After the repressions that began in the country, a considerable burden fell on the country’s human rights defenders. It was necessary to fix the injuries of the security forces, provide psychological and legal assistance, and contact international organizations. Women played a significant role in this. As part of our new campaign, we will speak about women human rights defenders who do their duty despite the danger from the security forces.
On September 17, 2020, human rights activist Marfa Rabkova got detained. Marfa was the coordinator of the volunteer service of the human rights centre «Viasna». Here she observed peaceful assemblies, participated in an independent monitoring campaign, and documented evidence of torture and other cruel treatment of detained protesters. Marfa Rabkova got registered as prone to extremism in the pre-trial detention centre. In conclusion, she began to have health problems. The human rights activist was ill with coronavirus, and she needed dental care, which got not provided to her. She also failed to get an ultrasound, although she wrote six appeals. The examination is necessary because Marfa began to have spasmodic pains in prison. Marfa also lost a lot of weight and lost consciousness more than once. After a year of imprisonment, the human rights activist was allowed to see her husband. The girl lost her loved ones: her father and grandmother died, but nobody allowed her to attend their funeral. Marfa’s lawyer Natalia Matskevich got suspended from work. Administrative proceedings got initiated against her. In November 2021, it became known that Marfa Rabkova would be tried under 11 articles. She got threatened with up to 20 years in prison.
On January 18, 2021, Maria Tarasenko, a volunteer of the Gomel branch of the human rights centre «Viasna», was detained. The woman was an assistant to the head of the department Leonid Sudalenko, who got also arrested in January 2021. Only 72 hours after the detention, the human rights defender got released. Her house got searched. In October 2021, the court requested 2.5 years of penal colony for Maria. Maria Tarasenko, who was at large during the trial, left Belarus.
On January 21, 2021, Tatiana Lasitsa, a human rights defender of the Gomel branch of the Viasna Center, was detained. The woman did a lot for her native Rechitsa: thanks to her, a memorial plaque appeared here in honour of a native of the city, artist Yefim Kopelyan, and the school construction in one of the micro districts got included in the general plan. Tatiana also advocated for the list of professions prohibited for women abolition and helped with the individual complaints and appeals to the court preparation. On November 3, Tatiana got sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order (part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code) and for financing persons involved in riots (part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code).
On April 5, 2021, human rights defender Tatiana Gatsura-Yavorskaya got detained on the street and placed in a temporary detention facility on Akrestsina Street. Tatiana was the director of the public association «Zvyano», engaged in human rights education and advocacy. She also helped people who found themselves in a difficult life situation. The association prepared a report on human rights violations on August 7-14, 2020 and was a member of the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus. In 2021, Tatiana became the organizer of the presentation «The Machine breathes, but I don’t», dedicated to the challenges faced by medical workers during the coronavirus pandemic. The exhibition worked for only three days — on April 2, 2021, it and the space where it was held were closed due to violations identified by the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Sanitary Service. There were no violations. It’s impossible, to tell the truth about the fight against coronavirus in Belarus because the state propaganda constantly talks about the victory over the pandemic. After the arrest, a search got conducted in Tatiana’s house, and the security forces came to the office of the «Zvyano». On April 8, Tatiana’s detention got extended. Another search took place in Tatiana’s house on April 12. On April 14, unknown persons came to the pre-trial detention centre where Tatiana was staying and promised to release her and allow her husband to stay in the country if she agreed to cooperate with them. The human rights activist refused. After it, her husband Vladimir and her children left the country. On April 15, Tatiana got released from jail.
On April 6, the security forces came to search the human rights activist of the «Human Constanta» organization, OSCE ODIHR expert Enira Bronitskaya. To force her to open the door, law enforcement officers turned off the electricity in her apartment. The search took place at the place of registration of Bronitskaya — in her parents’ apartment. The protocol stated that the search got conducted in connection with the case of mass riots. Equipment and money were taken from Enira Bronitskaya and summoned to the Investigative Committee. During the interrogation, the human rights defender learned that the search at her place connected with the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus and people who filed official complaints of torture are suspects in this case.
On July 14, 2021, the human rights activist of the ICCI «Our House», Yulia Goryachko, got detained. Yulia found herself in the opposition movement at the age of 12, when she became a member of the youth movement «Bison». After the 2006 elections, when she was 18 years old, Yulia was detained, she was given five days in prison. In 2010, she was an active participant in the election campaign. She collected signatures for Uladzimir Nyaklyaev, was an observer and then went to a protest rally on Independence Square. She has worked with the ICCI «Our House» for many years: she supported Belarusians in courtrooms, worked with the reports of children-328, helped to draft appeals to the authorities. Terrible stories of the repressed, crippled, tortured and humiliated by the security forces passed through Yulia. After the 2020 elections, the human rights activist continued to defend the victims of the repressive regime with even greater zeal. After being detained, Yulia spent seven days on the outskirts. There was no mattress, no linen, and she did not get hygiene products. Her spine was very sore, but she did not get medical help. Yulia got also filmed in a program for state TV, where she got forced to confess to what she had not done. Yulia is in pre-trial detention centre No. 1.
In August 2021, Anastasia Loiko, a human rights activist of «Human Constanta», was imprisoned. She got detained by employees of the Department of Financial Investigations. Her apartment got searched. Anastasia got suspected of helping the repressed, transporting money from abroad, paying fines and lawyers in the past years. Anastasia spent three days in the temporary detention centre. After being released from prison, she told about the conditions on the outskirts: «The light is very bright around the clock, it is very noisy in the corridors, it is difficult to sleep because of the light and noise. The food has poor quality: nothing fresh, only sauerkraut was once. They took clothes away, and only hygiene products were left. Books were taken away upon admission to the isolation ward». Anastasia Loiko continues to stay in Belarus.
Human rights activist Olga Gorbunova faced violence in early childhood — her father beat her mother. In 2003, she defended her diploma on the topic of domestic violence and at the same time learned about the organization «Radislava», which helps women who have suffered from tyrants. Olga became a volunteer psychologist on the hotline and stayed at Radislav for 18 years. With her, the public association found a home in which victims of violence could hide, get the necessary psychological, legal, medical assistance, and find a job. Olga remained in Belarus despite the destruction of public organizations and the actual absence of the law. On November 9, 2021, Olga Gorbunova got detained. A video with her appeared on pro-government channels, and the security forces accused her of organizing protest marches. In conclusion, Olga declared a hunger strike, which she kept for almost two weeks and stopped, only when she got a mattress, medicines and a transfer from her family. Olga will be tried under Article 293 of the Criminal Code (organization of mass riots and participation in them) and Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them).
And, of course, among other human rights defenders, we cannot but mention Olga Karach. Olga left Belarus in March 2020, but even almost two years later, she continues to remain on the Belarusian agenda. She protects women and children in the country, and she speaks openly about the crimes of the illegitimate government. The state propaganda regularly responds to her «reciprocate» and releases defamatory stories about her on television. Olga cannot return to Belarus while lawlessness reigns in the country. Like many who tell the truth, she faces prison.
The current situation in Belarus has made any human rights activity impossible. That is why employees and volunteers of human rights organizations leave Belarus en masse, although their help is significant here. But even abroad, human rights activists do not forget about their homeland, doing everything possible to weaken the Lukashenka regime, and people do not feel helpless. We believe that the best times in Belarus will come very soon.