BROADCASTER SEEKS U.S. ASYLUM AFTER BEING DRIVEN FROM BELARUS

The Plain Dealer
Cleveland, OH
Apr 1, 2000

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Authors: WILLIAM F. MILLER PLAIN DEALER REPORTER
Document Column Name: NEW WORLDS
Pagination: 5B

Abstract:

Sergey Bolotov used to own and operate a small television station in Belarus. Now he sits at home in Medina watching someone else's programs.

Bolotov says he was an outspoken critic of government policies. He says government officials began harassing him and finally drove his family and him out of Belarus, a former Soviet republic known as Byelorussia.

Bolotov, his wife Natalia Prokopovich, 36, and three children ranging in age from 10 to 16, made their home in Soligorck, a salt mining town 60 miles south of Minsk, the capital, before escaping through Poland last August. They came to Cleveland, where they have friends.

(Copyright (c) The Plain Dealer 2000)

Full Text:

E-mail: wmiller@plaind.com Phone: (216) 999-4840

Sergey Bolotov used to own and operate a small television station in Belarus. Now he sits at home in Medina watching someone else's programs.

The station and his weekly newspaper have been confiscated by the Belarus government.

Bolotov says he was an outspoken critic of government policies. He says government officials began harassing him and finally drove his family and him out of Belarus, a former Soviet republic known as Byelorussia.

He is seeking asylum in the United States, said Richard T. Herman, his Cleveland attorney.

"He fears his and his family's lives would be in danger if he returned," Herman said.

Bolotov, his wife Natalia Prokopovich, 36, and three children ranging in age from 10 to 16, made their home in Soligorck, a salt mining town 60 miles south of Minsk, the capital, before escaping through Poland last August. They came to Cleveland, where they have friends.

Bolotov, who spoke through an interpreter, said he was a salt mine engineer before acquiring the television station and the newspaper. It was a longtime goal that was impossible to achieve in the Soviet Union, he said.

Bolotov, 41, said the fall of the Berlin Wall 11 years ago did not bring democracy to his country. Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenka became more totalitarian, he said.

"Police would come at any hour to my business or home three or four times a week and take me off to jail for hours of stupid questions, all designed to unnerve and harass me and my family," Bolotov said.

He said he also received anonymous death threats.

"On account of his political opinion as a journalist and a representative of the independent media in Belarus, Mr. Bolotov has been persecuted and has a well-founded fear of future persecution," Herman said.

Herman and Bolotov submitted a list of incidents to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which will decide if the family can remain in the United States. No hearing date is set.

"Our only hope for freedom and safety is the United States," Bolotov said.

Bolotov said the Belarus government officials in Soligorck took over his television station in 1996 and transferred it to two city officials, S.Y. Tikhonov and N.L. Luksha, wife of the assistant police chief.

Only after he threatened to take the story to international news organizations was his property temporarily returned, Bolotov said. Bolotov said he was forced at gunpoint two years later to transfer the television station to Tikhonov, a member of the city's executive committee.

The police ruled 10 days later that signing a coercive agreement did not constitute a crime, Bolotov said.

Bolotov said his wife was arrested and interrogated for six hours in 1998 for no apparent reason.

Herman said Belarus President Lukashenka rules the country like a Communist dictator from the Cold War.

"He has moved against all independent media in denying them access to vital government documents, routinely suppressed the independent media and in some cases shut down newspapers or taken them over," Herman said.

PHOTO BY BILL KENNEDY / PLAIN DEALER PHOTOGRAPHER The Bolotov-Prokopovich family, seeking asylum in the United States, includesSergey Bolotov, his wife Natalia Prokopovich, and children Michael, 11, Vickie, 16, and Sasha, 10.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.
Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

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