Ihar Tsikhanyuk

AT the beginning of the year, openly-gay Belarussian drag performer Ihar Tsikhanyuk was beaten up and subjected to threats by police.

A month later, while in hospital in the city of Hrodna being treated for a stomach ulcer, Tsikhanyuk was briskly removed from the ward by police before being detained, bashed and further victimised.

Tsikhanyuk’s apparent crime? Attempting to set up the LGBTI-focused Human Rights Centre Lambda in January.

Over the ensuing months, more than 60 others involved alongside Tsikhanyuk in the unsuccessful attempt were called in for questioning on trumped-up charges, including false claims of drug dealing and rape.

“I don’t want to hide myself,” Tsikhanyuk said a number of weeks after the incidents.

“I live openly. It is not easy in Belarus, but I want to show people that I am a person like everybody. With my example I want to show that it is possible to live openly.”

Although Belarus was the third republic of the former USSR to abolish criminal sanctions for homosexuality in 1994, there has never been any effort since to ensure that legislation protected the rights of LGBTI individuals in the country.

Like in nearby Russia, LGBTI Belarusians face high levels of negative stereotyping and social prejudice, with such attitudes being shared by the country’s leaders.

Taking a swipe at German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwalle last March, Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko was widely quoted as saying: “When I heard him – whoever he is, gay or lesbian – talking about dictatorship, I thought – it’s better to be a dictator than gay.”

Amnesty International recently launched a letter-writing campaign to highlight cases such as Tsikhanyuk’s and others that demonstrate the systemic problem of NGOs not being able to register in Belarus.

Australian Amnesty spokesperson Amelia Freelander told the Star Observer the Write for Rights campaign was about people coming together to fight discrimination and human rights abuses, particularly in countries that lacked legal frameworks to protect minorities, including LGBTI people.

“The discriminatory aspect of the abuse suffered by Ihar will remain officially hidden, even if suspects are eventually tried,” she said.

“Unfortunately Ihar’s story is far from unique in Europe. A recent survey published by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found that a quarter of the LGBTI individuals surveyed had been attacked or threatened with violence in the last five years.”

Those interested in adding their voice have a number of ways to get involved with Amnesty’s campaign.

“People can join Write for Rights in three ways: getting together with friends to form a letter writing group, attending a public event or write a letter in their own time either focussing on a specific case like Ihar’s, or choosing from a number of our other highlighted cases,” Freelander said.

“All of these three actions can help secure justice or freedom for people being persecuted for their religious, political, personal beliefs or sexuality.”

INFO: To get involved with Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign, visit here.

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