Belarus dispatch: how a sports journalist became a political prisoner
@ Alexander Ivulin
Belarus dispatch: how a sports journalist became a political prisoner

Belarusian law students enrolled at European Humanities University are filing reports with JURIST on current circumstances in Belarus under the constitutionally-disputed presidency of Alexander Lukashenka. For privacy and security reasons, we are withholding the name of the correspondent filing this report. The text has only been lightly edited to respect the author’s voice.

1233 people. That’s the number of political prisoners in Belarusian prisons now. Some of them are students, some are elderly people, and a good number (as it turns out) are athletes and sports journalists. This article is about one of them.

Alexander Ivulin is a Belarusian sports journalist, the most famous football blogger in Belarus (82 thousand subscribers on his YouTube channel, which is called “ChestnOk”).

Belarusian football is not very popular even among Belarusians, because it is at a very low level. But Alexander is one of the few people who developed and popularized Belarusian football: he shot video reviews of matches, traveled around the cities of Belarus. All this continued until August 2020.

Like most Belarusians, Alexander could not stand aside, and he openly spoke out against the Lukashenka regime. After peaceful demonstrations were met with violence, he began to record videos that dealt with both sports and the new political realities in Belarus. He released a video of a football fan who was found hanged after protests. He interviewed a football player of the Belarusian national team who was beaten and put in a temporary detention center for several days. He took part in a basketball match in support of the Belarusian basketball player Elena Levchenko, who was imprisoned for 30 days. All this lasted almost a year. Alexander recorded videos about repressed Belarusian athletes who openly opposed the regime. He even became a football player at the age of 29, signing a contract in March 2021 with a Belarusian football club that openly supported the people. This was the beginning of his new project called “Will Alexander come out?”, in which he filmed life inside the club: training and matches.

And then the regime came for Alexander. In the beginning, the Belarusian Football Federation withdrew his accreditation and he could no longer shoot videos as a journalist. And then the police came for him.

He was arrested on June 3, 2021 and sentenced to 30 days. He was arrested at home, searched and convicted for the white-red-white flag that allegedly hung on the window. According to Alexander’s speech in court, there was a flag in the apartment, but it did not hang on the window. But this was only the beginning. Alexander wasn’t released after 30 days. A criminal process began against him. He was accused of a criminal offense under one of the articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. According to the indictment, Alexander organized and participated in events that grossly violate public order. The prosecutor said that Alexander encouraged people to join unauthorized rallies against the current government with his videos on YouTube.

The court issued a verdict on January 19, 2022. Alexander was sentenced to 2 years in prison. Of course, no one expected an acquittal, because Alexander is another victim of the Lukashenka regime. Therefore, he will continue to be in prison until the summer of 2023.

The author of this article has known Alexander for almost 4 years. For a very long time I was afraid to write to him in prison, but I did it in September 2021 and was not mistaken. Writing to political prisoners in Belarus is very important now, because they need our support, they need emotions that we can express through letters. I just wrote a letter to support Alexander, but I received so much support from him. I would like to cite a few quotes from his letters as an example of his amazing support:

  1. “I’m definitely not the kind of guy who panics and worries. Besides, why should I worry? I did not do anything terrible, nothing for which I would be ashamed. So I’m absolutely calm :)”.
  2. “Firstly, Belarus is love. Secondly, we often dream and think that something far away is cool, but cool is what is nearby. Take a closer look, the world around you is beautiful, don’t be sad”.
  3. “Relationships with people are not a deal, don’t expect only good things from people. Just try to give them only kindness and love. And don’t forget, if your wish doesn’t come true, it means it hasn’t been paid yet“.
  4. “You are at a great age to love. Therefore, love your relatives, love animals, love people who are close to you, love Belarus”.

Wonderful people are now imprisoned by the Belarusian regime. I hope that after reading this article you will finally understand that political prisoners in Belarus are not criminals, but kind, honest, good people who are devoted to their work and their country.

Alexander writes “Everything will be fine” every time at the end of his letters. Everything will really be fine, and I believe Alexander Ivulin will definitely become free soon.