This year was difficult for Belarusians: people went through repression, left their own country, fought for themselves and people in jail. The new year 2022 is just around the corner – and the struggle is still going on. «Our House» was close all this time: we wrote letters, told about the problems of refugees to European politicians, attended solidarity actions, supported Belarusians both in the country and abroad. In the last week of the year, we want to take stock of our activities.
This year, we have made more than 30 appeals to European structures and organizations regarding the situation with Belarusian political prisoners. In January 2021, we submitted the first application to the General Prosecutor Office of Lithuania about torture against Belarus. The appeal, prepared by «Our House», was the second filed by citizens of Belarus to the Lithuanian Prosecutor Office under universal jurisdiction. On February 12, a criminal case on torture and humiliation against a citizen of Belarus got initiated. On February 18, Lithuanian Criminal Police investigators invited the victim and his lawyer for an inquiry. The victim told in detail what happened to him, how the detention took place, how he got to Lithuania and received humanitarian asylum.
Women and children are one of the priority areas of work of ICCI «Our House». We could not ignore the detention of Olga Zolotar, a mother of five children, on March 18, 2021. In the pre-trial detention centre, Olga faced torture and beatings: a lawyer who came to her found out her legs were completely covered with bruises. Olga said that she was threatened with murder. In a matter of days, our journalists prepared the full story of Olga and sent appeals on behalf of the organization to the UN Committee against Torture and Amnesty International. We drew attention to what was happening in the pre-trial detention centre and the torture of a peaceful woman. We demanded immediate and decisive action and put pressure on the Lukashenka regime.
On May 5, 2021, at the initiative of the Belarusian diaspora in Germany, four German lawyers appealed to the Federal Prosecutor Office in Karlsruhe (Germany) with a statement about the torture of peaceful protesters in Belarus. Documents and evidence of crimes against Belarusians, committed by order of the usurper of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, were collected with the direct participation of human rights activists from ICCI «Our House». In their statement, the lawyers emphasized that at the moment, neither Alexander Lukashenka nor the criminal structures and departments under his control will be able to bear due to responsibility in Belarus. Therefore, the lawyers decided to call on Germany to conduct an independent investigation of crimes against humanity.
The Belarusian political prisoner Witold Ashurak death on May 21, 2021, was reflected in the «Our House» activities. On May 31, Olga Karach asked the Lithuanian deputies to name one of the streets of Vilnius in honour of Witold Ashurak. She said that Witold Ashurak held rallies in memory of Kastus Kalinovsky in his native Lida district and supported the memory of famous Belarus. Olga Karach also noted that with a street in honour of Witold Ashurak, Lithuania would help the Belarusian people and show that everyone killed and tortured by Lukashenka is a hero. She expressed hope that after the victory of the Belarusian people, streets named after Witold Ashurak would appear in all cities of our country.
The abduction of a Ryanair plane en route from Athens to Vilnius on May 23, 2021, was resonant for Belarus. Belarusian activists and bloggers Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega were on the plane. «Our House» followed the development of events and tried to react to the Belarusian authorities actions, as well as to notify European politicians about them. On May 24, Olga Karach sent letters to Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonyte, Parliament member and PACE representative in Lithuania Emmanuelis Zingeris, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielus Landsbergis, to the Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee, head of the Lithuanian parliamentary committee on human rights Tomasu Vutas Raskavičius and the head of the National Security and Defense Committee under the Seimas Laurinas Kasciunas. She informed the Lithuanian statesmen that the deputy of the House of Representatives of Belarus, Oleg Gaidukevich, after Roman Protasevich arrest, spoke about the possibility of detaining other opposition leaders on the territory of other states and bringing them in the trunk to the pre-trial detention centre. Olga Karach recalled that Oleg Gaidukevich had tortured people in the Frunzenski district police station and demanded to deprive Oleg Gaidukevich of the opportunity to represent Belarus in PACE. We sent the same letter to PACE. In November, Olga Karach turned to ICAO and asked its representatives to initiate a criminal case for an act of international terrorism and start an investigation. She expressed the hope that subsequently, all those responsible for the incident would get punished.
In June 2021, «Our House» and more than 30 other human rights organizations sent a letter to the permanent representatives of the UN Human Rights Council member and observer states with a request to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. In the letter, they stressed that the crisis in Belarus is going on, the human rights situation continues to deteriorate, and the mandate is more important than ever.
In addition, in June 2021, Olga Karach notified the Lithuanian Seimas about the surveillance of Belarusian activists in Lithuania. After Oleg Gaidukevich threats to take the opposition out of Poland and Lithuania in the trunk, Olga Karach initiated the collection of information about the surveillance of Belarusian activists and threats to them, spreading through social networks. After Olga Karach statement, Lithuania started checking these data.
In July 2021, the illegitimate government began to destroy civil society in Belarus. After the liquidation of all human rights organizations in the country, «Our House» and 160 other organizations of the world signed the World Letter in the Belarusian civil society support. Human rights activists stressed that they condemn the massive violations of human rights by the Belarusian authorities, express solidarity with the detained human rights defenders who were repressed and persecuted for their work. In the letter, they outlined a demand for the Belarusian authorities: to stop harassment, to release all unjustly detained human rights defenders, journalists and activists.
Another event that shocked Belarus was the murder of Andrei Zeltser, an IT worker whose house was attacked by punitive forces on September 28. Andrei was not taken aback and, defending his home, killed one of them, and then he received a bullet. On September 29, the head of the ICCI «Our House», Olga Karach, met with the PACE special rapporteur for Belarus Emanuelis Zingeris. She informed him about the details of the murder of IT specialist Andrei Zeltser by the KGB of Belarus. Olga Karach told the PACE special rapporteur that Andrei Zeltser’s wife was under arrest and pressure by the security forces.
Monitoring is one of the meaningful forms of our work. This year, we have compiled about 20 monitoring reports of repressions against Belarusians – representatives of different professions, religions and age groups. In January 2021, repressions for snowmen and dolls monitoring and acts of self-immolation monitoring appeared on our website. In February, we released repression for the colours of clothing monitoring and monitoring on repression against theatre workers. In April 2021, monitoring of the repression of young people (of whom there were more than 150 in prison at that time), monitoring of repression against students, and monitoring of repression of pensioners appeared on our website. In addition, we were one of the first to start paying attention to the massive phenomenon of detentions and trials for comments on social networks.
On May 2, we released monitoring of the repression of believers after the 2020 elections. For the International Day of Museums, May 18, we have prepared monitoring of repressions against museum workers. In July, monitorings on repressions against large families and musicians got published. In August, we spoke about the repression of scientists, and in September, we talked about the repression of teachers. In October, we released monitoring of the repressions against Belarusian animal rights activists. In November, we wrote about the repression of doctors. And in connection with the beginning of a new wave of politically motivated layoffs, we prepared a monitoring on women who lost their jobs in 2021. We could not pass by because it is much more difficult for women to find a job. Finally, in December, we published monitoring on repressions against Catholic believers and the material about who and for what became a political prisoner in the last month of the year.
We paid a lot of attention to freedom of speech and pressure on independent journalism in Belarus. In May 2021, we compiled monitoring on the repression of independent journalists and an overview of the destruction of independent magazines and newspapers. In June 2021, we released an overview of the repression of independent bloggers. In August 2021, we talked about how the illegitimate government cracked down on foreign journalists. Also, in August, we published material about three dozen media workers whom Lukashenka dealt with during all the years of his power.
Another area of our interest is torture in prisons. Belarusian pre-trial detention centres, colonies, medical treatment centres, temporary detention centres are places where a person faces humiliation every day from morning to evening. He is not taken to the shower, is not allowed to lie down on the bed during the day, he works hard, for which he receives pennies. People have stomach aches from prison food. In prison, they have no access to medicines and medical care. This year, «Our House» became aware of three deaths of prisoners behind bars. In the March monitoring, we talked about what Belarusians face in custody. In April 2021, we released monitoring dedicated to the detention of Belarusian prisoners in prisons, food restrictions and hygiene items. In June, we had the first firsthand story about life in a medical and labour dispensary, and soon the second came out. In July 2021, we launched a series of reviews about the life of Belarusians in colonies. We wrote about the life of correctional colony No. 15, a correctional colony “Vitba”, the colony where Witold Ashurak died, the most severe colony in the country, the penal colony for women and the colony where Viktor Babariko appeared. In November, we prepared a terrible review of humiliating procedures for women in Belarusian colonies.
We do not give up, despite all attempts of the illegitimate authorities to liquidate our activity. We continue to support our compatriots. We know that there is Belarusian solidarity because we show it about the repressed. And we hope that our work will help everyone return home as soon as possible.