19 January 2018, Friday, 10:22

Beware of clones!

Who is fighting Mikalai Autukhovich, and why are they doing that?

Recently the Belarusian nation and everyone who is not indifferent to our country have been shocked by the news from Belarusian political prisoner Mikalai Autukhovich who is presently serving his term in the Grodna jail.

The Narodnaia Volia named his letter “Letter From Hell” because it describes how tragic and hideous truth about the lives of Belarusian prisoners is. But apparently not everyone considers the information that Autukhovich managed to send from prison truthful. An interview with a “well-known human rights activist” Andrei Bandarenka was published on the website of Euroradio under the title “Human Rights Activist: Not All “Black-Listed” Authorities Should Be There.”

Journalists asked Andrei Bandarenka what he thought about the situation with Mikalai Autukhovich and why the administration of the Grodna jail hadn’t been included to the “black list” of the European Union. The director of the organization Platform Innovation, which is by the way officially registered in Belarus, replied:

“We should all realize that the opposition lobby that exists today outside Belarus doesn’t live in the Belarusian reality, doesn’t have a good understanding of what is actually happening in our country. And hence the European Union or foreign ministries of European countries don’t possess the entire information. Sometimes the information they possess about events in Belarus is not entirely truthful.

As far as Autukhovich’s situation is concerned, there can be no single judgment. It is obvious to everyone that the political prisoner is being pressed. But the method of defense that he has chosen, by hurting himself, is dubious. We all appreciate and respect Mikalai Autukhovich. But in this case another method of defense is needed. Mikalai has made this choice, it is up to him to decide and we will support the political prisoner. But it doesn’t mean that in this case the chief of the Grodna jail should be included to the black list and banned from entering the EU. There is no other evidence that proves that he takes part in torturing and treating the prisoners in an inhumane way.”

It is plain simple: Autukhovich has provided information that is “not entirely truthful” because there is no other evidence that proves that the administration of the Grodna jail is involved in tortures and the violent inhumane way of treating the prisoners.

Autukhovich, who has been behind the bars for 5 long years, sends an SOS signal to the outer world. He quotes concrete facts of tortures and humiliations. In order to stop the lawlessness of the administration of the Grodna jail, he even had to cut his belly open. But the “Innovation’s human rights activist” finds these facts and the method of fight “dubious”.

Today I am a part of the “Belarusian opposition lobby” from abroad. Indeed, we, the leaders of the European Belarus, read Autukhovich’s “Letter From Hell” as a plea for help. We forwarded it to all international institutions that work with human rights issues in Belarus, and to all our international connections. In our evaluation of the realia of the Grodna jail we proceed from the information we received from political prisoner Autukhovich, not some damn-in-the-box.

Autukhovich’s letter has indeed made much fuzz in the West. The timing was right on the spot: the ”devil’s advocates” from Belarus and the European institutions have just engaged in a new attempt to cleans and support Lukashenka.

For us, the question is not if the head of Grodna jail administration will join others on the “black list” of the European Union. We are convinced that all directors of the Belarusian regime’s jails and labor camps must be included to these lists, and that the living conditions of convicts are a breach against all international obligations that Belarus has taken on.

Today we draw attention of Europe’s political and human rights organizations to the fact that Belarusian political prisoners’ state is critical, and that only economic sanctions against the dictator and his oligarchs can stop the terror in the country.

I have been a member of the Belarusian human rights movement for more than 16 years, and I believe that this statement of my homonym regarding Mikalai Autukhovich is very dangerous. It is because basing on such statements coming from such human rights advocates, that the lobbyists of the Belarusian regime speak about “significant improvements” in the situation with human rights in the country, lift sanctions from Makiei and Pieftsiyeu and remove the issue of release of Belarusian political prisoners from the agenda.

Today many people claim they are either “political refugees abroad” or “well-known Belarusian human rights advocates” inside the country. In 2009, the Belarusian media reported that an Andrei Bandarenka was sentenced to a 7-year prison term for financial fraud. Representatives of one Belarusian party asked us to announce this person a political prisoner, but we had no data proving he actually was one.

In spring 2011 in the KGB jail during an interrogation I was told: “your friends in the West demand that we release Bandarenka. Well, actually we have already released a Bandarenka”. Apparently, the political prisoner who was released, completely justified and compensated with 100 million Belarusian rubles for an illegal arrest was former businessman Andrei Bandarenka. Later I read in papers that this person was not only miraculously justified, but was even allowed, equally miraculously, to register his human rights organization in Belarus. By my release in April 2012 my homonym often appeared in all Belarusian media as a “well-known human rights activist”.

Ales Bialiatski’s Viasna and many other truly well-known organizations and parties cannot obtain a Belarusian registration for years, and here we have such a fantastic success. In the post-soviet countries, there exists a phenomenon of one dirty political technology: in an electoral district with one strong candidate several candidates with the same last name, so-called clones, join the battle to puzzle voters. I don’t consider myself popular, but when after the jail I was sent to the prison in Valadarski street and then to the reformatory #15, I was approached by different people who asked me what I was doing there, because they thought I had already been released.

Identical last names and brands are not the most crucial thing, however. Today special services cultivate pseudo-democratic clones – individuals and structures that function in the name of the opposition, introduce themselves as independent experts and well-known human rights activists. But it is easy to see a clone. You shall know them by their fruit.

Dzmitry Bandarenka for charter97.org

Photo by Nasha Niva