Wife of a Belaruskali striker: “I just couldn’t tell my daughter that her Dad was beaten by the police.”
A mother of three children, with the youngest one only two years old, Katsiaryna Dziamkova never thought she would be left alone, without her husband. However, that is exactly what happened on one snowy, freezing afternoon on the last day of winter, when her husband Anton did not return home.
He was among seven activists who were detained by the police, essentially for “walking in a group.” Being detained for something like this may sound surreal, but there’s an existing law in Belarus that effectively prohibits walking or standing in a group or even alone if the police determine it’s a “political protest.” All of those detained were charged with Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences (violation of the procedure for organizing or holding mass events), which has been recognized as illegitimate by the UN Human Rights Committee. A conviction on this charge results in 15 days of jail time, which is often extended for another 15-30-45-60 days. Some Belarusian protesters spent over 90 days in jail after being charged with Article 23.34.
“When Anton was detained this time, we read on the internet that he was beaten. My oldest daughter overheard it when I was discussing it with my mother-in-law. She started crying, we were barely able to calm her down. We told her it was not true. I just couldn’t tell my daughter that her Dad was beaten by the police.”
In the meantime, the messages coming from the official Belaruskali Strike Committee Telegram channel were more and more distressing, citing police brutality during and after the activists were detained.
“The deputy head of the Salihorsk police personally beat one of the detainees in the head. The rest were beaten in front of the bus, on the bus, and then pepper spray was sprayed on the bus by unknown persons, dressed in the uniform of riot police OMON. The beating continued at the police station as well. But it did not end there. Unknown persons began to break into the detainees’ homes without warrants or court orders.”
Katsiaryna did not have a chance to talk to her husband after his detention. However, his attorney who saw Anton the next day after his detention did notice he had a black eye.
Being married for almost 8 years, this is the first time Katsiaryna and Anton are apart for so long.
“Everything is just so hard without him,” she says.
Anton is one of 140 brave Belaruskali workers who went on strike for political reasons. Belaruskali is one of the largest state-owned enterprises in Belarus and one of the largest producers of potash fertilizers in the world.
In an attempt to draw more international attention to what’s happening, Belarusians started a petition to one of the largest Belaruskali clients, Norwegian company Yara, asking to stop doing business until Belaruskali management stops repressions against the strikers and starts working on resolution of the current crisis. As of now, over 83,450 people signed it.
According to Katsiaryna, Yara’s representatives recently came to Belaruskali to conduct a review.
“Workers were not even allowed to be present there. Other people were put in their place.”
Since summer 2020, over 35,000 Belarusians were detained or arrested for political reasons. This is the largest number in Europe within the past 40 years. Most of them were charged with Article 23.34 — the same one Anton was charged with. Collectively, Belaruskali strikers spent over 800 days in jail.
According to the UN report, in three weeks of August 2020 there were over 450 documented cases of torture in police custody. Since August 9, 2020, at least eight protesters have been killed.
By far, the strike at Belaruskali is the biggest one in the country. Since summer 2020, the main demands of Belarusian protesters remain the same: new, democratic elections, the release of all political prisoners, and the resignation of Alexander Lukashenko.
See more in our video interview with Katsiaryna.