In September 2020, a musician, art-director and prominent Belarusian opposition figure Maria Kalesnikava was abducted from Minsk and taken to the border where security forces tried to expel her from the country; she ripped up her passport in defiance. In the days that followed she was charged with incitement to undermine national security and placed in a pre-trial detention centre.
Since then, her father – Aliaksandr Kalesnikav – has tried to visit his daughter more than fifteen times, but has been refused access on every occasion and with no explanation.
The letter that follows was written by Maria to her father on 16 July 2021, the day the Supreme Court reviewed and rejected her complaint on the extension of her detention until 1 August.
Aliaksandr had gone to the hearing to support his daughter wearing a T-shirt with Maria’s image on it. He was not allowed into the building so he took off the T-shirt, turned it inside out, and put it back on. The guards were stunned and – at last – allowed him to enter the building.
On 4 August 2021, Maria’s trial began – she faces up to 12 years imprisonment on charges of extremism; all hearings are closed to the public and family members.
On 9 August 2021 – one year on from the fraudulent elections in Belarus – Maria’s sister, Tatsiana Khomich (referred to as Tania in the letter) agreed to the sharing of this extremely personal letter. The family now rarely receive letters from Maria – indeed this is the last communication they have received from her – even though they know she is writing frequently.
Suppression of letters from political prisoners in Belarus is commonplace, denying family members and loved ones the chance to hear vital news. This increases with the prominence of a prisoner as a way of putting pressure on them.
Hi my dearly beloved world’s best dad!
How are you doing in this trying time?
I’m constantly thinking of you, grandpa and all our nearest and dearest – sending my hello’s and lots of hugs to all!The court hearing took place today so I already know how you had to ‘get changed’ – I bet everybody in the detention centre could hear me laugh! You really think fast on your feet. You see, now nobody can doubt that I’m my father’s daughter – and I’m so proud to be one!
I’m so glad that you are keeping your spirits high and are managing to get through these crazy days with a good sense of humour 🙂
Keep it up!
Today I received 2! letters from you and 2 from A.
You wrote that you’re in awe with Tania – I’m also writing this in every letter to her. What she’s doing for me and our whole team is unbelievable and incredible.
Please ask her, as do I, to make sure that she takes good care of herself and makes every effort to find time to rest.
And of course, the joke that your Berlingo is crumbling and ageing faster than you are has also put a smile on my face. And so it should be, dad, you’ve got no need to crumble!
I’m well, healthy and cheerful!
Sending you and everybody a big-big hug!
May goodness persevere!
Love and hugs