Vigilante justice can become a big threat to Belarusian society and have unexpected consequences, writes Ryhor Astapenia.
On 2 August, the “Occupy Pedophilia” group posted a new video online, which went viral on the Belarusian internet. In the video teenagers interrogated a potential pedophile, and in the end poured urine on his head.
They call themselves “Occupy Pedophilia” or pedophile hunters; the group has become a significant phenomenon in post-Soviet nations. Autonomous groups under the guise of 15-year olds acquainted over the Internet with potential pedophiles who offer them sex. After that, the hunters meet with a potential pedophile and shoot a video of them.
A large part of society supports such vigilantes. Moreover, thanks to the hunters people have learned that there were more pedophiles in society than had originally been assumed. The authorities keep silent on the statistics of sexual offences against children, and the police appear less effective than the hunters in dealing with them.
Thus, through the fight against pedophiles, extreme right groups can get support in society, enlarge their structures and become more visible actors in the public life of Belarus. Vigilante justice can become a big threat to Belarusian society and have unexpected consequences. According to a police spokesman, a potential pedophile, shot on video by Minsk hunters, planned to commit suicide.
Pedophile hunters operate in more than twenty cities in Russia. They also have imitators in Belarus and Ukraine. A Russian far-right activist with Belarusian roots, Maxim Martsinkevich, began to shoot videos with disclosures of pedophiles several years ago. Since then the idea spread throughout the post-Soviet space. The age of the hunters tends to be quite young. The leader of the Minsk hunters is only 17.
Hunters of pedophiles act as autonomous groups in their cities. Today the “Occupy Pedophilia” groups operate not only in Minsk, but also some small towns, for example Zhodzina, a town near Minsk. Last month, the majority of the independent media resources published news about the pedophilia inclination of one of the activists of the pro-Lukashenka Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU) Uladzimir Tsyukhai.
According to the published video and hunters’ statement, the BRYU activist came to Zhodzina on a date with a 15-year-old boy. Before that, Tsyukhai wrote on the Internet to this boy about his sexual fantasies. In Zhodzina, a group of ultra-right young people met the BRYU activist in place of the expected 15-year-old boy.
They began to question the BRYU activist, mock and beat him, and then took him to the police. The police did not hold the young people accountable for vigilante justice, because their victim did not submit any complaints against the hunters.
Later, the police confirmed to the youths, that this person really was a prominent member of the BRYU. The Belarusian independent community has known Tsyukhai since 2008, when he brought about 30 students to the trial against the opposition activist Barazienka. As a result, students occupied every seat in the hall, and human rights activists and journalists could not attend the trial. Later, Barazienka`s mother asked Tsyukhai if he had any conscience. In response, a member of the Belarusian Republican Youth Union strongly pushed the woman.
Pedophilia in Belarus
The authorities suppressed the facts of pedophilia in Belarus for a long time. According to the news agency Interfax, the government does not publish full statistics of sexual violence against children, although they have such data.
The police reported that in 2011 they recorded about 30 rapes of under-aged individuals and about 40 in 2012. These figures do not look all that large as the hunters of pedophiles from Minsk have exposed five potential pedophiles in one month.
According to Interfax news agency, pedophilia in Belarus usually is characterized by seduction, not rape. For a long time a pedophile ran a section of a youth club for 10-14 year-old children. Police started a criminal case against the head of the section.
The police often remain ineffective in acting against pedophiles. In 2010 a Belarusian court failed to prosecute a pedophile on several cases that dated back to the 90s, because the statue of limitations had expired. The pedophile himself actually pleaded guilty to the judge, despite the status of the cases.
Under the Criminal Code of Belarus, adults can receive up to 15 years in prison for the rape of minors and up to 5 years in prison for having sex with a person under 16. Pedophiles fear not only being caught, but also other prisoners. Courts in Russia may condemn pedophiles to 20 years, and in Germany to 10 year sentences.
New extreme right movement
Hunting pedophiles has become a new niche for ultra-right groups in Post-Soviet countries. Although human rights activists call it vigilante justice, and lawyers bring up criminal responsibility, pedophile hunters can count on public support.
34% of visitors of the liberal Belarusian Radio Liberty support the actions of the hunters. This percentage would certainly be bigger among more conservative people. Thus, the far-right groups have become the norm for society, and even the defenders of the common good.
Belarusian lawyer Nastassia Lojka said that "from the point of view of human rights no one has the right to be a vigilante, for that there is a legitimate way. But, on the other hand, law enforcement agencies must be responsive to such manifestations, and not wait for the video to show up on social networks. "
For Belarus, it is noteworthy that the new ultra rights are not based on ideological grounds. If a significant part of the far-right organizations in Belarus divide themselves into pro-Belarusian and pro-Russian, the new far-right groups avoid this division on ideological differences.
However, there comes a possibility that after such activities, supported by society, the new far-right will start to carry out the realization of their more dangerous ideas.
The only way out is for law enforcement agencies to fight against pedophiles more assertively. It is the police that should protect children from pedophiles, not 17-year-old pedophile hunters.