WPI Project Manager Todd Lester writes in with distressing news: Natalia Koliada, General Producer of the Belarus Free Theater - which we wrote about last month - has been detained during a crackdown on dissent following yesterday's widely-criticized election. Her whereabouts are unknown.
UPDATE, 5:32 PM (EST): The Index on Censorship reports that Koliada has been released after being held overnight.
Yesterday - December 19th - witnessed a violent crackdown as thousands of people gathered in the center of Minsk to protest electoral fraud after the polls closed. This includes the detainment of our colleague Natalia Koliada, General Producer of Belarus Free Theatre. Back in October when Natalia and her husband Nikolai Khalezin were speaking in New York, they explained the complications of protest in Minsk: that for every person brave enough to march on the square, there would be an equal number of armed police : making Belarus a veritable police state. This morning on National Public Radio, I listened to the wife of Vladimir Neklyayev explain how her husband was beaten and then snatched from the hospital by masked thugs. She still doesn't know where he is and based on her account of events, the hospital where he was kidnapped seemed culpable for the breach of his safety and care. This sounded all too familiar to the account our friends at Belarus Free Theatre gave of a few months ago when a friend and colleague active in the opposition was found hung in his home and the coroner bungled the autopsy report, omitting details that suggested his death was a political assassination. We also just learned that free expression website, Charter 97 was stormed by police overnight. When artists, such as Natalia and Nikolia, are doing the work of activists we must listen to them. When we have every indicator that the rule of law has broken down and the protective layers of civil society stripped away : when we know that journalists have become fearful to give literal accounts of the impunity faced by the people they represent, then we also know that artists who bear witness to the societal condition will face danger.