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'Freedom is indivisible'

Olga Kapustina / nc November 11, 2012

Belarusian journalist Irina Khalip has been awarded the Hermann Kesten Prize for her courage in promoting democracy. She is under house arrest and was unable to attend Sunday's ceremony held in Darmstadt, Germany.

Irina Chalip in Minsk
Image: DW

DW spoke with Irina Khalip before the award was granted.

DW: Ms. Khalip, will you be taking part in the award ceremony?

Irina Khalip: I will be there virtually - I will be connected via Skype from Minsk. But I won't be able to receive the award personally.

The general secretary of the German PEN Center, Herbert Wiesner, has made reference to the "tradition of the empty chair." In 2010, the PEN Center was unable to present the award to the jailed Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo.

I'm only nominally free. In reality, I've been placed under house arrest. I'm not allowed to leave Belarus. I have to report to the police every Monday. I'm not allowed to leave my house after 10 p.m. and sometimes the police check late at night whether I'm at home.

Herman Kesten Prize goes to Iryna Khalip # 11.11.2012 13 Uhr # irina 11g # journal englisch

In July 2013, the court will decide whether I will be sent to a penal colony, be released, or whether or not they will adjourn my imprisonment.

A month ago, President Alexander Lukashenko said in an interview with the British newspaper "The Independent" that he would let you leave the country. Are you now able to move more freely?

What are you talking about? There's no point in commenting on anything that Lukashenko says. We all know his words are worthless.

Your husband, Andrei Sannikov, has been granted political asylum in the UK. What do you make of his decision?

We jointly made that decision. I completely support him. I'd had enough of delivering food parcels to him in prison. I was sick of all the absurd conversations I had with the authorities, trying to find out where they had taken my husband, whenever they transferred him to a different prison. I prefer to know that he's safe.

Are you going to follow your husband to the UK?

I am going to serve my sentence in Belarus. I am not going to escape in the trunk of some car. They'd only issue an international arrest warrant and accuse me of yet another crime. So the question is irrelevant. I dream of my family being reunited in Belarus.

But now that my husband is in safety, he can work towards change. So much depends on the position the West takes. We have to make the most of any chance to act here in Belarus. I can't say what I really think. But the people who left Belarus after December 19, 2010 - they've become a political force. I'm convinced that collectively, in and outside of Belarus, we can push for change.

Former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov REUTERS/Sergey Serebro
Khalip's husband was granted political asylum in the UKImage: Reuters

Not long ago, the two opposition activists, Alexander Otroshenkov and Dimitry Bondarenko, left the country.

The Belarusian government didn't accept that they became politically active again once they had been released from prison. Security authorities did everything to force them to leave the country. For instance, if someone asks me: Do you want to be Sannikov's widow or wife? Well, I prefer the second option.

What will your message be during the award ceremony?

My main message is that freedom is indivisible. There's no freedom of assembly without freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is impossible without freedom of expression. You can't have free enterprise, without freedom of opinion. You can either have freedom in its entirety - or no freedom at all. But I think that freedom of expression is the most important.

The German PEN Center awarded Irina Khalip the Hermann Kesten Prize on Sunday (11.11.2012) for her struggle to promote democracy and freedom of expression. She is the Minsk correspondent for the Russian newspaper Nowaja Gazeta. Her husband, Andrei Sannikov, ran against Alexander Lukashenko in the last presidential election. The authoritarian Lukashenko won 80 percent of the vote, which were widely considered to be neither free nor fair. The ensuing protests were brutally repressed. Sannikov and Khalip were imprisoned on December 19, 2010. Khalip was sentenced to two years imprisonment. She is set to serve her sentence once her son is of school age. Sannikov was sentenced to five years imprisonment. He was pardoned in May 2011 and released. In late October, he was granted political asylum in the UK.