Pride and integrity in prison. Solidarity actions with Pavel Mazheika held in several countries

28.07.2023 Source: Беларуская асацыяцыя журналістаў

Well-known journalist, cultural critic, and public figure Pavel Mazheika received a 6-year prison sentence. His colleagues carried out a campaign in solidarity with him in different countries. They took pictures with his image along with the message ‘Journalism is not a crime’.

Pavel Mazheika, a renowned journalist and cultural and public figure, was convicted by the Hrodna Regional Court. Judge Maksim Filatau, known for delivering significant political verdicts, sentenced him to six years in prison.

Pavel’s case was built on almost no real evidence. The prosecutor’s allegation is difficult to believe and appears to be a farce. However, behind this play, there are real people, their lives, and their destinies.

To support Pavel, his fellow journalists carried out a campaign in solidarity with him in different countries. They took pictures with his image along with the message ‘Journalism is not a crime’.

“We aim to support Pavel and his family, expressing our care and faith in him, while we wait for his release. Furthermore, we want to remind everyone that in Belarus, innocent and honest people are suffering unfairly behind bars. At a significant cost, these individuals prove the importance of freedom, democracy, and human rights,” stated the initiators of the campaign.

We invite you to look at the photos and read the conversations about Pavel we recorded with reputable Belarusians.

Andrei Bastunets, head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists: To me, Pavel embodies Hrodna

 — I remember how in 2001-2002, Pavel worked at the Pahonia newspaper. He and the newspaper editor Mikalai Markevich faced criminal charges for insulting and libeling the president in one of their publications. BAJ lawyers and attorneys gathered to discuss defense strategies and their position. We were still hopeful that the law would work. Unfortunately, it didn't.


But eventually, Mikalai and Pavel were punished with freedom restrictions instead of being put in prison. The penalties back then were very different – people would be sentenced to 2-2.5 years of restricted freedom, which was then commutated by a year under amnesty.

This is incomparable with what happens nowadays... Currently, the law does not function in Belarus at all. Law enforcement perceives the term “law” as a synonym of “handcuffs” or “truncheons". I always associate this with King Stakh's Wild Hunt and Oprichnina. The definition of “extremism” in Belarusian legislation is complicated and open to interpretation by the oprichniki. They can label anything as extremism – from murders to likes on social media posts. The prosecutor’s office and courts approve of absurd sentences. This is unrelated to the law.

Why has journalism turned into a criminal offense in Belarus? The obvious answer is that regimes with a strong grip on power, particularly totalitarian governments, view controlling the flow of information as crucial to their survival. Journalism that is free from governmental control and influence, specifically in Belarus, has always faced pressure. There were times, specifically between 2018 to 2019, when the pressure on independent journalism somewhat diminished. However, the pressure remained. In the meantime, both the media and criminal laws became increasingly strict. Until they started punishing “dissenters”.

After the tension of the protests, Lukashenka and other officials announced – seemingly without comprehending the words they were using – that they were undertaking a “cleansing,” and that the media, journalists, and the public sector were a disease that had to be eradicated. This is how they operate.

I encountered Pavel when he was persecuted for the first time. On trial, he displayed bravery and his usual smile. I almost admire his exuberance and positivity, although I am not entirely sure what is behind them. He can easily switch from one task to another without losing his selfhood. He has worked as a journalist, TV host, media manager, and politician. Being next to him always felt uplifting.

To me, he personifies Hrodna in many ways. Just like Andrzej Poczobut, who is currently serving time in prison for his work as a journalist and public figure. These amazing individuals (and many more could be added) contribute to the charm of this fantastic city.

I would like to talk to Pavel freely in a free Hrodna as soon as possible. This is what I want to convey to him. Let us all remember him, do what we can, believe in him, and wait for his release.

Siarhei Budkin, head of the Belarusian Council of Culture: Pavel would appreciate the most if every Belarusian developed their Belarusian centers of life

— Pavel should have long been acknowledged as an honorable citizen of Hrodna for his remarkable contributions to the city, such as restoring the spirit of freedom and creativity, honoring the famous, and commemorating the previously forgotten names of its citizens. The series “City Library” which includes 13 publications is extremely valuable.

He viewed Hrodna as a city that at various times provided Belarus with talents, ideas, and inspiration. This was his home, which extended beyond the impressive Urban Life Center. To him, it was the center of his life. The center of his world.

It is people like Pavel, who are active, skilled managers, professionals, and true patriots, and who establish their own Life Centers in various parts of our country, that form the basis of a sovereign Belarus and make it achievable, despite the country’s inability to maintain it by itself. Therefore, Hrodna residents, like all Belarusians, are fortunate to have Pavel Mazheika.

Knowing Pavel a little, I believe the best way to support him is for every concerned Belarusian to expand and develop their Belarusian centers of life, in their town or community, circle of friends or family, or even within themselves.

If you can't create your own website, start a book series, help release a music album, or inspire scientists for important research. You can simply study the history of your family and country, buy Belarusian books and music, or switch to the Belarusian language. All of this would be helpful to Pavel’s cause.

Heorhi Roi, priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate: You, dear Pavel, are much freer than the people who judge and imprison you

— As a priest, I can say that the eyes reveal a lot about a person. This man has always impressed me with his kindness and intelligence. He emanates positivity and kindness through his eyes, words, and actions.

We weren’t quite friends, but whenever we met, our conversations were friendly, interesting, and meaningful.

I think that Pavel made one of the greatest contributions to the life and history of Hrodna by creating the Urban Life Center. This place was full of interesting intellectual and cultural experiences, a spot for meeting people and spending time together. I had a great time there.

One of the most memorable moments was when I bumped into Pavel at the Tsudounia ethnic store, and he invited me for a cup of coffee in the courtyard. During our talk, I was able to speak calmly and share my thoughts in peace. Throughout our conversations, Pavel was able to show his true self as a human being, not just a journalist or manager.

Pavel’s imprisonment and criminal case are completely unjust. It’s clear why the regime targets honest and good people like Pavel. Anyone who can and is brave enough to speak the truth and fight for it is seen as a threat to the falsehoods that have ensnared the entire Belarusian society. Judging a journalist for their work or a citizen for their position is a true crime. As more lies are told, more injustice and violence occur, posing a greater catastrophe for our people, since society cannot be founded on falsehoods.

I am concerned and praying for Paul. I hope to see him soon. Pavel, you are not alone. Many people share your suffering. Christ is by your side! The Lord Jesus is always with those who suffer and endure injustice. Christ is with you always, dear Pavel. No matter how much suffering you are enduring now, may our heavenly Father always help you to see the light and be filled with it. You, Pavel, are much freer than the people who judge and imprison you!

Ales Pashkevich, historian: For those who now share a prison cell with Pavel, he is a stroke of fate

— Although we were not close friends, I know Pavel Mazheika personally. I knew him best through the publishing industry. Belarusian publishers used to exhibit their books at book fairs in Poland, where they showcased the “City Library” book-publishing project, which was co-founded by Pavel.

This project was highly regarded within the regional publishing projects in Belarus, a country that is heavily centralized around the capital. The “City Library” stood out for its quantity and quality of publications.

Undoubtedly, Hrodna's standing as Belarus's second most important intellectual center after Minsk was also influential. Numerous talented and passionate creatives reside in the area. However, the mere existence of such individuals is insufficient. They generally require someone to bring them together as a unified community, and over the years, Pavel Mazheika's role in this undertaking has been vital.

Every time I visited Hrodna to deliver presentations or participate in events, Mazheika or organizations founded by him were among the organizers. He is an active member of the local community. In today’s Belarus, where authorities suppress public activity, such energetic individuals are the main targets for repression.

Informal meetings occurred outside events or after recording historical programs. Pavel was the life and soul of the party, being cheerful, witty, and talkative. Furthermore, he was intelligent and erudite. He had the competence to handle primarily intellectual projects. I believe that for those who now share a prison cell with Pavel, he is a stroke of fate. From the limited information we receive from him, he does not lose hope or his sense of self in the inhumane conditions. He manages to boost morale, uplift and motivate his fellow prisoners even in those conditions.

Although this is not his first difficult experience, this one stands out as being especially challenging. We can only hope that in his case, the saying ‘trials do not weaken but only harden the strong’ will be true. Of course, we also hope he will not have to endure suffering inflicted by the executioners for long.

Read more:

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