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Belarus Police Stop a Chechen Woman En Route To Safety in Norway

The national coat of arms is seen at the terminal of Minsk International Airport near the village of Sloboda, Belarus May 19, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

On September 4, Belarus police officials stopped a 22-year-old Russian woman of Chechen origin waiting for a flight at Minsk airport. They forced Luisa to go with them to a small room where her father was waiting to take her back to the home she had run away from.

Luisa fled Chechnya in June, after receiving serious threats on social media about her supposedly “loose” behavior. The men harassing her were affiliated with Carthage, an online group that publishes photos of “immoral” women. They said her behavior was “unfitting” for a Chechen woman and she “shouldn’t be walking the earth.” Luisa’s relatives found out and, concerned for the family’s reputation, threatened her with dire consequences.

Ramzan Kadyrov, who runs Chechnya through brutal repression with the Kremlin’s blessing, has long prioritized a “virtue campaign” for women. Through television and Instagram, he exhorts Chechens to ensure that women wear headscarves and follow men’s orders, describing women as men’s “property” and condoning honor killings. Women’s rights activists say honor killings have become more frequent in Chechnya, and I know of several other Chechen women fleeing violence and death threats.

Fearing for her life, Luisa reached out to a Russian rights group. They helped her hide until Norway offered her asylum. She was on her way there via Minsk, accompanied by a group representative and a lawyer, when local police effectively entrapped her. They did not let her companions into the room, and when Luisa walked out an hour later, in tears, Luisa told her travel companions she wanted to return home. When her companions tried to intervene, police accused them of pressuring Luisa and tricking her into the trip, then led Luisa away. She is now with her family.

Perhaps the Belarus police officials knew nothing about Luisa and wanted to help a desperate father find his daughter. Maybe Luisa’s father convinced her that she could return home safely. However, Belarus police had no business coercing a woman into a meeting she did not choose, isolating her from her legal advisors, and ignoring risks of abuse. This is not the first time that Belarus authorities block fearful Chechens from passing through Belarus to safety; it should be the last. 

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