Too often those who defend the rights of women and girls face violence, harassment, and even imprisonment, simply for taking a stand for equality and human rights. In the last month, women’s rights activists across Eurasia have faced increasing harassment and intimidation, including by their own governments. We stand in solidarity with women’s rights activists around the world, and we will not allow these attempts to silence women human rights defenders to succeed.
On May 20, 2021, women’s rights activists from Dagestan, Russia, journalist and women’s rights activist Svetlana Anokhina and Janette Akhilgova, Equality Now’s Russia and Caucasus Consultant, were due to speak at a planned conference in Makhachkala on the need for responsible media coverage of human rights and women’s rights issues in the North Caucasus.
Before the conference began, unknown men broke into the conference room fighting and threatening attendees. Immediately about 15 police cars arrived at the building with dozens of armed law enforcement who proceeded to take all conference participants to the police station “as witnesses.” Due to the disruption, the conference could not be conducted.
BREAKING INTO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SHELTERS
On June 10, police from the Russian region of Chechnya forced their way into a women’s domestic violence shelter in Makhachkala and abducted Khalimat Taramova, a young woman who says she fled home following death threats and regular beatings by her family.
Authorities returned Khalimat to her native Chechnya, where women’s rights activists warn she is at risk of becoming a victim of an “honor killing.” Authorities in Chechnya claimed they removed Khalimat in order “to prevent her abduction” by local human rights activists.
“Today is June 6, 2021. I, Khalimat Ayubovna Taramova, voluntarily left home to flee from regular beatings and threats. Please do not put me on the federal wanted list and do not disclose any information about my whereabouts, as those actions will pose a threat to my life.”
“I was subjected to violence by my parents and by my husband. I was refused a divorce. I have been married for five years. And when anything goes wrong, they immediately beat me. At one point I thought that it was unsafe for me to stay here any longer because there was a threat to my life, not just violence. They warned me: ‘If you decide to run away, you will be found, brought back, and killed.”
During the raid at the shelter, Svetlana Anokhina tried to prevent police from entering and was detained by police. Svetlana was taken for an unjustified and unwarranted medical examination in the middle of the night and checked for alcohol and drugs in her blood. She has now been released without charge.
Svetlana has previously faced death threats after she reported on a story about a Chechen woman murdered by her husband. She received calls from an unknown man who told her he had been “given orders to deal with feminists”.
USING DEFAMATION IN AN ATTEMPT TO SILENCE THOSE WHO SPEAK UP
Dina Smailova, head of NeMolchi (“Do Not be Silent”) Foundation in Kazakhstan, faced criminal charges for defamation in 2020 after she publicly criticized a well-known Kazakh blogger and former parliamentarian, Tanirbergen Berdongarov about his public vilification of a gang-rape survivor. On March 6th, 2020 Dina Smailova won the case and is no longer facing criminal defamation charges.
Dina whose work at NeMolchi involves providing legal support for victims of sexual violence, has continued to be targeted for her work. There are currently five defamation cases pending against her as a result of her writing on social media about sex crimes, domestic violence crimes, and ineffective work by the responsible institutions and officials. As well as the legal cases, Dina is also targeted online and in the media.
WOMEN WILL NOT BE SILENCED
These incidents targeting women’s rights activists and women journalists are part of a pattern of intimidation and violence towards women’s rights defenders in Eurasia and around the world.
The global epidemic of sexual and gender-based violence flourishes in silence, and supporting survivors to speak their truth brings us one step closer to preventing this violence. The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed under Art. 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty that both Russia and Kazakhstan have ratified. Additionally, the UN Resolution on women human rights defenders (2014, A/RES/68/181) calls upon states to ensure that the promotion and protection of human rights are not criminalized.
Equality Now stands with Svetlana Anokhina, Janette Akhilgova, and Dina Smailova and calls for the defamation charges against Dina to be immediately dropped. We also call on Russian authorities to ensure that Khalimat Taramova is able to live free from violence and threats of violence, as is her human right.
The law should never be used in an attempt to silence those who speak up about their own sexual or physical assault or speak out in defense of others. Women’s rights defenders will not be silenced.