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In Minsk, Eurovision Winner Loreen Expresses Support For Political Prisoners


Loreen (left) meets with Natallya Pinchuk, the wife of imprisoned human rights defender Ales Byalyatski, in Minsk on July 13.

Loreen (left) meets with Natallya Pinchuk, the wife of imprisoned human rights defender Ales Byalyatski, in Minsk on July 13.

A day after performing at a government-supported music festival in Belarus, the winner of this year's Eurovision Song Contest, Swedish pop singer Loreen, met with human rights activists at the Swedish Embassy in Minsk, where she issued a statement in support of Belarusian political prisoners.

Loreen met for more than two hours with Natallya Pinchuk, the wife of imprisoned Belarusian human rights defender Ales Byalyatski, and with Byalyatski's deputy in the human rights group Vyasna (Spring), Valyantsin Stefanovich.

"I understand why Ales loves you," the singer told Pinchuk, whose husband is serving a 5 1/2 year prison sentence on tax evasion charges. Many observers consider the charges to be politically motivated.
Loreen wrote a personal message to Byalyatski.

Loreen wrote a personal message to Byalyatski.

"I think things will work out fine. I really hope so," Loreen said. "Because it breaks my heart that such a wonderful family is separated like this -- where the son is in one place and the mother in another, and the father in prison and fighting for the right things."

Loreen told members of the independent press who were in attendance that she had learned much about Byalyatski and the bleak human rights situation in Belarus from her fans on social networking sites.

The Moroccan-born singer said she had some initial reservations about accepting an invitation to the music festival in the northern city of Vitebsk, but then reconsidered.

"I have people that like my music here. And people have a right to culture. And me not coming is a disrespect to them," she said. "I'm not here for anybody else but the people that like culture and music. And that's the only reason I stand on that stage -- to share something that I have. That's one thing. And two, to speak my mind, because I'm free, basically. That's what I do."

WATCH: Loreen meets with Natallya Pinchuk (in English and Belarusian)

At the Swedish Embassy, Loreen signed a petition calling for an end to the death penalty in Belarus and wrote a message to Byalyatski that reads: "Dear Ales. Hold on to your heart and mind. It is yours."

She said she feels it is her duty to spread the word about the abuses occurring in Belarus.

Ales Byalyatski in a Minsk courtroom in November 2011

Ales Byalyatski in a Minsk courtroom in November 2011

"There is a lot of people out there that want to help, that can help. And it's only actually about awareness, to know what's going on in a country and how they can help," she said.

Stefanovich said he believes Loreen's interest in the plight of Byalyatski and other political prisoners in Belarus is genuine.

"I think this is her personal civic position and not only with regard to Belarus," Stefanovich said. "We know that during Eurovision in Baku, Loreen met with Azerbaijani human rights defenders and expressed her support for their work. We're happy she wanted to meet with us. It was her idea."

-- Valer Kalinouski of RFE/RL's Belarus Service
Loreen hugs Natallya Pinchuk, the wife of imprisoned human rights defender Ales Byalyatski.

Loreen hugs Natallya Pinchuk, the wife of imprisoned human rights defender Ales Byalyatski.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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