Police arrested LGBTI activists detained in Belarus after they wore rainbow police uniforms.
An activist was remanded in custody without food or water for three days as he faced charges for participating in an ‘unauthorised mass event’.
Three students performed a public art piece in the capital Minsk called, LGBTQI Police Patrol. They dressed as police officers and their mock uniforms featured rainbow epaulets to raise awareness about homophobia in Belarus.
In the 28 November performance, the three students danced in public spaces and approached people in the street. The Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) orchestrated the performance, with the three students study at its Minsk school, the Studio Fortinbras.
The BFT is an UK-based theatre company that focuses on ‘social justice, taboo zones and violation of human rights across the globe’.
‘These arrests are completely disproportionate to the supposed offense and an indication of the Belarusian authorities’ determination to clamp down on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly,’ the BFT said in a statement.
Detained without food or water
But on 8 December police arrested one of the students and kept him in custody, allegedly without food or water.
Update: After whole day waiting court hearing, with no food/water, hearing postponed to tomorrow. Our student will face 3rd night in detention exhausted. Not a fitting way to celebrate #HumanRightsDay #StandUp4HumanRights #Belarus #LGBTQ #equalrights
— Belarus Free Theatre (@BFreeTheatre) December 10, 2018
He finally faced a court on Monday morning (10 December). The judge handed him a fine of US$189 (£150) before releasing him.
His two classmates went into hiding after the arrest, but police finally tracked them down and arrested them on Tuesday.
‘These arrests are meant to intimidate us and all human rights defenders and ordinary citizens into silence and to remind us that the police and the laws in Belarus are not there to protect the people but to protect the state from its own citizens,’ the BFT said.
‘However, we will not be silenced and will continue to call out human rights violations, wherever they happen.’
LGBTQI Police Patrol
The LGBTQI Police Patrol featured the three students engaging with members of the public, stopping passers-by for ‘being in an inappropriate mood’, asking for ‘a smile’ and performing a dance.
BFT said the stunt sought to deconstruct the intimidating image of the police and turn fear into love’. The trio meant to carry it out with ‘humour, goodwill and caused no harm to anyone involved’.
‘The irony is that with this conviction the authorities have lived up to the image of “intimidator” which the students were attempting to change,’ BFT said.
BFT and Fortinbras students have a long history of challenging homophobia in Belaurus.
The first in June say students placing rainbow-coloured flower pots at the foot of a police statue outside the Ministry of Interior. Police detained three students involved for 24 hours and charged them with disobeying the police for refusing to remove the flowerpots.
More recently, students carried out a ‘kissing flashmob’ of the same statue. They were inspired by the tradition of kissing Oscar Wilde’s monument in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. That performance called for ‘more love’ and ‘less fear’. Two of the students involved were fined US$360 (£285).
Other stunts have included an interactive LGBTQI tour of Minsk; a ‘Traditional Values’ folk duo; the LGBTQI-friendly, restaurant review, and an ‘invisible’ performance.
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Minsk, Belarus. Today we deconstruct the image of a policeman and turn fear into love. Anyone can be #LGBT and often LGBT need protection from out homophobic society. That’s why we showed the police good example and created a special department for LGBT rights ourselves. #belarusfreetheatre #fortinbras #lgbtfriendly #makelovenotwar
A post shared by Belarus Free Theatre (@belarusfreetheatre) on
The Eastern European country has a troubling track record on LGBTI rights. Earlier this year it was one of the lowest ranked countries on Equality in Europe index, even though the country decriminalized homosexuality in 1994. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) also ranked Belarus 42nd out of 49 European countries on its annual Rainbow Index and the Rainbow Europe Map.
Also, police raided multiple gay clubs and detained several men for unknown reasons in October last year.
The Internal Affairs Minister Igor Shunevich called same-sex relationships ‘fake’ in May this year. He made the comments after the British Embassy in Mins raised the rainbow Pride flag to mark IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia).