raise a gloved hand” and support the people of Belarus. Those ordinary people who love ice hockey no less than Mr Lukashenko but suffer so much at his hands.
This quote is from a letter that we received from Szymon Szemberg, Communications Director at The International Ice Hockey Federation.
“The next congress will be in Helsinki, Finland in May, 2012. Any of the 70 IIHF members, including the IIHF Council (the IIHF’s Executive Body) will have an opportunity to raise the issue of whether it is appropriate or no to play in Belarus. And, if the issue of Belarus 2014 will be raised, it will be up to the congress to make a decision.”
We ask you to look to your conscience. Is a country governed by a regime that kidnaps and tortures those that oppose it an appropriate place to hold the World Ice hockey Championship? Is a country where every citizen is denied their basic human rights and prisoners of conscience are held in appalling conditions without access to lawyers or their families the place you want hold a global celebration of your sport?
Vaclav Havel joined us in our appeal to the International Ice Hockey Federation asking them to move the 2014 World Cup from Belarus.
Two days before he died, he also signed the Artist Manifesto for Belarus, which calls for an awakening with regard to the political situation in the country. It calls on world leaders to take action and declares a state of emergency in Belarus.
We ask you to propose that the Ice Hockey World Cup is moved out of Belarus and to a country that respects the human rights of its people. As human beings regardless of occupation we all share a responsibility to defend the human rights of those who are unable to defend themselves. Show the world that sport is not willing to be influenced by politics, no amount of lobbying by the Belarusian government will dissuade you from standing up for the human rights of all people.
If the International Ice Hockey Federation will not take a principled stand in support of human rights and move the world cup out of Belarus it is left to each of you to make a personal decision. We ask that you make a moral choice and boycott this event that is that supports the last dictatorship in Europe.
Morals and human rights apply to all areas of life, whether sport, art or politics.
Irina Bogdanova, Founder of Human Rights campaign “Free Belarus Now”
Michael Cashman, Member of European Parliament, Great Britain
Tony Lloyd, MP, Head of OSCE Observation Mission in Belarus in 2010
Bruce Jackson, President of “Project on Transitional Democracies”
Natalia Kaliada, Founding Co-Artistic Director of Belarus Free Theatre
Nicolai Khalezin, Founding Artistic Director of Belarus Free Theatre
Irina Krasovskaya, President of “We Remember” Foundation
Tom Stoppard, playwright