21 January 2018, Sunday, 9:12

44 minutes of freedom

The first evening after having been freed from a criminal punishment Iryna Khalip spent with friends.

A German journalist Ingo Petz spoke with the wife of a former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov.

The interview with Iryna Khalip was published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

- Last Friday a court in Minsk freed you from the criminal punishment due to the expiration of the sentence’s postponement. Did you hope that you would exit the court as a free person?

- In the recent years I have acquired a new experience: in the current Belarusian reality one must not hope for anything, since in the conditions, when it is not logic at work, but the lowest instincts combined with psychological illness, there are never predictable results. Twenty four hours a day one must be ready for any unexpectedness, including fatal ones.

- What did you do the first thing having been freed?

- In the evening I invited my friends to a café. It was the first night when I did not have to run home, since at 10 p.m. police could come with an inspection. That is why we drank for freedom at 10.01. At 10.44 one friend told me: “44 minutes of freedom already. Do you feel that?”. That was a marvelous evening.

- Do you actually feel free now?

- First of all, I have always been free, even in prison. The freedom, which is inside us, cannot be beaten out with any sticks, any humiliations. Secondly, we do not have the external freedom, guaranteed by the Constitution and laws, and we will not have any with the current regime. Everyone, who again rises against the regime after a prison, has great chances of ending up behind bars again. I do not have any illusions that this page will be turned.

- During the probation period you actually lived under house arrest. What were the conditions?

- I was not able to leave Minsk for two years. Every Monday I had to go to the district police station in order to leave a signature there. I could not leave the house after 10 p.m. Every time police knocked on the door, I had to open. Sometimes policemen would come three times a night: at 10 p.m., at midnight and then again at 2 a.m. They knew very well that I had a little child, who, of course, would wake up because of the knocking in the middle of the night. They turned out life into hell, they ensured that I could not feel calm and comfortable at my own home for a second.

- Will you continue working as a journalist at the Russian Novaya Gazeta?

- Actually, I never stopped working for Novaya Gazeta – I could not work for only the five month that I spent in prison. Then my colleagues from Moscow came to Belarus in order to work instead of me. This will continue. If they attempt to isolate me again, someone will come from Moscow and work instead of me. It will be a citizen of Russian, which they will not be able to treat as easily as me. I will keep working. No inner censorship has developed in me, since I am too much of a journalist to apply the brakes at a certain times.

- Your husband, an oppositional politician and a presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, had to escape the country after his release and lives in London now. You live in Minsk together with the son. What are your plans for the future?

- Together we have already made it through much harder times, when both of us were behind bars and could not even write to each other. Even then I always felt that we were together. Now, when we are able to meet, when I am finally able to go visit the husband, we will figure out what to do and how to live. Together with our son, who was three and a half years old, when we got arrested. I must admit that he behaved heroically all that time, despite his age.

- Can you explain why the court freed you? Does this have anything to do with the possible resumption of the dialogue between the EU and the Lukashenka regime?

- I was asked this question the most frequently on Friday after the trial. Note, everyone asks: “Why were you released?”, but no one asks: “Why were you imprisoned in the first place?”. It is like it is normal to put me in jail, proclaim guilty in court, turn the existence of my family into hell and take almost three years of my life. I was formally released and apparently that is what is weird, like it is a part of some political game.

Photo: dw.de