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14-second video considered act of public disorder in Belarus

19 May, 2016Eight women are accused of public disorder in Belarus after posting a 14-second video protest message on YouTube against raising the retirement age.

On 17 May, 40 members of IndustriALL affiliate, the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU), and local sympathizers attended a municipal court hearing in Salihorsk to support the BITU activists who are accused of violating the law on mass events.

The accusation is based on a video message recorded by activists in front of the BITU‘s headquarters on 19 April 2016 in Salihorsk against an increase of the retirement age by three years in Belarus, announced by presidential decree in 2016. The video was posted both on the union’s YouTube channel and website.

Soon after posting the video, the eight activists, who are all from the women’s network at a fertiliser company, JSC Belaruskali, were summoned to the Salihorsk police station. Protocols on administrative violation were drawn up against them for violation of the established order on holding mass events.

A senior district police officer tried to establish whether it was a planned picket or a spontaneous action. When women asked who made a complaint to the police and initiated the case, the officer mentioned “special organs”, which is unofficially how the committee for state security is referred to in Belarus.

When the women went to the Salihorsk police department on 13 May, they were convoyed directly to the court. They were held for one hour in the court lobby and later informed of their case hearing scheduled on 17 May.

During the hearing the women explained that they never imagined that their action could be considered a picket, as all the participants have been union activists for a long time and had a clear idea of what a picket was.

The judge found the women guilty of violating articles of the Belarusian administrative code. Recording of video appeals in public has been regarded by court as an unauthorized picket. According to the judge, if the video-appeal was recorded indoors there would no charges against the activists.

Seven women union activists received a warning as administrative penalty. A similar decision was also issued in regards to Viktoryja Yarashevich, whose case was considered by another judge.

Monika Kemperle, IndustriALL assistant general secretary and women’s director said, “IndustriALL is shocked and outraged by the attitude of the Belarusian authorities towards these women, whose only guilt is to have the guts to fight for their rights. We condemn the acts by the police and the judge’s decision, who are trying to muzzle women activists and shut them up. We express all our solidarity with union activists in Belarus fighting for women and human rights."