The Man Who Opposed His Government

by Joseph W

What would you say about a man possessing documents damaging to a powerful government, arrested on trumped-up charges, whom politicians breathe violent threats against, and whom conspiracy theorists rumour to be a spy or a foreign agent sent to undermine an upright regime?

Further, imagine if the man in question were a pioneering liberal, a left-wing hero an enemy of dictatorships, an opponent of hypocrisy, and someone who longed for freedom from tyranny and internet freedom in the digital age.

Imagine if this man were now under house arrest, with authorities tracking his every move.

What would be your response?

This is Uladzimir Niklajeu (also spelt Vladimir Neklyaev), a key figure in Belarus’ Tell The Truth campaign:

Presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyaev speaks during an opposition rally in Minsk

A prize-winning writer and an exiled poet for many years, Neklyaev set up in February 2010 a civic campaign called “Tell The Truth!” for opponents of the Belarussian dictator Alexandr Lukashenko.

Three months later, Lukashenko’s goons turned up at Nekylaev’s house, and the poet was arrested and subsequently released for “disseminating false information.” PEN International noted:

Reportedly wearing bullet proof vests and carrying machine guns, the officers seized computers, mobile phones, memory sticks, books and leaflets, and scores of people were arrested.

On December 19 – following the rigged election and subsequent riots in Minsk – the 64-year old Neklyaev was beaten up by state police. MSNBC published is a picture of people carrying him away following the assault:

Image: Supporters carry injured presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyayev to his campaign headquarters

The next day, the Guardian reported on how Nekylaev was dragged from his hospital bed and arrested again:

Men thought to be security agents carried candidate Vladimir Neklyayev, a 64-year-old poet, out of a ward where he was being treated for blows to the head at about 2am. His wife, Olga, told reporters: “We were in a hospital room when plainclothes men burst in, wrapped him up in a blanket and dragged out of the room in an unknown direction.”

The shameful arrest and intimidation of Neklyaev was arranged by Alexandr Lukashenko and his regime.

Three days later, Lukashenko launched a Wikileaks-style project, enlisting the help of Wikileaks’ representative in Belarus, Israel Shamir. Shamir’s time advising Belarussian officials was funded and supported by Wikileaks.  Lukashenko promised to publish the documents he had stolen from Vladimir Neklyaev and others.

Subsequently, Belarus began publishing a stream of unredacted cables on semi-official websites, trying to “expose” links between the US and Belarussian democrats. The reports repeatedly accredited Israel Shamir and Wikileaks as the source.

As Wikileaks rep, Shamir argued that the likes of Neklyaev were working as US agents to undermine a good regime, and the CIA had orchestrated the Minsk riots.

Having spent six weeks in prison, Neklyaev was released from prison a couple of weeks ago, only to be placed under house arrest. AFP reports:

Neklyayev’s wife Olga told AFP that two KGB security officers had been placed in the opposition leader’s Minsk apartment to monitor his movements and prevent him from making contact with anyone but herself and his attorney.

“He is prohibited from reading the news, talking on the phone or using the Internet,” she said by telephone, adding that security service agents had taken over one of the two rooms of their tiny flat.

This situation parallels that of Julian Assange. But only up to a certain point.

Whereas Assange stole documents from a government, the government stole documents from Neklyaev.

While there is a clear link between Neklyaev’s political actions and his current predicament as being under house arrest, it is not so clear with Assange, who is under house arrest for an unrelated incident.

While Neklyaev bravely opposed an oppressive regime for the cause of freedom, Assange’s Wikileaks has helped out oppressive regimes in the name of freedom.

Whereas Assange is still connected to the internet, Neklyaev is banned from the internet -a situation that Wikileaks has effectively encouraged.

When it comes to brave souls who act in the name of freedom, Neklyaev is the substance and Assange is the image. So why is Neklyaev not a cause celebre, in the way that Assange is?

I suspect because Neklyaev is not as glamorous as Assange, he doesn’t speak English as his first language, and Lukashenko is not the current US President.