Two nightclubs popular with LGBT patrons were raided in Belarus, where police harassed and detained numerous patrons.
“The reports out of Belarus are alarming. It is alarming that police targeted legal businesses, violated the privacy of their patrons, demanded personal information, and dragged some away to detention,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “The U.S. government should raise these issues with their Belarusian counterparts and make it clear that the United States will not stand by while already-marginalized communities are targeted and attacked.”
Gaylord cited growing persecution of LGBT communities in the region—following reports of anti-gay purges in Chechnya, Azerbaijan, and the launch of a gay “registry” in Tajikistan.
This isn’t the first time gay clubs have been raided in Belarus, which decriminalized homosexuality in 1991: In January 2013, several venues were hit by police after an LGBT rights group tried to register as an officially recognized NGO. (Without such recognition, GayBelarus cannot operate legally.)
Patrons at Club 6A in Minsk were lined up against a wall and videotaped as they stated their name, address, and occupation.
“This was more like a special operation against criminals,” said GayBelarus chair Siarhiej Androsienka at the time. “[It] was intended to frighten and intimidate those who dared to proclaim their homosexuality publicly in Belarus.”
A similar raid was conducted one day later in Vitebsk, the country’s fourth largest city. Two weeks later plainclothes officers raided Club 6A again, detaining some 40 people.
In 2012, President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, declared “it’s better to be a dictator than gay.”
“I forgive women for their lesbianism, but I will never in my lifetime forgive men for being gay,” he added “A woman becomes a lesbian only if we men are so wretched.”
Last year, Belarus reportedly lead efforts to block adding LGBT rights in a key urban-development policy paper at the UN. Reuters reported the Belarus delegation pushed instead for the term “family friendly,” insisted on the “need for mainstreaming the family across the U.N. Post-2015 Development Agenda.”
“We are convinced the human rights women and men, children and older persons, persons with disabilities could be best promoted and protected within the family environment,” the delegation said in a statement.