Repressions against female participants of the mass protests in Belarus in February-March 2017
- The Story in Numbers
- General Observations
- Repressions and ‘Pacification’ Strategies
- Next steps
- Sources of information
Unprecedented events happened in Belarus between the middle of February and the end of March 2017. Hundreds of peaceful protestors were out in the streets of various cities of Belarus to protest against a law that imposed a tax on those not in full-time employment. The response of the authority to the largest wave of protest in years was not immediate, but when it came it announced the end of the short lived era of liberalization in the country. Hundreds of activists and journalists were prosecuted for their disagreement, many of them merely for participating in officially authorized manifestations, or for doing their journalistic work.
State repressions were unkind to everybody. However, ‘Our House’ and ‘Adliga: Women for Full Citizenship’ are determined to draw attention to the detrimental effects of the state violence against politically and socially active women.
We are especially worried about the instances of public/ state violence against women as it results, among other things, in the shrinking of the political places that are safe for them. As a consequence, women are less likely to participate in political processes, and that is fundamentally wrong, since they constitute more than half of the population. Their experience and opinions are hugely important for developing our society as a democratic one.
We are also worried by the ‘disappearance’ of women in the reports of other human rights organisations in Belarus, such as the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, an organisation that is meant to be the beacon of the fight for equality and human rights in Belarus. We seek to fill in those gaps by collecting our own data and bringing to notice the omissions. Furthermore, we intend to continue watchdogging the situation of women’s human rights, as a way to ensure their inclusion in the debate on the human rights in Belarus.
By drawing attention to violations of the rights of women we hope to promote social solidarity in general and women’s solidarity in particular, accountability of the authorities and gender awareness among citizens.
The reporting period is February – March 2017.
According to the data we managed to obtain, 188 politically vocal women were detained and/or arrested as the result of the state’s crackdown on protestors. Many more fell victims to the repressions, losing their jobs or university placement; their exact number is presently unknown and we are gathering cases of such “softer” punishment.
27 female protestors were imprisoned. The combined jail time these women had to spend serving a sentence was 305 days – two months short of a year.
30 women were fined for their participation in the protest. Combined, they had to pay the equivalent to 6.820 USD for their political activity or journalistic work.
85 women were released after being detained; no reports or examination records were produced at this point.
The present fate of 46 more women for whom police reports were produced is unknown to us.
The number of female journalists detained/arrested solely for covering the protests was 23. This is 12% of the total number of all the arrested women.
The largest number of the detained/arrested women was in Minsk (118 activists); second in the list was Gomel (10 women).
The ratio of detained/arrested women to men was 188 women to 764 men. In other words, the women’s share from the all arrested protestors in February-March 2016 was 20%, or every fifth detainee was a woman.
- There is a tendency that women are detained less than men. This is partly because women often prefer other ways of political engagement such as official complaints, bringing cases to court, etc. Slightly smaller number of women in the street protests cannot explain it, however. Moreover, as some real-time videos of the protests in smaller towns demonstrated, women often constituted the half, if not the majority, of the participants and often were more vocal than men in articulating their political dissatisfaction. This was especially true at the start of the protests and after the most brutal crackdown of the 25th of March. On the other hand those instances were in localities with lower number of arrested individuals in general and women in particular.
In any case, this question requires more investigation and more data before any definite conclusions can be reached, instead of a mere observation.
- Despite lower numbers of arrested women, it is worth noting that the state employs more diverse methods of ‘pacification’ of the female protestors. Please see the section on ‘Repressions and ‘Pacification’ Strategies below.
- A number of women were arrested in their offices or elsewhere before they even could join the protest rallies. Effectively they were detained on no ground whatsoever because, technically, nobody could know whether they would have protested or not. In those preventive arrests the scheme was always the same. Men in police uniform stormed into the office, detained the women present there, and either released them after the protest rally was over or filed a case against them for their participation in an illegal manifestation. Alternatively, women were stopped on false accusations, like of stealing their own cars, or attempting a random bank robbery. Eventually, it always transpired that those pretexts were nothing but an excuse to prevent those women from reaching the protest sites.
- Women protestors tend to be fined more often than men. This, however, does not represent a special kindness towards women. It is how women are framed by the Belarus’s legislation. In accordance with the law, a mother of a child younger than 14 years old cannot be subjected to confinement in jail for this type of offence. On the other hand the fines these women had to pay constituted a sum of money equivalent to 1-2 months of salaries. That can be a real tragedy given the current economic state of most citizens in Belarus.
- The majority of the detained/ arrested women reported humiliating behaviour of the policemen towards them or, in other words, behaviour that was aimed at lowering their pride, self-respect or dignity.
In order to prevent women from future participation in protests, and to punish them for their political activity, the following strategies were employed:
- Detention/ arrest in a particularly threatening way, without providing any information and leaving the woman in a situation of uncertainty about her future (85 persons);
- Detention under false accusations and fabricated grounds (2 persons);
- Threats of and confiscation of their property (1 person has her laptop confiscated, 2 women were threatened by confiscation of their houses);
- Threat of termination of parental rights (1 person);
- Expulsion from the university (1 person);
- Loss of job (1 person);
- Illegal placement into a mental institution (1 person);
- Imprisonment (27 persons);
- Large fines (30 persons, often these are mothers with children under 14 years old);
- Home search (3 persons);
- ‘Preventive’ conversations by male police officers at women’s homes (2 persons);
- Police assault on cars of women, forced extraction of women from their cars (6 women);
- Physical assault during the arrest (presently we are aware of 1 person, however analysing the photographs of the arrested women we suspect there were more of those who was beaten but never reported it or sought for help);
- Restriction of the freedom of movement to prevent their participation in the protest rallies (3 persons);
- Threat of deportation of women-citizens of other countries (4 persons);
- Criminal proceeding (1 person);
- Withdrawal of information about the detained women from their relatives (we do not know the exact number, but this complain often re-emerged in the accounts of the detained women and of their relatives and friends).
this report was mostly concentrating on the statistics, that is, the quantitative side of the problem. In one of our next reports we shall look into the problem qualitatively, analyzing women’s participation in the protests, their experience and political claims, as well as the impact the repressions may have had on their political and social engagement. The future reports shall also present individual cases of women in support of the offered observations.
Sources of information:
data gathered by the Human Rights Center “Viasna” (their reports and crowdsourcing online platform they hosted during the protests); media publications, our own statistics gathered in the reporting period and data we obtained from women we assisted during and after the protests.
The report is prepared by: Olga Karach, Evgenia Ivanova
 We define state or ‘public’ violence as violence perpetrated by the state representatives such as police, state officials or other individuals in power representing various state bodies; it varies from physical to psychological and has as its purpose prevention of women from participation in the public life or from expressing their opinion regarding the state of social and political affairs in their country.