Belarus cracks down on gay activists

Minsk, Belarus – Police in Belarus are going after gays, raiding their clubs and locking up clubbers overnight, and summoning gay activists for questioning. One activist accuses police of beating him during questioning, while others say they were interrogated about their sex lives. The leader of a gay rights organization was stripped of his passport just ahead of a planned trip to the United States.

That is the government’s response to a decision by gay activists across the country to try in January to legally register their rights organization, GayBelarus. It marked a more resolute attempt to emerge from the shadows after being slapped down repeatedly by the authorities.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who once said “it’s better to be a dictator than a gay,” has long denigrated homosexuals in the former Soviet republic.

As he counters discontent from Belarusians who want to see democratic reforms and a more European-oriented society, Lukashenko has portrayed gays as agents of a decadent West. Gay rights activists are part of the broader opposition to Lukashenko, who has ruled the nation’s 10 million people with an iron hand for the past 18 years, earning the nickname of “Europe’s last dictator” in the West.

A similar dynamic is at work in Russia, where gay rights activists have joined the protest marches against President Vladimir Putin.

Homosexuality was formally decriminalized in Russia and Belarus with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, but antigay sentiments still run high in both Slavic countries.

“In the 21st century in the middle of Europe we are forced to prove to the government that homosexuality is not an illness and not a crime,” said Nasta Senyuhovich, a gay activist in Belarus.

Police have refused to comment on the questioning of the gay activists.

by Associated Press
Source – San Francisco Chronicle