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

    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:

    Online solidarity marathon “We care!” to be held on July 29. Proceeds to support political prisoners and their families

    US director joins Solidarity Marathon in support of Larysa Shchyrakova

    Helping photojournalist Gennady Veratinsky to settle in a new country

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