Saturday, January 22, 2011

Child welfare service used as a weapon in the government's persecution of the opposition

The government warned recently that it might seize custody of the 3-year-old son of an opposition presidential candidate who was jailed along with his wife, a journalist.
If anything illustrates Stephen Baskerville's contention that the custody racket around the "child welfare [sic] service" is among the practices in the machinery that invariably lead to arbitrary and intrusive government, it is Michael Schwirtz's New York Times article from Belarus, whose president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, "has often been called Europe’s last dictator."
…the plight of the child, Danil Sannikov, may represent a new tactic in the government’s persecution of the opposition, one that harks back to the Stalin era, when the children of so-called enemies of the people were sent to orphanages after their parents went to the gulag.

“Even in my worst nightmares I could not have conceived that this could happen,” said the child’s grandmother, Lyutsina Khalip.

… Lyutsina Khalip, the grandmother, said she had not heard from her daughter since the day after her arrest, when she received a letter instructing her to take care of Danil.

“She wanted me to tell Danil she really loved him,” Ms. Khalip said, fighting back tears.

She said her daughter had received threats about the boy even before the elections. One e-mail from an unknown sender read: “Don’t think about yourself, think about your son.”

Ms. Khalip said she first had an inkling that the authorities were turning their attention to Danil shortly after his parents were arrested. She said she was at the K.G.B. detention center trying to deliver a parcel of food and clothes to them when she received an urgent phone call that made her rush to her grandson’s kindergarten.

There, she was confronted by two women from the government’s child welfare service. She said the women were friendly, though they delivered an implicit warning:

“If you don’t have the financial means or the physical means, don’t worry,” she said they told her. “The child won’t remain alone.”

For Ms. Khalip, whose daughter has frequently run afoul of Belarus’s security services over the years, the message was clear.

“This is an effort to put pressure on Irina,” she said. “They are capable of squeezing her, and this of course is the most sensitive place.”