Irina is the sister of imprisoned Belarussian presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov. Through her eyes this doc charts the violent crackdown that followed the 2010 rigged elections and its dreadful aftermath. Powerful, award-winning photography captures Orwellian images of brute force used against unarmed men and women. We see the state-sponsored torture, murder and kidnap that defines Belarus today. A rare glimpse into Europe’s most repressive state.
“We formed a group to lead negotiations with the government, but the troops were called”, Iryna Khalip, journalist and wife of presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, says over the phone. “My husband was badly beaten, we’re on the way to the hospital.” Suddenly her voice becomes raised with panic. “Looks like we’re being arrested. We’re on the ground…They’re hitting my face!” She screams and then the phone cuts out. This episode is part of Lukashenko’s promise to “wring the necks” of all those who joined the opposition during the elections.
Iryna Khalip and Andrei Sannikov were imprisoned after this arrest. Irina Bogdanova, Andrei’s sister, has lived in England for 18 years. The other side of Europe, she has turned her house into a refugee camp for all those who have escaped Lukashenko’s violent crackdown that night. A crackdown that it appears Lukashenko may have premeditated. Staggering images of the protest show riot police beating their shields in unison, and bloodied, disorientated protestors. “There was no resistance, people were not armed. It’s just despicable what happened.” Police charged the crowds with their batons striking the defenseless protestors repeatedly. “Human beings don’t behave like that, animals don’t behave like that”, Irina says, her voice tremulous with emotion.
Hundreds of others like Sannikov, including the other presidential candidate Alexander Neklayev, were also brutally beaten and imprisoned that night. With virtually the entire opposition behind bars, it fell to family members to campaign for their release. So Irina and Eva, the daugther of Alexander Neklayev, have now taken to the road to meet world leaders in an attempt to secure the release of their loved ones. While they lobby world politicians to put pressure on Belarus their relatives are brutally tortured. “If I think about how he is doing I just fall apart.” In fact, as Lukashenko’s popularity wains his violence against the opposition has increased.
From Irina’s defiant perpective this doc gets right inside the prison that Lukashenko has turned Belarus into, exposing the true extent of the crisis. “People are so isolated in terms of information in Belarus, especially now that 10 million people live in jail”. As the opposition continues to languish in custody, how long will the people of Belarus have to wait before they are set free?
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