On Election Night, tens of thousands of protesters massed in the capital city of Minsk. They began in October Square, then moved to Independence Square. They shouted “Get out!” and “Long live Belarus!” One of the opposition candidates, Sergei Kalyakin, said, “Let’s melt the ice of this dictatorship!”
Lukashenko cracked down, arresting about 700 people. They face as many as 15 years in prison. Among the people arrested were seven of the nine opposition candidates.
Eva Neklyaeva tells what happened to her father. It was 7:30 p.m., and there was still a half-hour of voting to go. With a party of supporters and press, he left his office, to join the protest in October Square. He didn’t get very far — only 100 or 200 meters. He and others were jumped by men in civilian clothes — obviously agents of the state. They beat Neklyaev about the head, knocking him unconscious.
He was taken to a hospital in an ambulance. He had been there for four or five hours — when men dressed in black, who would not show papers, burst in and seized him from his bed. Some of the men held his wife, Olga, who was screaming for help. They then locked her into another room, as her husband, the candidate, was being dragged away.
Neklyaev was not heard from for eight days. His family and supporters feared he had been taken into the woods and shot — it had happened to other opposition figures, nuisances to the dictatorship. At last, he was heard from: A lawyer was able to see him on December 29, at the KGB prison. Since then, he has not been seen. He was allowed to send one letter to his wife. At the end of December, he was very near death.
Earlier, I mentioned another democratic candidate, Andrei Sannikov. He was dragged from his car, along with his wife, the investigative journalist Irina Khalip. State agents beat him to a pulp, breaking one of his legs. He and his wife are in prison, while their three-year-old son, Danil, is with his grandparents.
In a case that has garnered international attention, the authorities are threatening to remove Danil from his grandparents’ care. They may well claim that the grandparents are too old and infirm to look after the boy. A state official had a creepy warning: “God forbid that all is not well with the health of the grandmother.” The grandmother, Lyutsina Khalip, said, “Even in my worst nightmares, I could not have conceived that this could happen.”
Would you like to see a picture of the happy Sannikov family, as the candidate was voting on December 19? Go here. They are holding hands, as if they were doing something both wonderful and perilous, requiring strength and love. That they were.
This series will return tomorrow, for the third and final part.