The leader of European Belarus civil campaign and his wife appeared on BBC.
Andrei Sannikov was in the BBC studio in London, while journalist Iryna Khalip, who recently won the German PEN-Centre Prize, talked from Minsk via Skype. Below is the video and the transcript of the programme.
Iryna Khalip, what does it mean for you winning this award?
It’s really a great honour for me. I recognise this award as the award of freedom of press in Belarus, as a support of freedom of speech in Belarus. It’s very important for me and of course I think that this high award is a recognition of the European future of my country.
You say you are under house arrest. The authorities have told the BBC you are not. They say you are free to go. So, there’s a huge contradiction in there.
I think less and less people remain in the world who can trust our authorities’ words. Of course I am under very strict almost total control. Formally, I have two years’ suspension of my sentence. I was sentenced to two years of imprisonment suspended for two years. And now, during this suspension, I am de facto under house arrest. I cannot travel. I cannot leave Minsk. I have to go to police and report every Monday. I cannot leave my home in the evening. Police come to check on me almost every night, sometimes very late. Our five-year-old son is scared sometimes when he is waking up because policemen knock at my door.
Andrei Sannikov, what does this award mean for you? You are here and your family is there.
Well, I am very proud of my wife and I am very happy that she was recognised yet again because she already got international awards. It means for me a lot, because they show that the world cares about my wife, cares about Belarus and I think this is a kind of awareness we would like to keep on going, because you know the situation in Belarus is very difficult. We have political prisoners and I would like to show pictures of them. These are the people who are now in jail, in a Belarusian jail and they are being under enormous pressure. They are being tortured there. And you know, just now I’ve learnt about another person who is being held in KGB is Andrei Haidukou, he is held there for what my wife is doing, for distributing independent information. That’s what the person is held in KGB prison for and accused of spying.
You yourself won the Kreisky Award not so very long ago. I am assuming here that both yourself and your wife still have political aspirations. But how do you go from where your country is right now and make that mesh with your political desires to be in political office?
I wouldn’t say that I have political aspirations. Both me and my wife have aspirations of freedom in our country. We have an aspiration to see free Belarus, to see European Belarus, to see human rights being respected, to see people speaking freely and really acting freely. Now Belarus is a shame for Europe I think, because Belarus is becoming a prison. The whole country is becoming a prison. In the centre of Europe people are being tortured.
Okay. Iryna, I want to ask your another point if I may. People who interview you where you are right now, they reportedly get detained by the authorities. Given the very sort of tight grip on you as a lone voice, as potentially a political force, what is it about you that makes you carry on doing it in the country if you could come to, say, to the UK and be re-united with your husband? Wouldn’t that be an easier path for you to follow?
At this moment of course I cannot go to Great Britain and be reunited with my husband, because I am under house arrest, you know. Do I want to live together with my beloved husband? I think it’s a very strange question, and I hear it more and more often. And the answer is yes, I do. I do want to live together with my family, but for me at this moment, the main thing is safety of my husband, because after these tortures he passed through in prison, after all these death threats and so on, I think for me is better that he is far from me, but he is safe. I prefer to see him every evening, every night in Skype than one time in three or four months through the very thick glass in the room for meetings in prison. That’s much better. While I stay here, I continue my work, I continue my human rights activities. I still remain a journalist and human rights activist.
I love you very dearly and I am sure that will be together very soon.
Okay. Iryna Khalip and Andrei Sannikov, thank you both so much for coming. Just to let you know a little bit of the back story of how we brought these two people together. It was very very difficult to get those interviews together because surprisingly, big surprise, the action of trying to get to Iryna Khalip at the end of the telephone line has taken us almost a week to get that to happen, because let’s say communications are not that easy. But thank you both so much, Iryna Khalip and Andrei Sannikov.