The National Human Rights Award has been presented today by Charter’97 to political prisoners and fighters for human rights.
Winners of the award “For Personal Courage” in defending human rights is given to Franak Vyachorka, “Moladz BPF” leader drafted to the army for political reasons, Zmitser Barodka, Maxim Vinyarski, “European Belarus” civil campaign activists; political prisoners Artsyom Dubski, Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau, Uladzimir Asipenka and s human rights activist Yana Palyakova (posthumously).
“The National Human Rights Award is given by Charter’97 every year. So far there wasn’t an occasion when so many award winners were absent: political prisoners Mikalai Autukhovich and Uladzimir Asipenka are in prison, Franak Vyachorka had been forcibly drafted to the army, a human rights activist Yana Palyakova is awarded the prize posthumously,” stated International coordinator of Charter’97 Andrei Sannikov opening the ceremony.
Renowned Belarusian politicians, human rights watchdogs and journalists presented the awards to award winners or their representatives.
Thus, activists of the civil campaign “European Belarus”, organisers and participants of rallies of solidarity with political prisoners Zmitser Barodka and Maxim Vinyarski were given the award by the former Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of 13th convocation, Chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada Stanislau Shushkevich.
“Together we are fighting for a free Belarus. Your activities and self-sacrifice inspire tremendous respect. It is an honour for me to present the National Human Rights Award to such people, as they are fighting to win. By the way, I have always considered that my credo, too.
This award is very important. I remember all my awards, starting from the medal at the school competitions and to international awards. And I am sure that the memory about the award is to remain with these young people all their life, it is to stimulate their future activities. It is wonderful there are young people among the award winners. It is a very good tendency. They do not have an old Soviet defectiveness; there is no need to over-persuade them, like people of the older generation. It’s a pity that so many winners of this year cannot receive the prize personally. The authorities are doing their best for these people not to have normal life: they are imprisoned, drafted to the army. It is a total contempt to intellectual potential our country has.
I also want to note that there are associations in Belarus (sometimes they exist only on paper), which use the word “European”. But awardees of Charter’97 prize are those who are fighting for a free European Belarus not in word, but in deed,” stated the first leader of Belarus Stanislau Shushkevich.
The posthumous award for a human rights activist Yana Palyakova, who committed suicide after an unjust verdict to her, when she was sentenced to restriction of freedom, was received by the deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the 13th convocation Valery Shchukin. The award was presented by a well-known Belarusian journalist Iryna Khalip.
“After the death of Yana Palyakova is consonant with the name of another symbolic person and a hero Jan Palach. There probably is some connection. Death of Jan Palach and his self-immolation in Prague made the Czech nation to join Resistance movement and take to the streets. After the death of Yana Palyakova I though: something of the kind would happen to us. It hasn’t happened so far, and all the more it pains me to give this award today. There is always something sardonic in a posthumous award, as a question suggests itself: where have you been when this person was alive? What have we done for Yana Palyakova to stay alive, to save her, to help and support? But I know for sure, that one person had always been by Yana Palyakova’s side: it was a human rights activist Valery Shchukin. And it seems just to me that he received the award for Yana Palyakova today,” Iryna Khalip said when giving the award.
In the nearest time Valery Shchukin will bring the award to Salihorsk to the mother of the late human rights activist.
The award for Vaukavysk businessmen Mikalai Autukhovich, Uladzimir Asipenka and Yury Lyavonau was received by a human rights activist Aleh Vouchak, who is actively engaged in the case of the political prisoners, and a daughter of one of the prisoners of conscience Liudmila Asipenka.
“We give the National Human Rights Award to Mikalai Autukhovich for the second time. You all know his story. Besides, we award Uladzimir Asipenka and Yury Lyavonau. Today we hear that the fight for human rights and for democracy is not so fashionable, it is not the latest trend, and there are more significant things: oil, gas, economy. But for Belarus, for its future, the fight for human rights, for human dignity is and will always be the defining moment. And I want very much everything to be finally alright in the lives of Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau, Uladzimir Asipenka, I want their sufferings to come to an end,” said Andrei Sannikov at the ceremony of award-giving.
Liudmila Asipenka on behalf of her family of political prisoner Uladzimir Asipenka expressed gratitude to all who show solidarity with prisoners of conscience and struggle for their release.
“On behalf of our father our entire family expresses gratitude to you for your support. It is unexpected and pleasant for us. If there was not for the help of human rights activists and journalists, we would have a much more difficult time. Your support makes us stronger, helps our father not to lose spirit in prison. The National Human Rights Award given to him once again shows that my father is not a criminal, as the state propaganda claims. I am proud of my father and believe that we will win," the daughter of the political prisoner said.
The award for a political prisoner, an activist of “Yong Front” Artsyom Dubski was given to his mother, Alena Dubskaya by Charter’97 coordinator Zmitser Bandarenka.
“For such an organisation as “Young Front” prison is a part of struggle, a part of life. We all know about the Case of Fourteen, when 14 young people were convicted for participation in a rally in defence of businessmen’s rights. A few persons still remain disqualified, a few stay abroad and can be imprisoned in case they return to their country. We know that Amnesty International officially recognized Artsyom Dubski Prisoner of Conscience. He was also in prison, and he could stay outside Belarus. However he returned to his home country, and was immediately incarcerated. Artsyom bears his head high is in prison. He was on a few hunger strikes defending his rights. We all wish his speedy release and prey for him,” stated Zmitser Bandarenka.
Dubski’s mother visited him in prison not long ago.
“I had a possibility to meet with him just a week ago. Artsyom bears up, he maintains ground and does not show how hard it is for him. He was like this since childhood. I know that serious pressure had been exerted on him in prison, but he was soothing me saying: “It’s alright, mom, we’ll make it”. I hope that my son will be released soon. I am looking forward to his release,” mother of the political prisoner Alena Dusbkaya said.
A political soldier, “Moladz BNF” leader Franak Vyachorka could not receive the award “For personal courage” himself as well. During the ceremony Zmitser Bandarenka underlined:
“In September this year I was “lucky” to visit the building in Kirov Street, 25, in the building of the closed Yakub Kolas Belarusian Lyceum, where the court of Central district of Minsk is situated now. I stood trial for participation in a peaceful protest rally and fined. And I said in the court: previously I visited teacher-parent meetings this building, and now I stand trial here. The award for human rights defence in this year goes to Franak Vyachorka. He is a guy who studied in Kirov 25 as well. He studied for two years legally there, and two years in an underground. And you know, he is a good guy, he studied well, everybody said he has super-intellectual abilities. As most of graduates of the Belarusian Lyceum he was offered to continue studies abroad in a prestigious university, but he said: no, I will study in Belarus. He immediately entered the faculty of journalism of the Belarusian State University, he was expelled from it for absence, as he was in prison in that period.
Due to his state of health Franak Vyachorka could not serve in the army, but he was forced to, and he appeared in our glorious armed forces. I was in the army too, and I know that the army is no picnic, and moreover, when a person is taken there by force, it can cause great stress. Despite of that, Franak Vyachorka remained true to himself. After a while we will recall that as a strange dream that a Belarusian young man in the Belarusian army was pushing for a possibility to speak Belarusian, use Belarusian military terms. Franak Vyachorka continued struggle for his rights in the army. Undoubtedly, it is an achievement of Franak and his parents: Vintsuk and Aryna Vyachorka,” the human rights activist noted.
The father of the “political soldier”, one of the leaders of the Belarusian People’s Front party Vintsuk Vyachorka received the award for his son and said:
“I spoke with Franak, told him about the prize, he met the news enthusiastically. It is an important moral support for a person who has become subjected to politically motivated drafting as many others. This draws attention to hidden repressions when a person is not imprisoned, but isolated from the society in such a way that both the Belarusian and international community do not understand these are repressions. As a father, I am also grateful that my son’s constancy has been appraised. Over the year in the army he managed to defend his right for his native tongue, for his views and human dignity. All the attempts to break him morally and turn him into Lukashenka’s toy soldier have failed. On the contrary, Defence Ministry, the entire system has to react to his position. And for us, for the family and friends of Franak, it is important that persons working for the same cause have given him this award,” Vintsuk Vyachorka said.