Belarusian dissidents granted political asylum in the UK have revealed they are still being harassed and targeted by the repressive regime in their home country, 10 years after they formed a theatre group to protest against the rule of President Alexander Lukashenko.
The Belarus Free Theatre recently announced plans to celebrate a decade of work with the help of stage luminaries including Kevin Spacey, Tom Stoppard and Jude Law.
But Natalia Kaliada, one of the co-founders, told The Independent that the theatre’s new campaigning website, The Ministry of Counterculture, has been hacked along with her own email account, while attempts have also been made to crack the security on her mobile phone. She believes the efforts were carried out by agents working on behalf of what has been called “the last dictatorship in Europe”.
“I think they are afraid of us,” said Ms Kaliada, who was granted asylum four years ago. “It becomes scary for dictatorial governments after their ideas are challenged and artists can really attract attention.”
Her group’s activism will be marked by Staging a Revolution, a season of performances and discussions in November at the Young Vic theatre in London, the company’s only permanent home, as well as at underground locations around the capital.
This month, the group unveiled a new logo by the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, while a concert called I’m With The Banned in October will feature David Gilmour, Pussy Riot, Kim Cattrall and Juliet Stevenson.
Pussy Riot: Story in pictures
Pussy Riot: Story in pictures
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Member of the Pussy Riot punk group, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova stands outside Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow
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Member of the Pussy Riot punk group, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, center, speaks to a police officer outside Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow
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Member of the Pussy Riot punk group, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, center, smiles surrounded by journalists, stands in front of police line outside Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow
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Russian police officers detain members of the Pussy Riot punk group, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, center right, and Maria Alekhina, center left, outside a court room in Moscow
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Russian police officers detain member of the Pussy Riot punk group, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, center, as the other member Maria Alekhina looks on from right outside a court room in Moscow
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Members of protest group Pussy Riot arrive for a press conference in Sochi
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Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (C-R), Maria Alyokhina (C-L), and two masked activists of the punk group Pussy Riot during a news conference held outside a hotel in a park in Sochi
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A Cossack militiaman attacks Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and a photographer as she and fellow members of the punk group Pussy Riot, including Maria Alekhina in the pink balaclava, stage a protest performance in Sochi, 2014
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A Russian security officer attacks Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and a photographer, 2014
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Wearing masks members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L) and Maria Alyokhina (R) speak to journalists while leaving the police station of Adler, near Sochi, 2014
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Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are in talks with studios for a film about their story
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Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L) and Maria Alyokhina of the Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot arriving for the Cinema for Peace gala in Berlin, 2014
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Activists of Russian protest group Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina (R) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L) looking at their prize while attending the 'Cinema for Peace' gala during the 64th annual Berlin Film Festival, 2014
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Members of Russian band Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (L) and Maria Alyokhina (C), sign the guest book as Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit (2-R), looks on at the Red City Hall in Berlin, 2014
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Maria Alyokhina (L) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of the Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot speaking onstage at the Amnesty International Concert presented by the CBGB Festival at Barclays Center in New York City. The two members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot who were released from prison colonies late last year said they had both been arrested in downtown Sochi during the Olympic Games. 'We have been arrested... and are accused of robbery' Pussy Riot member Nadzehda Tolokonnikova wrote on her Twitter account, 2014
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Pussy Riot new video shows the band members in trademark bright-colored ski masks performing on top of an oil rig, 2013
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Crème de la Kremlin: a scene from ‘Storyville: Pussy Riot – a Punk Prayer’
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Russian TV images showed Nadezhda Tolokonnikova after she had been released, 2013
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Ms Tolokonnikova was reported to have shouted 'Russia without Putin' as she was set free, 2013
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One of the first things she did was phone her friend and fellow jailed Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina, 2013
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Ms Alyokhina said she would have rejected the amnesty and stayed in prison if she could
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Maria Alyokhina, speaks on the phone to denounce her newfound freedom as a 'PR stunt', 2013
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Ms Alyokhina, seen here enjoying her freedom and speaking to Ms Tolokonnikova
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Ms Alyokhina said she would spend her time out of prison dedicated to helping others fight human rights violations, 2013
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Opposition activists attend in Moscow an anti-government rally to defend political and social rights of Moscuvites and to protest against city authorities' policy. Demonstrators also demanded to release political prisoners holding the portraits of jailed members of the female punk band 'Pussy Riot' Maria Alyokhina (L) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (R), 2013
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'Pussy riot butterfly' (Nadya, Masha & Katya), acrylic and collage on handmade paper, 2013
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The group has been at the centre of intense media focus, and say they want to highlight the increasingly strong ties between church and state, 2013
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The Pussy Riot members accused the government of only freeing them as a public relations exercise ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics, 2013
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Members of the all-girl punk band 'Pussy Riot' Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (C), Maria Alyokhina (R) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (L), sit behind bars during a court hearing in Moscow, 2012
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Maria Alyokhina, jailed member of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, looks out from a defendants' box as she attends a court hearing
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Pussy Riot member, Ekaterina Samutsevich
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Nadezhda Tolokonnikova behind bars
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Protestors demonstrate against the prison sentences of the Russian band Pussy Riot
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Pussy Riot member Maria Alekhina during the hearing of her appeal
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Pussy Riot supporters demonstrate in Berlin
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Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in court, 2012
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Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of female Russian punk band Pussy Riot, stands inside defendants cage in a Moscow court during the hearings on the Pussy Riot case, 2012
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The members of Pussy Riot were jailed for their protest
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Member of female punk band 'Pussy Riot' Nadezhda Tolokonnikova gestures before a court hearing in Moscow, 2012
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Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich: 'You can see the flaws of the judicial system in Russia. It depends very much on the opinion of the President'
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Yekaterina Samutsevich leaves court
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Pussy Riot members (from L) Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikovaand Maria Alekhina are escorted into court in Moscow
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The punk band Pussy Riot in a glass-walled cage at the Khamovnichesky Court in Moscow at a court in Moscow
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Members of the punk band Pussy Riot perform at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow - the prank they were eventually arrested for
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Supporters of punk group Pussy Riot, wearing the group's trademark coloured balaclavas, hold individual letters that spell the phrase 'Blessed are the merciful' outside the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow
Together with Vladimir Shcherban and her husband Nicolai Khalezin, Ms Kaliada set up the BFT in 2005 in response to censorship in Belarus. It made them a target for the authorities and they had to be smuggled out of the country in 2011.
Ms Kaliada hailed the groups’s achievements and the dedication of the team that is split between London and Minsk. “There are not a lot of us and, in all of Europe, this is the only theatre of its kind. We are so proud of our achievements,” she said.
The shows in Belarus remain illegal and are held in undisclosed, underground locations. Audience members are sent a text message 24 hours before the performance to meet and they are taken to the location which could be anything from a car park to an apartment or even a forest.
While the shows are regularly raided by police, shows still regularly have 2,000 applications for 50 seats.
The artistic directors carry out rehearsals with performers on Skype and fly regularly to Lithuania, which borders Belarus, to meet with the permanent company that still performs underground.
Ms Kaliada admitted the pressure on her and husband Mr Khalezin has been intense, but worse on their families who remain in Belarus.
Shortly after a raid of Mr Khalezin’s family home in late 2011, his father suffered a heart attack which led the founders to question whether to carry on. Mr Khalezin’s father telephoned them. “He told us: ‘What you do, you need to finish. We support you fully and you need to carry on’,” Ms Kaliada said.
The company will revive older works at the Young Vic and recreate the clandestine performances in London.Reuse content