Despite the Time Person of the Year-certified rise of "the protester," recently we've seen multiple instances of female demonstrators being stripped and harassed, from a "Tent Monster" at Occupy Melbourne to the women whose clothes were ripped off by soldiers in Cairo. The women of the Ukrainian group Femen are famous for removing their shirts to draw attention to their protests against sexism, sex trafficking, and a variety of other issues, but now the group says that three of its members were kidnapped, stripped, beaten, and nearly killed by members of the KGB in Belarus.
Femen was participating in a protest in Minsk against Belarus' authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, according to the Washington Post. A year ago Lukashenko was declared the winner of a fraudulent election and many people who were arrested in the ensuing crackdown on demonstrators remain in jail. After dozens of people gathered on the steps of the KGB headquarters on Monday, agents started breaking up the crowd and making arrests, but three of the Femen activists were able to get away.
The women thought they'd escaped, but a few hours later they were seized by KGB agents at a train station. They say they were blindfolded, driven 120 miles outside of the capital and walked into the woods. The agents beat them, forced them to remove their clothes, cut their hair short with knives, and doused them with oil. They threatened to set them on fire, but instead they abandoned them in the forest. The women made their way to a village and called the group's leader, Anna Gustol, who says they, "told me they were in awful condition, barely alive."
The KGB wouldn't comment on the accusation, but it did confirm that another woman who was with the Femen activists at the protest was detained. Kitty Green, an Australian filmmaker, has been working on a documentary about Femen and was seized at the protest by KGB agents. Later she was handed over to the Australian Embassy in Moscow. Her roommate said:
Kitty said she was held in the KGB office and they took her fingerprints and made a file on her. She told me she will never go to Belarus again ... It's a terrible situation. Kitty was lucky and was not hurt like the other girls, but she is from a strong democratic country.
The disturbing attack on the women is just the latest example of how bad the situation in Belarus has become. Lukashenko has been intimidating his opponents and shutting down independent media since he rose to power in 1994. Yesterday Congress voted to increase sanctions on the country and called for the release of political prisoners. One Representative said Lukashenko, "has the worst record for human rights by far of any government in Europe." So congratulations, Belarusian officials. You're still holding on to that regional award for oppressing your people and horrifying the rest of the world.
Topless Protest Group Claims Belarusian Police Abducted, Beat, Humiliated Members [Washington Post]
Australian Filmmaker Detained By Belarus KGB [AFP]
House Passes Bill Tightening Sanctions On Belarus Government [Washington Post]