To a 50th anniversary of the ISHR with brave representatives from a free Belarus

20210414_ISHR Newsletter_Ivan Ivanovich Header

How brave representatives formed a movement

Founder of the International Society for Human Rights – Ivan Ivanovich Agrusov.

Next year the ISHR will be 50 years old, half a century full of painful and cruel human rights violations all over the world, but also half a century full of courageous human rights activists working for human rights. How did it all start? The founder of the SHR was the exiled Russian Ivan Agrusov, who was threatened with the death penalty in his homeland, the former Soviet Union under Josif Stalin. He could not come to terms with the fate of his compatriots, could not be indifferent to the political prisoners who tried to be free in his homeland, and who were held and tortured for years for this. He gave them a face and allowed us to help them and their families. With letters and aid packages to the prisoners and families, with public relations work, a lot of ingenuity and full of charity. For his work, he was declared an enemy of the first category by the secret services of the KGB and the Stasi and with him the ISHR as such. No other organization was persecuted by the Stasi like us.

How great his joy was when the Soviet system collapsed after 70 years in 1991 when he was allowed to set foot on his homeland again after almost half a century, all those who knew him well remember that. We were all very happy, all around only smiling faces, the feeling that we had really achieved something great. The cruel dictatorship was over and a way back seemed unimaginable.

“… there are times when an honest person’s place is in prison,” so Valery Senderov, Soviet dissident and head of the first ISHR office in Moscow. He was sentenced to 17 years in a camp, and released under Gorbachev after 5 years, including 360 days in solitary confinement until near death

By this time, the ISHR had long since become the ISHR and counted over 30 sections and countless working groups worldwide. Our experience in working for human rights in the Soviet Union had made us professionals working for human rights and welded us together into one big family around the world. The world is full of extreme human rights violations and the fall of the Soviet Union freed up resources for other focus issues.

But never before have I been so clearly reminded of the founding days of the ISHR as I am today. I stayed at the ISHR office as a permanent employee for Eastern Europe. I was allowed to work with the founder of the ISHR for many years. I got to know Soviet dissidents after they had spent many years behind bars and were physically and mentally tortured, often just a shadow of themselves. Just like our first section head in Russia Valery Senderov, of whom I only had known the photo on his file in the Frankfurt office, a young, beautiful man whom I did not recognize when I visited our Moscow office in 1993. He was in a prison camp for over 10 years because he came up with the idea of wanting to form a free trade union. In 1993 it was also that I was probably the first western person to film a pre-trial detention center together with ZDF (Second German Television). It was the Matrosskaya Tishina (Seaman’s Silence) detention center in Moscow. For me, as a young student, it was a formative, unforgettable traumatic event. Completely overcrowded medieval cells in which the prisoners had to queue up to be able to take a breath from the small lattice window. Foci of tuberculosis. Here is my photo of a solitary confinement cell, the so-called “Karcer” from back then.

When I hear today that Syarhei Pyatrukhin, whose letters from prison were still sparkling with his own sense of humor in the fall of 2020, has just been put in a “Karcer” as a punishment for trying to cut his wrists as well as Ihar Losik for his second hunger strike, then it drives me through my core.

Syarhei Pyatrukhin without any chance at his sham trial in February, photo out of courageous independent “Brestskaya Gazeta” (Brest newspaper).

Both are well-known journalists and video bloggers; together they had over half a million regular subscribers to their independent video channels. Both were arrested in June 2020, and more are being added to the already brought upon them criminal charges while complaints on constantly prolonged pre-trial detention and the conditions they are locked up bring them into the “Karcer.”

Both are strong, freedom-loving characters. Both are typical examples of well over 200 political prisoners in Belarus, from a 14-year-old who sprayed a police car to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s husband, who dared to run as a presidential candidate.

They both have their birthday in May and will then be in custody for almost a whole year, Syarhei Pyatrukhin will be 50 (Latest update: On April 14, Petrukhin was sentenced to three years in prison in his absence), the same age as ISHR next year, Ihar Losik will be 29. Will Losik’s one-and-a-half-year-old daughter be allowed to see her father?

The ISHR is currently trying to do everything possible to have the honor of welcoming both of them personally as its guests on its 50th anniversary!

Next, we want to hold a cross-NGO video conference, where we identify common problems and create solutions. For this, we ask all interested parties to contact us.

Dr. Carmen Krusch Grün, ISHR-East; Pavel Pernikau