Belarus' Most Wanted Theatre Company

The Young Vic Theater may be in the heart of London's theater district, but tonight's audience are going on a special journey to somewhere alien: the world of Europe's last dictatorship.

The occasion is a one-off performance by Belarus Free Theater and the aim is to raise awareness about something that would surprise most theater-goers around the world: in Belarus going to the theater is a crime.

[Mike Harris, Index on Censorship]:

"Belarus is Europe's last dictatorship. it's a country which is under the authoritarian rule of President Lukashenko and it's ranked as one of the least free countries in the entire world. [There are only seven countries in the world that have a less free media so Zimbabwe and Iran are ranked higher in press freedom terms than Belarus."

As a result of the ban, Belarus Free Theater has to play a game of cloak and dagger to put on its shows - performances take place at a secret location told to the audience by text message at the last minute. But this is far from a game: when the company staged a play by English playwright Edward Bond in a private apartment in Minsk, the entire audience were arrested and detained.

[Natalya Koliada, Director, Belarus Free Theatre]:

"We started the performance and police just arrived and they stopped this performance. There were three different intelligence forces who said that switch off your phones, don't use any cameras, you are under arrest. And we've been put together with all spectators with their children into buses and brought to police department."

The double bill performance includes the premiere of "Discover Love" a play which tells the story of a democracy supporter who was kidnapped and killed in 1999. This story took on a heartbreaking meaning for the theater group two months ago when their friend and partner, journalist Oleg Bebenin was found dead in apparently suspicious circumstances.

[Natalya Koliada, Director, Belarus Free Theatre]:

"The authorities did everything in order to look as a suicide but it was done so badly by them that nobody even doubt that it was a murder and its not the first time when journalist or political opponents they're killed."

With this disturbing background, it was not difficult for the Young Vic to offer help and rally support from its famous friends.

[David Lan, Artistic Director, Young Vic Theatre]:

"There is an unspoken assumption that artists all over the world will support each other - its an informal family of people who are more or less trying to achieve the same ends and if one member of your family says "Help!" there is only one possible response."

With only two weeks to go before elections in Belarus, Index for Censorship are appealing for people around the world to show support to the people of Belarus and join the online petition:

Hamish McCartan, NTD News, London.


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