- Chapter 1. Comparative statistics of repression against socially and politically active women during the social protests against the unemployment tax in and after the spring of 2017
- Chapter 2. Comparative statistics of repression against socially and politically active women for 2016 and 2017
- Chapter 3. Positive trends towards respect for the women’s rights of socially and politically active women in 2017
- Chapter 4. Negative trends towards socially and politically active women in 2017
- Chapter 5. The main challenges of “Our House” in 2018 with regard to provided statistics
- Chapter 6. Warning signs that require further study and analysis (monitoring)
The purpose of this report is to try to reflect on the situation regarding the rights of socially and politically active women of Belarus (human rights defenders, peacekeepers, activists, politicians, journalists, bloggers and women doing journalistic work) in 2017 as objectively and impartially as possible, and reflect on trends that will continue in 2018 and require special public attention. This annual report includes statistics for 2017, as well as comparative figures for 2016. This report is public and open for the distribution, as well as citation. We want to emphasize that these figures are not final, and we operate only with those statistics and facts that we have. In reality, figures may be larger because not all cases come to our attention. The statistics of this report are collected based on the data provided by the Centre for Civic Initiatives “Our House”, Centre for Gender Initiatives “Adliga: Women for Full Citizenship”, the Centre for Human Rights “Viasna”, other human rights organizations, as well as publications in independent media.
Why does this report focus on the rights of socially and politically active women? Politically and socially active women are our target group; they are one of our main focuses and one of the reasons we do what we do. Moreover, repression against women results in the shrinking of the political places safe for them. Consequently, they are less likely to participate in political processes, and that is wrong because they constitute more than half of the population. Their experience and opinions are hugely important for developing our society as a democratic one. We want women to feel comfortable and safe when they go political. And we shall do everything we can to draw attention to their issues, to support them, to protect them and to form a solidarity around brave people who dare to disagree and who happen to be women.
We would like to draw your attention to the fact that you can contact “Our House” and\or “Adliga” for further information related to any of the information provided in the report.
Chapter 1. Comparative statistics of repression against socially and politically active women during the social protests against the unemployment tax in and after the spring of 2017
The year 2017 was rich with the most diverse cases of women persecution in Belarus. Women were detained in a variety of places: during protests, in the offices, at homes, in hospitals, on the field; they were threatened by children seizure and some children were taken away,; they were fined, their properties were seized, they were put in psych wards, they were searched, their equipment was seized, they were fired from their jobs and were persecuted.
It is known that over the period from the year 2017 until now, the number of women detentions reached 272 individuals. Some women were detained several times.
Among those 272 women, 222 women were detained for participation in various protests – from the protests against Decree No. 3, which introduced the unemployment tax, to the protest actions against rising utility bills, Russian-Belarusian military drills, and hazing in the Belarusian army. Another 50 female detainees were female journalists or women performing journalistic work (bloggers, photographers, women who write posts in social networks, etc.) The number of women journalists and women who are engaged in journalistic work and who have been subjected to repression constitutes 18% (50 women) of the known total number of repressed women.
40 women were imprisoned in 2017 for 444 days in total (that is if it was one person she would spend 1 year and 3 months imprisoned).
68 women were fined in the total amount of 21,750 USD.
87 women were released after being detained; no reports or examination records were produced at this point.
The present fate of 90 more women for whom police reports were produced is unknown to us.
In 2017, 3 women were arrested or their property (such as a car or apartments) was confiscated.
|During the spring protests-2017||After spring protests|
|Detained women||188 women||84 women|
|Imprisoned women||28 female protestors were imprisoned. The combined jail time these women had to spend serving a sentence was 319 days||12 female activists were imprisoned. The combined jail time these women had to spend serving a sentence was 125 days|
|Large fines for women||30 women were fined for their participation in the protest. Combined, they had to pay the equivalent to 7.620 USD for their political activity or journalistic work.||38 women were fined for their activities or journalistic work. Combined, they had to pay the equivalent to 14.130 USD for their political activity or journalistic work.|
|Journalists women||The number of female journalists detained/arrested solely for covering the protests was 23.||The number of detained female journalists was 27.|
|Loss of job||1 woman||1 woman|
|Loss of university placement||1 woman||–|
|Physical assault during the arrest||1 woman||About 10 women|
|Seizure of the property||1 woman||3 women|
|Harassment of women by state bodies||2 women||2 women|
- The spring protests did not affect the dynamics and repression against women, we would note that the number of repression against socially and politically active women during and after protests was roughly the same.
- During the protest period women were detained more often than in the later periof, but, nevertheless, it was also during the protest period that they were more often released without consequences: 85 women were detained and released during the protests, after the protests, there were only 2 women who did not receive any punishment following the detention.
- In terms of punishment, women were more often imprisoned during the spring protests whereas after the protest they were more likely to be fined. The number of fines imposed to women who were detained not during the spring protests is twice as much as the number of fines for women who participated in the spring protests.
- Women were imprisoned during the protests twice more often than in the later period.
- The number of female journalists arrested during and after the protests is roughly the same.
- Three times as many women experienced seizure of property for their human rights activities outside the spring protests period than during the protests.
- By the end of 2017, the government had become more active in putting women in psych wards for their human rights work and activism division.
Chapter 2. Comparative statistics of repression against socially and politically active women for 2016 and 2017
For comparison, we would also like to draw your attention to the statistics of repression against socially and politically active women in 2016 and in 2017:
|Detained women||104 women||272 women|
|Imprisoned women||0 female activist was imprisoned.||40 female activists were imprisoned. The combined jail time these women had to spend serving a sentence was 444 days|
|Large fines for women||85 women were fined for their activities. Combined, they had to pay the equivalent to 27 210 USD for their political activity or journalistic work. If distributed evenly it is 320.11 USD per person.||68 women were fined for their activities or journalistic work. Combined, they had to pay the equivalent to 21 750 USD for their political activity or journalistic work. If distributed evenly it is 319.85 USD per person.|
|Female journalists||The number of female journalists detained solely for covering the protests was 16.||The number of female journalists detained/arrested was 50.|
|Physical assault during the arrest||1 woman||About 10 women|
|Seizure of the property||1 woman||4 women|
|Harassment of women by state bodies||1 woman||4 women|
As we see from the table, almost all the indicators deteriorated sharply. Nevertheless, we need to think about how to interpret these figures in a correct manner. We must admit the fact that the situation with regard to the rights of socially and politically active women dramatically deteriorated in 2017. Although “Our House” upholds to the view that the cause for such a difference in figures is that for some reasons other human rights organizations consider repression and persecution of women, as well as the problems of women “not important”, “not serious”, “not requiring the attention”, “secondary”. Because of that attitude women were less likely to be included in the previous year’s statistics. As a proof of our point of view can serve the fact that there are very few female names mentioned in the monitoring of other human rights organizations, although, as follows from the statistics, there is a lot to mention.
Chapter 3. Positive trends towards respect for the women’s rights of socially and politically active women in 2017
None of the women detained in 2017 and the women surveyed did not report threats of sexual violence against them by the police officers.
Socially and politically active women were not subject to criminal persecution in 2017.
Only one criminal proceeding against the activist woman was initiated for “insulting Aleksandr Lukashenko, but it was terminated a month later (a criminal proceeding was initiated against Polina Sharendo-Panasyuk, an activist from Brest, for “insulting” Lukashenko because of the streamer saying “Basta!” (Enough),,,.
There was no mass beating of women by police officers.
Only one woman (Galina Logatskaya) from all the detainees reported hospitalization with hematomas and bruises after being beaten by police officers. The rest of the surveyed women denied physical violence by police officers; however, almost everyone was talking about the humiliating attitudes of police officers,,,,.
It was possible to bring to justice at least part of the police officers guilty of beating women and children.
The police officer Vadim Prilutsky, who beat 9-year-old Vlad Polhovsky “by mistake” (the boy was eventually hospitalized), was punished. The authorities of Stolin tried to take Vlad away because his mother made complaints and demanded punishment of the police officer for the violence against her son. After the intervention of “Our House” the police officer was fired, the repression against the mother for her complaints and the authorities; attempts to take the child away ceased. The police officer who has beaten Galina Logatskaya was deprived of the bonuses (this is a good result because usually the police categorically deny the facts of beatings of women by police officers).
32% of women detained in 2017 were released without drawing up a detention record and being subjected to administrative prosecution.
All children who were seized for political reasons were returned to their families;
in addition, it was possible to repel almost all cases of attempts to take away children, including the return of 8-year-old Milana to her father Ruslan Huseynov- human rights activist. Milana was seized from her family for the participation of her father in the protests against unemployment tax in Pinsk. Up-to-the-date, “Our House” has returned all whom it wanted, all children are back to their families and are with parents, except for 2 children from foster families and one child who lived with his grandmother; but in this case the parents at some stage decided to stop fighting, to prevent harassment towards these children by the management of orphanages. Unfortunately, it is too early to be overly optimistic, because, women continue to receive signals and calls about threats of officials to register them on the list of families in socially hazardous situation and take the child away for a complaint about the school or the state entity. This is something we need to continue to work on.
For the first time in Belarus, there was a socially-political mass and, moreover, a successful all-women civil campaign.
Women started to actively declare their demands and needs as a separate social group, also in regard to changes in legislation and treatment conditions. For example, the campaign for home births and a flash-mob #Ihadahomebirth. Of course, this campaign was preceded by a campaign #I’mnotafraidtosay where women talked massively about their stories of rape and violence against them in 2016. Nevertheless, it is precisely this one to be the first all-women campaign with political demands in Belarus in 2017. The basic idea of the campaign is as following: in Belarus, there are good physical conditions in maternity homes and there is the necessary assistance; however, based on the numerous reviews of women, the medical staff has often negative and degrading attitude; there is no support. You can hear words like “you spread your legs for men – now bear it”, etc. The emotional needs of women during childbirth are not taken into account. Therefore, some women, having such a traumatic experience or having heard so much about it, do not want to give a birth in maternity homes. On February 17, 2017, Olga Stepanova from Vitebsk gave birth to a girl at home, who died in childbirth. A criminal proceeding was instituted against Olga on the fact of manslaughter (Part 1, article 144 of the Criminal Code – up to three years of restriction or deprivation of liberty). Olga was placed in the pretrial detention facility and her other daughter, who was also born at home, stayed at home. This case caused wide outrage of women, especially because, in Belarus, there is no criminal liability against doctors if the child dies in childbirth in the maternity home. A spontaneous women campaign in defense of Olga launched, women signed petitions and even started a big flash-mob #Ihadahomebirth and began to upload photos of children born at home and not in the orphanage to the network. 906 signatures were collected in support of Olga, and it was the first such a massive female support in Belarus. The resonance was so great that the court first sentenced Olga to six months in county, but then overturned the decision.
The humilating attitude of police officers during detentions continues.
For example, police officers tried to undress female activists in the police station and videotape them naked. The OMON (the riot police) is actively used as a means of intimidating women who disagree with something that are extrinsic functions of it.
The harassment and inducement to commit or attempt to commit suicide of socially and politically active women,
in particular, human rights activists and journalists, continue, including through state media. In 2017, there were at least four cases of harassment of socially and politically active women. Among other things, at the end of 2017, the human rights defender Galina Lagalskaya announced her commitment to commit suicide, she was fined for 28 million Belarusian rubles in total (this is approximately 1,400 USD) for her human rights activities. In addition, now, Galina Lagalskaya is forcibly in a psych ward.
The authorities continue to falsely accuse socially and politically women of committing criminal offenses in order to stop their participation in the socio-political life of the country or coverage of these events.
For example, the journalist of Radio Liberty, Alyona Stepanova was detained on suspicion of a bank robbery in the village of Farinovo, while she was going to cover a protest rally in Polotsk. The journalist of Belsat, Larisa Shchirakova was detained on suspicion of jacking her own car when she was on her way to Mozyr. In addition, Larisa Shchirakova was also accused of stealing money from a local resident of the village of Romanovichi. The journalist of the “Novyi Chas” (“New Hour”), Zinaida Timoshek was detained in a car on suspicion of the carjacking. A resident of Minsk and a member of the Community Initiative, whose name we were asked not to disclose, got a 10-day term of arrest for participating in the protest rally in Brest, although, on that day she was working in a pizzeria in Minsk, which was recorded by the video surveillance cameras of the pizzeria, i.e. she could not be physically in Brest.
New and disturbing trends:
the active intervention of the state in the private lives of women, in particular, forced marriages and forced divorces of women by state bodies. The blackmail tool is used: you will not marry (you will not divorce) – we will take away your children or we will not return your children (if children are already seized). The legislation of Belarus allows officials to demand a woman to divorce an “undesirable partner” who, for example, has asthma or diabetes, in case if she disagrees to do this, she may be deprived of her children.
New and disturbing trends:
attempts to confiscate and seizure of women’s property for human rights activities. In 2016-2017, there were four cases of seizure of women’s property for their human rights activities or participation in the protests. In 2016, the cottage (dacha) of the human rights defender and pensioner Nina Baginskaya was seized ,. In 2017, the house of the human rights defender and film director, Olga Nikolaychik was seized for her participation in unauthorized protests,. The house was returned through efforts of human rights defenders and the public. Zoo-activist Christina Chernyavskaya was detained in the office of an environmental organization, where she assembled food packs for detainees together with some other women. As a result, she (not even being a participant of the protest and not leaving the office) was sentenced to 15 days in prison, and her car was unreasonably confiscated for almost a month and she had to fight to return it. At the end of 2017, the property of Galina Logatskaya was seized,.
New and disturbing trends:
A new trend begins – the placement of women in psych wards for political reasons – primarily for human rights activities, for complaints to various authorities. This is the most dangerous issue now because putting a woman in a psych ward and a false psychiatric diagnosis allow the authorities to ignore the human rights activities of a woman; among other things, she gets deprived of the right to go to the court to defend her rights and legitimate interests. At the moment there are about 10 cases that need additional processing.
State media actively use the “hate speech” and manipulation when it comes to the seizure of children from mothers in a difficult life situation.
For example, an article in the main state newspaper “Sovetskaya Belorussiya” tells about a police officer’s visit to families who are in a “socially dangerous situation”, i.e. children can be seized at any time.
A police officer tries to comfort families through a newspaper (quote): “If the family is normal, then after placement on the list, nothing threatens the family- says Alexander Romanenkov, Juvenile Liaison Officer – They will come to the home with checks and after six months the family will be taken off from the list.”
However, if the family is normal, then why should it even be recorded, not mentioning the visits to families without any warning and causing so much stress for them for the period of 6 months? The “hate speech” is actively used in the article; the four cases of the police officer visits to the homes of families in the SDS are listed as well. The article states that these are families of alcoholics. However, according to the description of the families, only one of them can be very conditionally considered as an alcoholic in the past, rather, they are women in difficult circumstances (the husband of one of them died and, as a result, income sharply decreased; the second woman is a victim of domestic violence and divorced from her husband because he was beating her; a third woman does not drink, but she drank in the past; the fourth family has indebtedness for utility bills. That is, in fact, no child listed in the article is in a “socially dangerous situation.” The “hate speech” and the manipulation of facts are also actively used in the local state newspapers. So, the article “I want to be a guardian”, about the situation that BHC and “Our House” are actively engaged to, was published in the “Vitbichi” – the newspaper of Vitebsk city council. The article distorts the facts: the grandmother “was aged” for two extra years, the grandson “was rejuvenated” for two years. They reported false information that the grandson was recorded on the list of juvenile cases, which was not true. In addition, they reported that the boy studied poorly, which was not true neither. They reported that he was a “troubled child”, which is also not true because the grandson does not smoke and drink and regularly goes to the gym.
The devaluation of feelings between a grandmother and a grandson is used in the article (officials’ quotes from the article):
“What common interests may have an 80-year-old person and 13-year-old teenager?” (Christine Bogretz is 78 years old, Gleb is 15 years old and he is capable enough to take of himself for several days under the supervision of his aunt while his grandmother is in the hospital)
“Grandmothers are selfish in their affections, feelings for their grandchildren, keep them apart from everyone”
“There is such a wisdom – Solomon’s decision states that the ones who let go love more. Not all people are capable of this” (the meaning of the quote is that the grandmother does not love her grandson since she does not want to give him to the orphanage).
15-year-old Gleb was taken away from 78-year-old Christina Bogrets because she was taken to the ambulance for a surgery (which is not related to her age). Social Security has not returned Gleb for a year and a half because of ridiculous pretexts. We suspect the corruption component in this case because Christina Bogrets and Gleb are the owners of a prestigious apartment in the historical center of Vitebsk, state bodies express a great interest in and pressure on Kristin and Gleb because of this apartment.
A new and alarming trend: mass seizures of children for non-payment of utility bills, fines or other debts to the state.
In fact, the children are taken hostage until the parents pay the debts to the state. It was possible to stop the wave of seizures of children for political reasons, another year or two of advocacy campaigns, and it, in fact, will shut down (as the cases of threats of sexual violence and physical beating of women were almost ceased after the “Caution, militia” campaign of “Our House”). Unfortunately, it needs to be fixed that a rather strong wave of seizures of children began for economic reasons. In addition, they begin to seize children because of home birth and the vegetarianism of the parents.
The persecutions continue:
- As we were working on this report, a human rights activist, Galina Lagatskaya was forcibly placed in a psych ward, her property is seized and the reason is her human rights activities. Galina is known for her participation in protests, as well as for filming a video of a beating of a passer-by by a police officer.
- At the time of writing this report, Natalia Goryachko-Basalyga, a human rights activist, is serving a 15-day administrative detention for having asked the police officer on duty at the courthouse to introduce himself,.
It is necessary to establish a system for conflicts and repression prevention (a SOS-system).
This will eliminate and prevent all gloomy cases, which “Our House” and its partners occasionally have to face. The practice shows that if a woman urges the conflict with the authorities at an early stage, then it is relatively easier to solve this conflict and stop the repression. In any case, repression will be ceased; the development of the conflict between a woman and the state will never go to the seizure of children, the arrest, seizure of property, the placement in a psych ward or the suicide of women. Ironically, such a system has never been established in the 23 years of Lukashenko’s rule.
It is necessary to create a more sustainable system for monitoring of women’s rights in Belarus,
including a system for assessing the improvement or deterioration of women’s rights in Belarus to see if the situation changes or not and toward which direction. To date, “Our House” and its partners are doing monitoring based on those cases that we have. It makes us realize the current situation and problems that socially and politically active women have; but this does not allow us to see the system and how the situation in regard to the rights of socially and politically active women has been changing over the time (for example, it is not clear whether the situation has improved, deteriorated or remained the same compared to 2016).
Most of the described problems can be solved by the internal forces of civil society
provided that there are strong grassroots organizations that are able to solve these problems. Belarus’s women have many problems, and they need to be resolved by the forces of Belarus’s organizations, primarily activist ones. Unfortunately, the situation is such that after all repression against activist organizations in Belarus, there are very few active organizations in the fields in regions. This is a huge problem because this leads to the fact that there is simply no one to resolve the situation.
The problem of fixing all situations of persecution of active women in the regions.
This is still a challenge because most local activists are mainly single/isolated fighters if something happens to them, then, as a rule, no one knows about them.
Early informal marriages of Roma girls (12-14 years).
The problem is that after the “marriage” the “husband” forbids the “wife” to study, the girls begin to skip school, and consequently their education lasts only until grades 6 -7. This is not enough to subsequently be able to get a good profession and job.
Early informal marriages among Belarusian girls in rural areas (12-14 years).
In the Belarusian village, there is such a situation that the only way to keep a woman from moving to a city is to make her give a birth to one or two children until she turns 16 years of age. Therefore, you can find a situation where a man of 30-40 years “marries” 12-14 years old girl with the consent of her relatives.
The conflicts of female entrepreneurs with authorities that lead the suicide of women-entrepreneurs
(at least one suicide case: in 2016, Tatiana Dupanova, 55, an entrepreneur from Gomel, she committed suicide on the eve of the tax court because of the conflict with the tax authorities,,,,,).
Suicides, murders and extrajudicial ritual executions of conscript-soldiers.
By extrajudicial ritual executions, we mean premeditated murder by a group of individuals with prior agreement, performed through of a certain ritual (according to the mother of the deceased Alexander Korzhich, the murder of the soldier was conducted through of a special ritual and was called “Canine death”,,,). Now, information and cases are being collected, it is necessary to deal separately with each case, but about 10 cases for 2017 are already known and signals about earlier tragedies are still being unreported,,,,,,,,,.
Suicides and threats of suicides due to non-payment of salaries by state enterprises, issues with accrual of pension, due to the introduction of the unemployment tax.
All these cases of suicides or attempts at suicides have one thing in common – they are caused by actions or inactions of the state bodies. This is one of the categories that is particularly difficult to prove and is questioned more than other data. That is why we are bringing the cases of both women and men here, to demonstrate the seriousness of the issue. In fact, the issue became so pressing that even the state recognized it, for once faster that civil society. Thus on November 27, 2017, the head of the presidential administration, Natalya Kachanova, held a meeting on the connection between raicing level of suicide and of arrears in payments of wages on many Belarusian enterprises ,,,. Here are just several sad examples: in 2017, a 55-year-old cleaning woman of the Gomel sewing enterprise “Komintern” set herself on fire at the plant entrance due to problems with the pension accrual, she died from her petrol burns in the hospital,,,,. In Vitebsk, a worker Dmitry Stolyarov climbed on the tower crane and threatened to commit suicide, if he does not receive a salary, the salary was transferred,,. In 2016 in Bobruisk, a 38-year-old locksmith hanged himself in the basement of the enterprise after he received a payment slip with a sub-zero salary,. A 54-year-old resident of Rogachev hanged herself after receiving a notification from the tax authorities about the need to pay an unemployment fee,. A 60-year-old Aivar Yaskevich committed suicide in Osipovichi also because the authorities recognized him as a “slackers”,,,,,,,.
It should be emphasized, that since 2016 there is a sharp rise of suicides in Belarus: in 2016, the number of suicides in Belarus has increased by almost 32%,. And that is very worrying.
The sate bodies continue practicing child slavery.
Unfortunately, the Belarusian authorities continue to use free child labor (which is prohibited by the legislation of the Republic of Belarus), despite the fact that a 13-year-old disabled schoolgirl died, because of the use of slave labor, in 2016 in Molodechno. None of the officials who gave the order for the use of child slave labor has been held accountable.