PEN condemns court ruling to close Belarus centre

PEN condemns court ruling to close Belarus centre

The Belarusian PEN Centre has been closed down following a ruling by the country's Supreme Court, leading to condemnation by leaders of the international writers' organisation. 

PEN is a worldwide association of writers, founded in London in 1921 to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among creatives, and has autonomous international centres in more than 100 countries. 

The court's ruling to close the Belarus centre comes as the country's authorities crack down on independent media and civil society organisations, following the presidential elections of August 2020, which saw Alexander Lukashenko return for a sixth term in office. 

PEN International is calling on the Belarusian authorities to end their attacks on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and to reverse their decision on the centre's closure. In addition, the organisation has called for an end to the harassment and criminal prosecution of independent media and civil society, and dissolution of non-government organisations. 

Jennifer Clement, PEN international president, said: "The PEN community strongly condemns the closure of the Belarusian PEN Centre. That the Belarusian authorities moved to shut down the centre on the one-year anniversary of the country’s disputed presidential elections last year is a tragic reminder of the myriad violations faced by the brave people of Belarus in recent months, and their resolve in the face of adversity. The PEN community stands by the Belarusian PEN Centre and all the people in Belarus who continue to tirelessly fight for their rights. We call on the Belarusian authorities to immediately reverse the dissolution of the Belarusian PEN Centre, and to urgently uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly."

She added: "In the time since, [the authorities] have arbitrarily detained over 35,000 people and subjected hundreds to torture and other ill treatment. Since July 2021, they have escalated their ruthless attack on independent media and civil society, detaining dozens of journalists and shutting down over 100 human rights and civil society organisations, including the Belarusian PEN Centre."