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Andrei Sannikov: New Opportunities Open Up For International Pressure On Lukashenka Regime

Andrei Sannikov: New Opportunities Open Up For International Pressure On Lukashenka Regime

First of all, we need to help Belarusian political prisoners.

The second World Freedom Congress, which took place in Vilnius from November 6 to 8, brought together more than 200 dissidents and freedom fighters from 56 countries.

Our country was represented at this event by coordinator of the European Belarus civil campaign Andrei Sharenda, leader of the European Belarus Andrei Sannikov, Editor-in-Chief of the Charter97.org website Natallia Radzina, a volunteer from Ukraine Niya Hladzenkaya, and a representative of the Norwegian organization of solidarity with Belarus Aliaksandra Haurusik. There were other Belarusian representatives who participated in the youth forum of the congress.


Why is the World Freedom Congress important for Belarus? The website Charter97.org spoke with Andrei Sannikov about this.

— How would you describe this event? Is this some kind of discussion club, an alliance against dictatorships?

— This is an alliance of dissidents, fighters for freedom against dictatorships. The Congress differs from other international organizations in that it brought together people who directly faced the repression of dictatorial regimes.

There are no representatives of successful democracies here. The delegates represent countries that are today under the yoke of dictatorship or authoritarian regimes.

This congress was the second in a row, but it can be called the first because it was inaugural. If last year delegates from different countries gathered to discuss what could be done, this year we adopted a fundamental document, rules of work and created governing bodies.

We can say that this was the first congress from which the organization’s activities will begin


— What were the main topics of the congress?

— There were many topics: first of all, political prisoners. Issues of their release, assistance to families, political prisoners themselves. Lobbying for the interests of democracy and human rights in countries living under tyrants.

This is also the Freedom Academy, which is not the first time, where non-violent resistance is taught. A manual was prepared and published for families of political prisoners.

Complex regional issues were discussed. For example, what is happening today in the Middle East. The issues of sanctions against dictators and how they can be prevented from being circumvented were discussed. The agenda was quite intense, and many issues were handled.

— Among this intense agenda, were you able to raise the topic of Belarus?

— Of course, the topic of Belarus was constantly raised. We discussed and exchanged experiences with delegates from those states that have gone through and are going through similar periods. That's why we were there, so that the theme of Belarus could be heard.


— What conclusions can be drawn from the assessment of the Lukashenka regime at the congress and the sanctions against it? Who did you manage to talk to about this topic?

— Firstly, it is clear that today the main aggressor in the region is Putin and his regime. The Congress is divided into several regional groups. There is a group of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We were just discussing the issue that today Central Asia is being actively used to circumvent sanctions. This must be stopped and secondary sanctions must be introduced more vigorously.

Specific examples were given of decisions by Central Asian states that should help Putin and Lukashenka avoid sanctions. It is no secret that some of these regimes are perceived legally in the West. They meet, for example, with Kazakh, Azerbaijani, and Kyrgyz rulers. In general, the West does not hesitate to participate in circumventing sanctions with the help of these regimes. In this regard, we had a very useful and fruitful conversation.

— The war in the Middle East is coming to the forefront of the world agenda. Have you managed to place any emphasis on the regime in Belarus in this sense?

— They didn’t talk about this specifically, but it is clear that both Lukashenka and his regime support aggression and terrorism. The European Belarus immediately after the terrorist attack on Israel made a statement condemning acts of terrorism and supporting Israel. Congress delegates were familiarized with this statement.

The situation in the Middle East was discussed, but the Congress did not make any decisions.


The fact that Lukashenka and Putin are happy to communicate with both Hamas and Hezbollah is known to everyone and did not require further confirmation.

We discussed precisely the issues of bringing criminals, including rulers and dictators, to international criminal responsibility through the International Criminal Court (ICC). Here, of course, Ukraine must be in the forefront.

— Did the congress participants support bringing Lukashenka to international responsibility?

— There was no doubt about it. We discussed exactly how to do this. This issue, unfortunately, is littered with shameless PR. Apparently someone is transferring some documents somewhere to the Hague...

There are very specific legal requirements and documentation for evidence for the ICC, so you need to do just that, and not try to advertise yourself on such a humanly tragic and rather complex procedural topic.

— You said that Ukraine should have the final say in this. What do you think this process might look like?


— The abduction of Ukrainian children occurs from the territory of Ukraine, and they are taken to the territory of Russia and Belarus. The beginning of criminal activity is associated with the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

The case for which an arrest warrant has already been issued for Putin needs to be continued. Lukashenka, as a direct accomplice, should also be included in this order, and this is the prerogative of Ukraine.

We can help, for example, legally, but Ukrainians play a leading role. Oleksandra Matveychuk, representing the Center for Civil Liberties, which received the Nobel Peace Prize last year, was at the congress. They are precisely the organization that collects and monitors such data. Oleksandra understands the need to include all accomplices in the indictment documents.

— If dissidents from all over the world unite to fight dictatorial regimes, does this mean that traditional international structures cannot cope?

— This has also been discussed a lot: that the UN is constantly failing. When Iran presides over the UN Human Rights Council today, this probably indicates a complete failure of international efforts to maintain peace and protect human rights.

The voices of dissidents must be much louder than it is today. To do this, we need to use all the possibilities, and we have quite a lot of them, as we assessed at this congress.

We are not talking, of course, about replacing these organizations, but only about eliminating the imbalance when states guilty of crimes determine international policy, including in the field of human rights.

— Just this week, Belarusian Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2022 Ales Bialiatski was put in a punishment cell, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2023 Nargiz Mohammadi went on a hunger strike in an Iranian prison. At the same time, a general military commission of the regimes of Lukashenka and the ayatollahs is taking place in Minsk. How to resist global evil today?

— The way they do all over the world. Just join forces. By the way, Masih Alinejad was elected president of the congress. She is from Iran and now lives in the USA. She is one of the leaders of the Iranian revolution. We know her well and discussed Lukashenka’s participation in the suppression of protests in Belarus, as well as in the war against Ukraine in connection with the possibility of using Iranian weapons, and discussed Lukashenka’s connections with the mullahs’ regime.

She is well informed about this. When I talked about the various opportunities we have to influence Lukashenka’s regime, Masih, who lives in the United States, has, for example, the opportunity to communicate directly with world leaders, conveying to them some of our common concerns.

What is happening in Iran is terrible, but what is happening in Belarus is no less terrible. Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine and the terrorist wars have obscured the problem of political prisoners, and we have a huge number of them.

We need to work more seriously to inform the world community and world leaders about what is happening in Belarus.


— How much do world leaders understand that in addition to the major players in the new “axis of evil” there are regimes that “bring ammo”?

— In this environment, it doesn’t take long to explain. The congress delegates understand everything perfectly well. Rather, we were looking for channels through which these problems could be raised at the highest level.

For example, I discussed various issues with high representatives of democratic states: sanctions, strangulation of freedoms.

The delegates at the congress were dissidents, but there were also observers: representatives of various organizations and governments.

— Can we say that we managed to take the problem of the dictatorial regime in Belarus to a new level and find new mechanisms of influence on Lukashenka?

— I will say that this was not the beginning of some work, but a continuation. It is too early to talk about a new level, because some ideas have been discussed that can be implemented in various areas. Now we need to do practical work to implement these ideas, then we’ll see about a new level.

I would also like to add that Natallia Radzina, the Editor-in-Chief of the Charter97.org website, and I were at the origins of discussing the very idea of this congress. The entire delegation of Belarus consisted of former political prisoners. The attitude of the other delegates towards us was appropriate — respect, understanding.

Since we discussed this idea, and now we have witnessed its formalization, we constantly, during the discussion of the format itself, raised the topic of Belarus and implied using the potential of this new organization to help people in Belarus. First of all, to help political prisoners.

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