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 of 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’d made it to the hospital a day earlier, I’d have been able to do that”.
Anastasia Shevchenko stands in a black dress, high heels and with an electronic tag around her ankle behind a wall of glass. 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 Mr Prosecutor not to display pointless cruelty to my family. How many more victims do you need, to realize you’re 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 had to pay a high price for speaking up against president Vladimir Putin’s regime. The single mother of three, was previously the coordinator of the organization, Open Russia, who 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 came for her at her house. Her son, Misha was home and the police searched 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 at a boarding school, because of an incurable disease. After the arrest of her mother, Alina’s illness only became worse. Only a few hours after Anastasia was 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 shouts from the demonstrations in Moscow can be heard far away.
Anastasia’s case has sparked angry protesters and several demonstrations in Russia. They call the demonstrations the ‘March of Mothers Fury’. Crowds march wearing black hearts on their chest, in memory of Anastasia’s daughter Alina.
At the same time in the court, and with no contact with the world outside, Anastasia is fighting a fight against the Russian juridical system for the right to criticize a corrupt authoritarian regime.
If she is found guilty, Anastasia could face six years in jail for her political activity under a law that is highly criticized for undermining the freedom of speech and assembly in Russia.
The Pursue of Human Rights Defenders
“She’s never killed anyone, never robbed. She is a mother of three. The charge is a really big one: Undermining the foundations of the state. But how? Because of speaking at unsanctioned protests, holding seminars?, questioned Anastasia’s mother Tamara Vasilyevna, in an interview with BBC.
15 foreign organisations have been blacklisted after the law of “undesirable organizations” came into effect in May 2015. Among them is the British based Open Russia and Open Russia Civic Movement, which has both been used to pursue members of the Russian movement with the same name.
In 2013, the UN adopted a resolution, securing the protection of female human rights defenders against being pursued because of their work. The charges against Anastasia on the other hand, show how hard it is to be a human rights defender and in opposition in today’s Russia, where physical attacks, smear campaigns and delegitimizing has become a part of the everyday life. Human rights defenders expose themselves to great risk, by merely doing their job. What they ask for is a more open and just Russia, and they are not giving up.