The New York Times reports that husband and wife Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Kolyada, the two leaders of the theatre company, attended a Dec. 19 demonstration in the capital city of Minsk that attracted at least 10,000 protesters following a disputed presidential election.
Kolyada and company manager Artiom Zhelezniak were both arrested. While Kolyada was later released on bail and has since gone into hiding along with her husband, Zhelezniak was tried and convicted of illegal assembly.
The Belarus Free Theatre leaders were protesting the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, once described by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as, "the last true remaining dictatorship in the heart of Europe." Lukashenko has been in power for 16 years and was reported to have won 79 percent of the vote. His opponents claim election fraud.
Kolyada, who spoke with the Times from an undisclosed location, still hopes to stage Being Harold Pinter as part of the 2010 Under the Radar festival. The production is scheduled to run Jan. 5-16, 2011, at LaMaMA. Ironically, the work incorporates Pinter's writings with transcripts from Belarussian political prisoners.
Under the Radar producer Mark Russell told the Times, "We still have high hopes. We're not in touch with them right now, but efforts are being made around the world to secure their release and enable them to travel." BBC reports that over 600 demonstrators, including five of Lukashenko's opposing candidates and several journalists covering the election, are now in police custody. If convicted, the sentence can be up to 15 years in prison.
Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly described the results as "a flawed vote count."
Award-winning actor Ian McKellen, playwrights Tom Stoppard, Martin Sherman, as well as West End actors Harriet Walter, Dan Stevens, Malcolm Sinclair, Samuel West and Catherine Kelly, gathered outside the Belarussian embassy in London Dec. 21 to protest the incarceration of Belarus Free Theatre members. You can view a photo of the protest here.