Alert: 7 people are still imprisoned 1 year after crackdown on human rights in Belarus

Tatsiana Hatsura: “I believe we Belarusians deserve to live in a democratic country”

In August 2020, Tatsiana Hatsura and her team at Zvyano (link in a chain) were among the first to document cases of torture in Belarus, as law enforcement unleashed unprecedented violence on thousands of peaceful protesters who were contesting the rigged presidential election. For Tatsiana, the defence of human rights has always gone hand in hand with cultural events. The mother of four was behind the human rights film festival WatchDocs. This year, she organised an exhibition about the doctors’ courageous response to the Covid-19 pandemic despite the State’s complete inaction, called “The Machine is breathing – I’m not”. The authorities forcibly shut down the event, and Tatiana was arrested for 10 days. She remains under investigation and is banned from travelling, while Zvyano has joined the list of human rights groups being “liquidated”, according to the official terminology, which dates back to Stalinist times.

  • · What strikes you most when you look back on the past year?

I, like many others, was impressed by the capacity of the Belarusians to organise themselves and particularly by the cohesion of the medical workers, both in their fight against the pandemic and in their response to the violence from law enforcement. Independent Belarus has never faced such challenges before. I believe we are responding very decently.

  • One year ago, what were you hoping for Belarus?

I hoped that reason, not the thirst for power, would prevail. I hoped that the authorities would not literally shoot people but would try to engage in a dialogue with their opponents. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened. Luckily, those opposing the regime have showed restraint and keep using only peaceful means in their fight for the rights of all. For me, far from being a sign of weakness, this is proof of great inner strength, of the readiness to sacrifice oneself rather than sacrifice others to win. It’s a very powerful message.

  • How has the repression affected you personally?

Both myself and my organisation, which is now being forcibly shut down, were targets of the repression. On April 5, my four colleagues and I were detained. I was sentenced to administrative arrest then detained under a criminal investigation. On April 15, I was released from pre-trial detention but I remain a suspect in an ongoing criminal investigation. My husband was also arrested, beaten during interrogation and ordered to leave the country within 48 hours. He left with our nine-year-old son. It’s been four months now that we’ve been forcibly separated, as he, a Ukrainian citizen, is not allowed to come back while I’m not allowed to leave Belarus.

  • How has your determination to change things evolved?

My determination has not changed. Like before, I want to live in a democratic country. I think that the Belarusians deserve it, and I do what I can to achieve this goal.

  • What do you wish for the future?

I see only one possible development: a real national dialogue and the resolution of the crisis via negotiations. Then we’ll need to reflect on what has happened and work to establish democratic institutions, to make sure that similar crimes are not repeated in the future. And I’m sure that the tea parties in the courtyards will become the rule (an allusion to parties with music and tea organised by residents in local courtyards as a form of peaceful resistance to the crackdown).

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