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22nd Oct 2020

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'Big Three' EP groups nominate homophobe for Sakharov prize

  • The European Parliament usually defends LGBTI rights - but appears to have overlooked Paval Sieviaryniec's record (Photo: European Parliament)

The three major political groups in the European Parliament have included a homophobe in their collective candidacy list for the prestiguous annual Sakharov Prize.

The centre-right European People's Party (EPP), centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and liberal Renew Europe have all nominated the democratic opposition in Belarus, represented by the coordination council.

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  • Sieviaryniec, a former Belarus state journalist turned prisoner of conscience (Photo: Wikimedia)

But among the names floated within that opposition is Paval Sieviaryniec, a former Belarus state journalist turned prisoner of conscience. Sieviaryniec has been expelled from the Belarus chapter of PEN, the writers' association, for homophobic views.

"Sieviaryniec deserves two awards. This one [the Sakharov prize] and a prize for the biggest homophobe in Belarus," said Belarus LGBTI activist leader Nick Antipov on Monday (21 September).

Antipov belongs to Make Out, a group that describes itself as a Belarusian feminist anti-discriminatory project.

The annual European Parliament prize is given to people who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms and is named after Russian scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov.

But some MEPs and political groups are nominating candidates for the prize in what appears to be an increasingly-politicised procedure.

In early September, the S&D put forward three women from the Belarus opposition as leading candidates. The EPP, Renew Europe and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) decided to also back the Belarus opposition but could not agree on names.

As the nomination deadline approached last week, the EPP, Renew Europe and S&D finally settled on names, while the ECR diverged.

Socialist MEP Kati Piri confirmed that her group had nominated Sieviaryniec, among the list of eight names of the Belarus opposition.

"The eight names you mentioned are also nominated by the S&D," said her office, in an email.

But when asked in a follow up whether Sieviaryniec's homophobia had been factored into their nomination, her office did not respond.

The socialist co-president of the European Parliament's intergroup in the defence of the LGBTI community was also unable to respond to similar questions given an illness, his office said told EUobserver.

PEN expelled Sieviaryniec

But Make Out's Antipov was more outspoken.

"Anyone can be a victim of the [Belarus] regime - whether you are a homophobe, or an ordinary person," he said, noting Make Out is against the unlawful imprisonment of anyone regardless of their views.

Amnesty International says Sieviaryniec is a political prisoner of conscience, who is likely being abused by the Belarus security forces.

As a co-founder of the Belarus Christian Party, he also plays an important political role in Belarus.

"But he is also one of the first people who stated that gays should be 'treated', and that gender is an ideology," pointed out Antipov.

Sieviaryniec's attacks against the LGBTI community in Belarus has been relentless over the years.

"In 2019, he supported a petition from an anti-gender movement to make the government pass a law to criminalise LGBTI 'propaganda'," noted Antipov.

Sieviaryniec's homophobia has also seen him in trouble with the Belarusian PEN Center, part of the international association of writers championing freedom of expression, and headed by Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich.

Sieviaryniec was a member but then expelled for gay-bashing views, said Antipov, who had been working at Belarusian PEN Center at the time.

The Belarusian PEN Center in 2014 supported the launch of Make Out.

"When he [Sieviaryniec] found out about this support, he stopped paying dues. He said he stopped because the centre was promoting a sexual lifestyle," said Antipov.

Despite the homophobia, Sieviaryniec managed to retain his membership for a number of years given his political struggles against the regime. But eventually he was expelled.

"Sieviaryniec got angry and penned an open letter, claiming that a leftist group of cultural marxists and LGBTI propagandists had gathered in the leadership of the PEN centre and prosecutes Christians," said Antipov.

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