Irina Khalip: I have always been free, even in prison

Journalist of “Novaya Gazeta” Irina Khalip talked about her first impressions upon release.German journalist Ingo Petz talked with the wife of former Belarusian presidential candidate, Andrei Sannikov. Interview with Irina Khalip was published by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

– Last Friday, a court in Minsk lifted the restrictions imposed on you. Did you have hope to leave the court as a free person?

– Over the past few years I have gained a new experience, in fact, in the Belarusian reality one should not count for anything because at a time when the logic does not work, and the lowest instincts are blended with ill psyche, one cannot expect good results. One has to be ready twenty-four hours per day  for any eventuality, including fatal.

– What was the first thing that you did after the release?

– In the evening I went with my friends to the cafe. It was the first night when I did not have to rush home because at 10 pm the militia had the right to control me. So at 10:01 pm we drank for freedom. About 10:44 pm, a friend said to me: “Do you feel that? It’s 44 minutes of freedom! “It was a great evening.

– So now you feel free?

– First of all, I was always free, even in prison. Freedom that is in us cannot be knocked out of one’s head. Secondly, physical freedom guaranteed by the constitution and law is not held true in Belarus, and will not be held until we have regime. Anyone who after the release, still opposes it, goes back  to jail. But I have no illusions that we may change it.

– You lived under house arrest. What was it like?

– For two years I was not allowed to leave Minsk. Every Monday I was obliged to go to the district police department and sign some documents. I could not leave the house after 10 pm. And I was obliged to open the door whenever the police was knocking. Sometimes, the police visited my three times the same night at 10 pm, at midnight and at 2 pm. They knew perfectly that I have a small child who wakes up from the noise at night. They have made our lives a living hell, they managed to rob me of peace and security in my own home.

– Will you continue to work for the Russian “Novaya Gazeta”?

– To be honest, I never stopped working for «Novaya Gazeta». I did not work onlyduring these five months in prison. Then to Belarus came colleagues from Moscow to work instead of me. So it will be now. If they again try  to isolate me, someone from Moscow will arrive and will instead of me. And it will be a citizen of Russia, whom they will not be able to handle as unceremoniously as me. I will continue to work. I will not give up to some kind of censorship, I’m too “journalistic” to pressure on the brake.

– Your husband, opposition politician and presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, after his release was forced to leave the country last year and now lives in London. You and your son live in Minsk. What are your future plans?

– We had even more difficult experiences, we both were imprisoned and could not even correspond. But I always felt that we are together. Now, when we will be able to meet, when I will be able to visit my husband, I’m sure we will come up with what to do and how to live. Together with our son, who was three and a half when we were arrested. It is worth mentioning that he was very brave all that time.

– Do you know why were you released? Does it have something to do with the renewal of dialogue between the EU and Lukashenko?

– This is the most asked question. Everyone just asks: “But why were you released?”, and no one asks: “But why were you imprisoned?”. As if imprisoning me, changing the life of my family in hell and taking nearly three years of my life was the norm. And now I was officially released, and somehow it looks strange, like a part of some political game.

Other political prisoners

  • Aliaksandr Szydlovski
  • Yury Rubtsou
  • Dzmitry Us
  • Ales Bondar
  • Arciom Prakapenka