The gender equality serves as an indicator of a society’s democratisation level and its civic refinement. Volha Smalianka, a lawyer and human rights activist with the Lawtrend.ngo, has looked into the issue of repressions targeting female activists and gender-related civil society organisations (CSOs) in Belarus.
By 26 April 2022 Belarus had recorded 700 wound-up or winding-up procedure undergoing CSOs. Forcibly wound-up were 416 of them, and 284 took voluntary decisions on their winding-up (or were forced to do so by the local authorities; they also included some gender-related entities that had been engaged in protecting women’s rights, providing a direct assistance to them or promoting gender equality.
According to the survey conducted by the Lawtrend jointly with the ОЕЕC and the BHC (Belarusian Helsinki Committee) in 2021, the civil society organisations have been subject to various forms of pressure, – writes Volha Smalianka in her research.
More than a half, i.e. 61.9% out of the total of 97 civil society organisations covered by the survey, some gender-based entities also featuring among them, have reported their forcible winding-up.
– As of today, the government has in practical terms erased the right to freedom of association, as an excessive interference is practiced in enjoyment of the right both at the stage of organisation founding and at their activity stage, – says Volha.
– The gender-related NGOs and female activists have experienced all kinds of things, such as house checks, interrogation summons, “conversation pieces,” detentions, organisation wind-ups, forcible self-dissolutions and libel or discreditation.
Here is just a handful of examples of female civil society organisation representatives being detained.
Since summer 2020 the process of at first administrative and later criminal persecution of activists has begun, which also covered some female civil society activists. Administrative detentions were carried out pre-emptively during the pre-election campaigning and particularly on a massive scale at the post-election period.
September 2020 saw the detentions of:
- Iryna Suchij, Board Chairperson of the EcoHouse Public Association,
- Nasta Zacharevič, a Green Portal author,
- fem activist Aliaksandra Kuračkina,
- Stanislava Husakova, Chief, Executive Bureau of the NGO Assembly, and
- Viktoryja Biran, LGBT+ rights movement activist (15 days).
Volha and Julija were co-organisers of a fem group with the Coordination Council (CC) of the Belarusian opposition. Right after her release Volha Šparaha was informed on another 12-day arrest and was forced to leave the country.
Julija had to declare an end to the activities of her ABF Efficient Communication Development Centre due to the threats on behalf of the law-enforcement authorities to charge the Centre with extremist activities and organising women’s protests.
– Śviatlana Hatalskaja, an eco-activist, Coordination Council member and coordinator of the March on, Kiddy movement (15 days),
In September Śviatlana was summoned for an interrogation to the Investigation Committee following a criminal case opened into the fact of the Coordination Council foundation.
– Maryna Kastyliančanka, a human rights activist with the Viasna Advocacy Centre (15 days and then repeatedly 15 days),
– Marfa Rabkova, a Volunteer Service Coordinator, Viasna Advocacy Centre; her apartment was searched and her equipment, personal money and things seized.
In November 2021 Marfa wrote to her relatives that her case would be tried on 11 counts under 11 Articles of the Criminal Code:
Part 1 of Art. 293 (Organising civil unrest); Part 1 of Art.13 to Part 2 of Art. 293 (Preparation and premeditated creation of conditions for participation in civil unrest); Part 3 of Art. 293 (Training or other preparation of persons for participation in civil unrest, as well as financing or any other funding of such activities); Part 1of Art. 342 (Arranging collective action in a gross violation of public order); Part 3 of Art. 361 (Calling for actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus using mass media or the Internet); Part 1 of Art. 361-1 (Setting up an extremist formation); Part 1 of Art. 285 (Leading a criminal organisation); Part 3 of Art. 130 (Igniting social discord by a group of persons); Part 2 of Art. 339 (Gross misconduct); Part 3 of Art. 339 (Particularly gross misconduct); Art. 341 (Profanation of buildings and property damage); Part 3 of Art. 218 (Premeditated destruction or damage of other people’s property conducted by an organised group); and Part 2 of Art. 295-3 (Illicit actions in respect of destructive effect objects, which actions are based on flammable substance use and committed by a group of persons).
In November 2020…
The Belarusian Students’ Association (ZBS) Office and homes of the entity’s leaders and activists were searched. The Association is one of the oldest organisations in the country.
Ten student movement activists, as well as a teacher of the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radio Electronics were detained.
At this moment in time the following persons have been sentenced to 2.6 years of detention at a medium-security prison:
- Ksienija Syramalot, a ZBS spokesperson,
- Alana Gebremariam, a ZBS member and a standing member of the Coordination Council,
- Jana Arabiejka, a ZBS member, and
- Kasia Budźko, a ZBS member.
In December 2020…
The office of the Journalist Press Club Workshop Cultural and Educational Institution and its leaders or some employees were searched or checked. Computers and mobile telephones were confiscated.
Six persons were detained during the investigation, including:
- Founder Julija Sluckaja,
- Programme Director Ala Šarko, and
- Ksienija Luckina, a former employee of the Belarusian TV and Radio Company.
Julija Sluckaja was suspected of avoiding taxes in an especially large amount (Part 2 of Art. 243 of the Criminal Code), while Ala Šarko and Ksienija Luckina were suspected of co-participation (Part 6 of Art. 16 of the Criminal Code) in committing the crime under Part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code.
Following 8 months of detention almost all the persons involved in the criminal case were released. However, Ksienija Luckina, a member of the Coordination Council, is still detained at a remand prison, although the General Persecutor’s Office has declared the Press Club case closed, since it had pleaded to the sheet at a complete extent, repaid the damage caused (approximately USD 43.7) and paid a legal compensation due.
The prevailing 2021 trend was initiating penal cases or detaining within the framework of penal cases following administrative detentions.
Subject to administrative and criminal persecution were both female gender-related organisation activists and female activists of the civil society organisations with various other activity vectors.
January 2021 saw the detentions of:
- Taćciana Lasica, a volunteer of the Viasna AC (2.6 years imprisonment), and
MaryjaTarasienka, a volunteer of the Viasna AC (she had to emigrate, because the State Prosecution had demanded a punishment of 2.5 years in jail).
Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (Arrangement or preparation of actions, which grossly violate the public order, or an active participation therein).
March 2021 saw the detentions of:
- Anna Paniszewa, Director, Polish School, LLC,
- Anżelika Borys, Chairperson, Poles’ Union (15 days),
- Maria Ciszkowska, Public School Director with the Poles’ Union, and
- Irena Biernacka, Chief, Lida Department of the Poles’ Union in Belarus.
A criminal case was initiated for premeditated actions performed by a group of persons, which actions aim at instigating ethnic or religious antagonisms and an antagonism based on the ethnic, religious or linguistic affiliation, and committing premeditated actions related to Nazism rehabilitation as per Part 3 of Art. 130 of the Criminal Code.
Anna Paniszewa, Maria Ciszkowska and Irena Biernacka were subsequently set free on 25 May 2021 and evacuated to Poland
April 2021 saw the detentions of:
- human rights activist Taćciana Hacura-Javorskaja,
- activist Natallia Trenina, and
- activist Julija Siamienčanka (repeatedly detained in December 2021).
They had co-organised an exhibition entitled The Machine Breathes and I Don’t dedicated to the Belarusian health sector employees and the challenges they faced, like the Covid-19 pandemic and the healthcare system politization.
The activists stood trials in courts under an administrative case.
At the same time, employees of the Interior Ministry’s Chief Department for Combatting Organised Crime and Corruption interrogated and beat Taćciana’s husband Volodymir Yavorskyi, a well-known human rights activist and a Ukrainian citizen. Threatened by a deportation, he had to leave the country with a 10-year ban on re-entering it.
Later on, Taćciana Hacura-Javorskaja was detained, this time under a criminal case, and moved to the Minsk Valadarskaha Street remand prison. After 10 days in jail she was set free with no charges produced.
June 2021 saw the detention of:
- Taćciana Kuzina, a Board member and co-founder of the SYMPA Young Manager and Public Administration School, and an expert within the BIPART Research Project.
Taćciana was charged under Part 1 of Art. 357 (conspiracy or any other actions performed to overtake or retain the state power in an unconstitutional way) and Part 3 of Art. 361 (Calling for actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus using mass media or the Internet).
August 2021 saw the detentions of:
- Taćciana Vadalažskaja, a Chief Analyst with the Centre for European Transformation, an expert with the Analytical Team of the Humanitarian Technology Agency and the Flying University curator (10 days under a criminal case; detained repeatedly in March 2022), and
- Aksana Šeliest, a Chief Analyst with the Centre for European Transformation and an expert with the Analytical Team of the Humanitarian Technology Agency.
September 2021 saw the detentions of:
- Janina Mielnikava, The Green Portal editor, and
- eco-activist Natallia Hierasimava.
Janina and Natallia were detained, but released after 72 hours.
Simultaneously, a house check happened at the home of Iryna Suchij, the founder and Board member of the EcoHouse Public Association and an activist of the Belarusian Anti-Nuclear Campaign, who had been forced to emigrate from Belarus before.
In November 2021..
A separate focus should be put on the persecution of the female activists representing the Radzislava Public Association, an entity that had for many years been engaged in the domestic violence agenda and providing an asylum to women, who are victims of violence, and their children.
On 9 November 2021 Volha Harbunova, a former leader and a current Board member of the organisation, a human rights activist and a fem activist was arrested.
Volha was charged under two articles of the Criminal Code: Part of 1 Art. 293 (Organising a mass-scale civil unrest), Part 2 of Art. 293 (Participating in mass-scale civil unrest), Part 3 of Art. 293 (Training or other preparation of persons for participation in civil unrest, as well as financing or any other funding of such activities), and Art. 342 (Arrangement or preparation of actions, which grossly violate the public order, or an active participation therein).
In January 2022…
Following a house check conducted by the personnel of the Chief Department for Combatting Organised Crime and Corruption, Darja Caryk, a Board member of the Radzislava Public Association, was detained.
After an interrogation, an administrative report was drawn up versus Darja and she was detained for 8 days.
On 13 January house checks also affected 3 more Radzislava Board representatives or their relatives.
TO WHAT FACTS DOES THE ABOVE POINT?
- Belarus has in practical terms erased the right to freedom of association. The authorities can deny registration to any unwelcome gender-related organisation, including the ones that seek promotion of anti-discrimination ideas, under a false pretence, among others, because the laws in effect enshrine equality between men and women.
- In practice, we witness a permanent unprecedented pressure against the civil society organisations and their members, such as administrative and penal persecution, summons to the law-enforcement or financial monitoring authorities, office or home searches targeting activists, judging any information materials to be extremist, and forcing to take a decision on voluntary dissolution.
That being said, the female activists have been affected both by direct repressions or indirect ones, like sackings or job losses if working for a not-for-profit organisation, disconnection from their families in case of a personal relocation, or a forced emigration / deportation of other family members.
- Faced by the repressions, great many female activists had to leave the territory of the Republic of Belarus to seek a place of residence for themselves in other countries. Some of the activists keep on with their public engagement, whereas some others, in view of their subsistence situation, are forced to look around for other employment opportunities.
Therefore, it is a critical goal to preserve the capacities of the gender-related organisations and their activists, as well as the civil society organisations’ activists. Besides, when planning any activities or events, their personal needs should be taken into account, not least the one that they may have children.
Репрессии в отношении некоммерческих организаций, занимающихся поддержкой, продвижением, защитой прав женщин и гендерным равенством в Беларуси, и активисток гражданского общества.
Repression against non-profit organisations and civil society activists involved in supporting, promoting, and protecting women’s rights and gender equality in Belarus.