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Film Festivals, Human Rights Groups Call for Release of Belarusian Director

The Sundance, Berlin and Cannes film festivals, along with numerous industry and human rights groups are demanding the Belarus government release Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska, who was imprisoned April 5. 

The Sundance, Berlin and Cannes Film Festivals, along with numerous human rights and film industry groups, have called for the immediate release of Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska, the director of the Belarusian Watch Docs Festival, who was imprisoned April 5 for alleged anti-government activity. 

In a joint open letter, the organizations, including the Human Rights Film Network and the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk, along with the European Film Academy, decried the arrest and called on Belarusian authorities to release Hatsura-Yavorska and other "political prisoners" of the regime.

"We urge the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release our colleague Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska and other human rights defenders, and to end acts of judicial harassment against them," the letter reads. 

Hatsura-Yavorskaya was arrested on April 5, ostensibly for the crime of helping organize a photo exhibition, titled The Machine Is Breathing, I Am Not, celebrating Belarus health care workers during the COVID-19 crisis. She is still in custody and now faces trial on subsequent charges of "raising money for protests" against the government of President Alexander Lukashenko. Her court hearing is set for April 15. If convicted, she could face several years in prison. 

Belarus has been rocked by widespread demonstrations against the regime, which has ruled the country for decades. Protests intensified nationwide after Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in the presidential elections last August, a result many believe was falsified.

The European Union has rejected the legitimacy of the election and called for a new vote. The EU has also condemned the violent persecution of peaceful demonstrators by Belarusian authorities. According to protestor groups, since last summer more than 600 people have been charged for participating in the anti-government demonstrations, and some 400 have been convicted.

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