A woman has been fined £650 for wearing red and white socks because they matched the colours of the Belarusian opposition nationalist movement’s flag.
The pedestrian was spotted in Minsk wearing the coloured socks and shoes as she was on her way to a driving lesson, and was grabbed by four men in balaclavas.
Natalia Sivtsova-Sedushkina was told she was being detained for dressing improperly, because she was sporting the colours of the banned flag.
File image shows shoes and socks similar to those worn by Ms Sedushkina when she was arrested
The woman was also accused of flashing ‘V for Victory’ signs to passing drivers, many of whom saluted back.
From 1991 to 1995 and during other brief periods in the 20th Century, the red and white striped flag was Belarus’ national flag under the Belarusian Democratic Republic, and the flag for Belarusian nationalists.
But the Soviet Communists replaced it with a red and green flag featuring a hammer and sickle symbol, that is also a popular folk motif.
After the fall of communism, the flag was reintroduced by President Alexander Lukashenko in 1995, but without the hammer and sickle.
The red and white flag has since become a symbol of rebellion against Lukashenko’s rule, which is seen by many as being illegitimate.
Ms Sedushkina was ordered by a judge to pay 2,320 Belarus roubles – about £650 – for wearing the red and white socks and shoes that were easy to see as she was wearing jean shorts at the time.
She was prosecuted under draconian laws that ban unauthorised protest in Belarus.
From 1991 to 1995 and during other brief periods in the 20th Century, the red and white striped flag was Belarus’ national flag under the Belarusian Democratic Republic, and the flag for Belarusian nationalists. Pictured: Opposition supporters rally to protest against disputed presidential election results in Minsk on August 23, 2020, with a large red and white flag
Pictured: Women march down the streets holding umbrellas in the colours of the former white-red-white flag of Belarus, to protest against the Belarus presidential election results in Minsk, on April 6, 2021
‘I guess I really stood out of the crowd: white jacket and sneakers, blue cropped jeans and white socks with a red stripe made by Mark Formelle, which were half visible,’ Ms Sedushkina said, according to Belarus Feed.
‘But is this a violation? I walked calmly, did not disturb or touch anyone,’ she added.
The woman said she was detained as she was talking near a cinema, told that her ‘socks are the wrong colour’ and that the men ‘lifted her up and carried’ her behind the cinema where a van was waiting.
She was then taken to Sovetskiy district police department, and was kept there for around three hours before being released because she has a young child.
When she appeared in court, Ms Sedushkina said she requested to see the CCTV camera, but was told that the video had already been deleted. She was then fined.
Ms Sedushkina has previously been fined a similar amount for decorating her balcony with red and white ribbons.
After the fall of communism, the red and green flag was reintroduced by President Alexander Lukashenko in 1995, but without the hammer and sickle, like its predecessor
‘I don’t have that kind of money to pay the fine, although I’m working, I can’t save up,’ seh said. ‘I tried to appeal against the court decision on the ribbons – it was left in force. Now I will try to appeal the decision on the socks.’
The online shop that was selling the offending clothes has since stopped selling them, although it does still sell similar white socks with black stripes.
Last year in August, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Minsk to demonstrate against President Lukashenko for claiming re-election, a result that was widely condemned as being rigged.
Police responded brutally, deploying tear gas and baton charges against the protesters, and arrested thousands of people.
Many cases of police brutality were reported.
Other than support from Russia, Mr Lukashenko remains largely isolated from Europe and other countries.
In this file photo taken on November 8, 2020 law enforcement officers detain a man in Minsk during a gathering, the latest in weeks of unprecedented demonstrations, against the Belarus presidential election results
However, protests have largely been quelled, with the main opposition leaders wither in exile of prison and over 2,700 people prosecuted this year alone for their anti-Lukashenko actions.
Ms Sedushkina’s fine came as Belarus’ exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya called on the US on Thursday to impose more sanctions so as to isolate President Lukashenko, whose election win Washington considers fraudulent.
‘I urge you, the elected representatives of American people, to continue acting decisively,’ Tikhanovskaya said in a virtual appearance at a congressional hearing.
‘We call on the US to engage in international mediation jointly with European partners.
She also called on the US to ‘use its diplomacy to further isolate Lukashenko and to underscore that his point of political return has been past.’
Tikhanovskaya, 38, who says she won the vote, fled abroad after state authorities cracked down on protests. She lives in Lithuania now.
On Thursday, opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (pictured) called on the US on Thursday to impose more sanctions so as to isolate President Lukashenko, whose election win Washington considers fraudulent
The US slapped sanctions on nine state-owned companies in Belarus in April in response to the government’s repression of pro-democracy protests.
Tikhanovskaya hailed those sanctions by the US Treasury Department as ‘among the most effective measures’ but called on the US to punish other entities in her country.
She also urged the US Congress to consider giving more support to civil society organisations in Belarus, as well as independent media outlets and the private sector, as she said the European Union does.
She also said there has been no major conversation among international powers about how to end the nine month old political crisis in her country.
‘We call on the US to take an active part in organising such an international conference, involving a broad range of stakeholders,’ she said.
Belarus has seen a number of other draconian anti-opposition punishments.
Maria Voynova, in Mogilev, was fined the equivalent of £82 for making her signature look similar to an ‘extremist’ slogan, similar to the ‘All Cops are B*****ds (ACAB)’ slogan that has become popular with anti-police movements globally.
A man and a woman, also in Mogilev, were handed three years in jail for hanging straw effigies along a country road. Olga Klimkova and Sergei Skok were both found guilty of insulting Alexander Lukashenko, as well as ‘hooliganism’.
In Minsk, a man was arrested for allegedly supporting protesters with a red and white ‘paper banner’ on his balcony, while Yulia Yakubovich was handed a two-year suspended sentence for blocking a road to make a political point.