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'Europe's Last Dictator' Premieres In London

Belarus's authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
Belarus's authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
The March 1 London premiere of "Europe’s Last Dictator," a new film that documents life inside Belarus under strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka, was a glittering and public event in a European city where people have rights and freedoms.

It couldn't be more different than the society that the filmmakers, occasionally operating undercover, depict in another European society, where public assembly is forbidden, the media is censored, telephone conversations are monitored, and expressing an opinion can land you in prison or worse.

Filmmakers Matthew Charles and Juan Passarelli's film documents the Belarusian government’s crackdown on protestors and the political opposition in the wake of the 2010 presidential election, which was widely condemned as fraudulent.

WATCH: Trailer for 'Europe's Last Dictator'

Zara Coombes, the campaign manager for the Free Belarus Now group, told RFE/RL that the film follows two women who have been personally affected by Lukashenka's iron fist.

"It’s a film about the journey of two amazing women," she says.

"Eva Nyaklyaeu, the daughter of one of the presidential candidates in the 2010 elections, and Irina Bogdanova, who is the founder of Free Belarus Now, and the sister of Andrey Sannikau, another of the presidential candidates currently imprisoned in Belarus," she says.

"It really charts their very personal journey over the last year, from a very sort of private people becoming public figures for the Free Belarus movement, and desperately trying to get their families out of prison."

Celebrity Involvement

British actress Joanna Lumley narrates the film.

Lumley is a longtime human rights activist who successfully lobbied the British government to allow Nepalese Gurkha soldiers who fought for Britain in World War II the right to settle in the UK.

Lumley has said she first learned about Belarus's authoritarian regime when she was invited to a protest over Sannikau's treatment.

After that, she said she "felt compelled to do what I could to help publicize the chilling facts of deaths and torture going on at this very minute" in Belarus.

Coombes told RFE/RL that the filmmakers plan to screen the film inside Belarus, but "for obvious reasons" can't reveal any more details.

Assange Controversy

She said tickets for the film premiere, which held at London's fabled Old Vic theater, sold out in two days. Several celebrities attended and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – who participated in the project – moderated a question and answer session after the screening.

In an interview with Euroradio, Matthew Charles said that Assange got involved because the film includes U.S. diplomatic cables that were published by WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

But London's "Evening Standard" newspaper reports that some democracy activists are unhappy about Assange's participation in the film, because they claim the U.S. diplomatic cables WikiLeaks published include names of opposition members and dissidents, which they say made them targets of Belarus's secret service.

Last October, a reporter for the U.S. online magazine Tablet, Kapil Komireddi, wrote about an activist he interviewed in Minsk named Sergey.

Komireddi said Sergey told him, “I really hate WikiLeaks. How can they do this? The KGB is telling these people, ‘Your name is in the American cables and you are a traitor, an American agent, and you will be treated like an enemy of the country.’ ”

Charles told the "Evening Standard" that "no one has given [him] proof" that the cables have harmed the democracy movement.

He said the cables he saw contained names "of activists already known to the regime."

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