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‘Remember Us’: New Year’s Wishes From Jailed Belarusians

Miracles are possible, but it takes people doing the right thing to make them happen.

That’s one of the messages in a series of New Year’s greetings from jailed victims of the persistent state clampdown in Belarus. The words of warmth, best wishes, and hope for better days to come were posted on social media by colleagues, supporters, and others showing solidarity with Belarusians behind bars this holiday season.

The authors were among thousands of people targeted for prosecution on what they say are politically motivated charges by the government of long-ruling autocrat Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who claimed a landslide victory in an August 2020 election that many voters believe he stole through fraud.

Those concerns led to unprecedented street protests across Belarus, and the state responded with a crackdown that has put many Belarusians in prison, where some have reported being tortured, and forced others to flee the country. Activists and journalists have been frequent targets of the authorities.

Maryna Zolatava

Maryna Zolatava, editor in chief of the popular independent news outlet Tut.by, which was shut down by the authorities in May, wrote that there is always a place for a miracle in life, but you have to really want it to happen, according to a supporter’s post on Facebook.

The post, which showed an envelope and a Christmas card from Zolatava, said that the jailed journalist mentioned that she had a paper tree in her cell and thanked someone who had sent her a crocheted snowflake ornament.

Zolatava was detained after police broke down the door to her apartment in one of several raids on the offices of Tut.by and its affiliates and on the homes of employees.

Viktar Babaryka

Viktar Babaryka, a former bank chief who sought to challenge Lukashenka in the 2020 election but was barred from the ballot and jailed, also wrote of miracles, saying that one should “never lose faith” in them, according to a Facebook post that showed the handwritten letter he sent.

It was dated December 12 and bore an ink stamp from Correctional Colony No. 1 in Novapalatsk, in the Vitsebsk region of Belarus.

Maryya Kalesnikava

Babaryka’s campaign manager, Maryya Kalesnikava, wrote to Babaryka, his son, and another associate that she has “not regretted for a second my choice to become part of the team,” according to a post on Babaryka’s Telegram channel.

“I know that we will definitely see each other, hug, and laugh out loud,” wrote Kalesnikava, who became one of the leaders of the opposition movement and was sentenced to 11 years in prison in September after being convicted on what she and supporters say are fabricated charges, including conspiracy to seize power.

She concluded her message like this: “Happy New Year! See you soon!!!”

Iryna Slaunikava

In a postcard to a friend, jailed Belsat TV journalist Iryna Slaunikava wrote that she believes in miracles and that “everything will be fine, we are at the beginning of a glorious journey,” according to the Telegram channel of the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

Belsat, a Polish-funded channel that covered the protests, was declared “extremist” by the Belarusian authorities in July and had its website and all social media accounts blocked.

Andrey Alyaksandrau

Journalist and inmate Andrey Alyaksandrau wrote a letter to Santa Claus in which he wryly said that “this year was unusual” because, for once, he had been good — “exemplary,” in fact.

“I cleaned my plate, walked with the guys, read a lot of books, had a neat appearance, shaved my face in a timely manner, and learned how to make the bed nicely,” Aleksandrau wrote, according to a Facebook post that quoted his letter in full. “In general, I think I deserve a gift.”

He also wrote: “Goodness, justice, and miracles do not happen by themselves. They are made by people who have decided that it is the right thing to do.”

Aleksandrau was arrested in January, along with his girlfriend, and was convicted of treason months later.

Stsyapan Latypau

In a letter posted on Facebook by its recipient, imprisoned activist Stsyapan Latypau urged those who are free to celebrate for those who cannot.

Latypau was detained in September 2020 as he tried to stop police and workmen from painting over a mural that displayed the opposition’s red-and-white colors in a courtyard that became known as Change Square. He cut his own throat at a court hearing in June, citing threats by the authorities to prosecute his family and neighbors if he did not plead guilty to participating in the protests, and he was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison in August.

“This New Year I want to inform you that being happy and rejoicing is not only your inalienable right, but also an obligation to those who cannot do it anymore but would like to,” Latypau wrote in his holiday message. “Remember us.”

Written by Steve Gutterman based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service. Darab Gajar contributed to this report.

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