On January 19, 2011, one month after the crackdown on the freedom of expression in Belarus, The Public Theater, Amnesty International, the Belarus Free Theatre, and their supporters joined in protest at the Belarus Mission to the UN to speak out against the widespread human rights violations occurring in the "last dictatorship in Europe".
Here, Jocelyn Prince of The Public Theater writes about the protest and tells you how you can get involved. She took a lead role in organizing last month's protest. Jocelyn is the Artistic Associate at The Public Theater In her position, she works in the literary department on new play development and dramaturgy and produces the Public Lab Speaker Series.
On Tuesday, February 1st, The New York Times reported that the US and Europe have imposed unprecedented sanctions on the government of Belarus. President Aleksander Lukashenko will be prohibited from entering the United States and the European Union, and any of his assets held in those territories will be frozen.
This is great news in the wake of the protest The Public Theater organized with Amnesty International USA and the Belarus Free Theatre last month!
The protest presented some challenges. A synagogue and a school are located on the same city block as where we wanted to hold our demonstration - right in front of The Mission of the Republic of Belarus to the United Nations. So, we had to gather down the block and across the street from the Mission. The NYPD also wouldn't grant us an amplified sound permit so we couldn't use a microphone or a bullhorn. Speakers had to shout and protesters had to strain to hear their words. The day was also cold and rainy. But despite these obstacles, over 300 folks showed up.
Over 30 theater companies, both large and small, were also represented at the protest, including Manhattan Theatre Club, The Culture Project, HERE Arts Center, The Movement Theatre Company, and Amerinda. Many individual artists attended including Jay Sanders, Linda Emond, Taylor Mac, Josh Hamilton, David Auburn, Mandy Patinkin, and Joanna Settle. The BBC, Playbill.com, The New York Times, and WNYC covered the protest, among many other media outlets. News of the demonstration even reached Belarus via the Belorussian Opposition Website, published in Russian.
Right before everyone gathered on the street corner, The Public's Associate Producer Maria Goyanes and Thenjiwe McHarris, Northeast Field Director for Amnesty International, hand delivered a letter of appeal to the Mission. The letter was addressed to Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and calls for an investigation into reports of arrests and mistreatment of journalists, political activists, and other civil society activists in Belarus. We CC'ed Ambassador Andrei Dapkiunas on his letter and contacted the Mission about a meeting with him, but he and his staff would not return our phone calls.
We started the protest chanting "Long Live Belarus!" in Belarussian (an act punishable by prison time in Belarus) and "We want human rights now!" Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis, Associate Producer Maria Goyanes, playwright Tony Kushner, and General Director and Co-Founder of the Belarus Free Theatre Natalia Koliada spoke to the crowd. We carried signs with images of political prisoners currently in Belarus and many of us wore gags on our mouths to symbolize the oppression of free speech and expression that is the law of the land in Belarus.
If you couldn't make it to the protest, there are still other ways that you can help keep the pressure on the Belarus government. Let's continue to support the Belarus Free Theatre and all those who are struggling for freedom in Belarus! Here are some way to get involved:
- Call New York Senators Kristen Gillibrand at (212) 688-6262 and Charles Schumer at (212) 486-4430 and ask them to investigate the human rights violations in Belarus.
- Contact President Obama and ask him to denounce the repressive actions of the Belarussian government - whitehouse.gov/contact.
- Call the Charge d'Affaires at the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus to the US, Oleg Kravchenko, at (202) 986-9420 and express your concern over reports of threats to freedom of speech, assembly, and expression.
- Sign a petition demanding the respect of human rights in Belarus. To sign, please text: "BELARUS" (space) "YOUR NAME" (space) "YOUR ZIP CODE" (space) to 27138 or read the full petition and sign online at zoneofsilence.org.
- E-mail email@example.com for more information on how to help support families of political prisoners and other oppressed civil society groups or visit charter97.org or amnestyUSA.org.
Watch our video of the protest to see the inspiring demonstration for yourself!