This article is a part of the campaign #12 Women on the Barricades, developed by The Norwegian Helsinki Committee in collaboration with illustrator Jenny Jordahl. We present 12 portraits of women standing on the barricades for other women, focusing on the greatest human rights challenges facing women in Europe today – and what needs to be done to overcome them. Read about the 11 other women on www.nhc.no/en/12womenonthebarricades
“You could have let me see my daughter and hug her. If I had made it to the hospital one day earlier, I would have been able to do that.”
Anastasia Shevchenko stands behind a wall of glass in a black dress, high heels and with an electronic tag around her ankle. With her curly hair, she speaks with a clear and calm voice to the prosecutors in the local court in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.
“I would ask the prosecutor not to display pointless cruelty to my family. How many more victims do you need to realize you that you are on the wrong path? That you are taking the wrong decisions?”
In house arrest when her daughter died
Anastasia Shevchenko is one of the Russian human rights defenders who paid a high price for speaking up against president Vladimir Putin’s regime. This single mother of three was previously the coordinator of the organization “Open Russia”, which is working for democracy, human rights and a strong civil society in Russia.
On 21 January 2019, the first-ever criminal investigation under Article 284.1 of the criminal code “Activity of an undesirable organization”, was opened against Anastasia. Two days later, the police stormed her house. Her son, Misha was at home and the police searched through his schoolbooks for evidence. Anastasia was put under house arrest.
A week later, her eldest daughter Alina became seriously ill. The 17-year old girl was living in a boarding school. She was suffering of an incurable disease, and her condition worsened after her mother got arrested. Only a few hours after Anastasia was finally allowed to see her daughter in the hospital, the young girl died.
March of Mothers’ Fury
“Free Anastasia Shevchenko!”, “Free Anastasia Shevchenko!”, “Free Anastasia Shevchenko!”, the demonstrators shouted in the streets in Moscow.
Anastasia’s case has sparked angry protests and several demonstrations in Russia under the name ‘March of Mothers’ Fury’. The demonstrators wear a black heart on their chest, in memory of Anastasia’s daughter Alina.
At the same time in court, and banned from contact with the outside world, Anastasia is fighting against the Russian judiciary for her right to criticize a corrupt authoritarian regime.
If she is found guilty, Anastasia could face six years in jail for breaking a law which is highly criticized for undermining freedom of assembly and speech in Russia.
Persecution of Human Rights Defenders
“She never killed or kidnapped anyone. She has three children. The accusations against her are serious: to undermine the foundation of the state. How? For speaking during legally organized protests and holding seminars?” asks Anastasia’s mother Tamara Vasilyevna, in an interview with BBC.
Fifteen foreign organisations have been blacklisted by the law of “undesirable organizations” which came into effect in May 2015. Among them is the British based “Open Russia” and “Open Russia Civic Movement”, whose members have been persecuted.
In 2013, the UN adopted a resolution securing protection of female human rights defenders against persecution for their work. However, the charges against Anastasia show how difficult it is to be a human rights defender and opposition politician in Russia today, where physical attacks, smear campaigns and delegitimizing has become part of everyday life. Human rights defenders expose themselves to great risks by merely doing their job. What they ask for is a more open and just Russia. And they are not giving up.
“If I wanted to hide, I would have done that a long time ago. But I will never leave my children and mother”, Anastasia says.