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Story of Natallia Hersche - Face of Protest #21

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Natallia Hersche, who came to Minsk from Switzerland on vacations, was detained on September 19, 2020 at a women’s march. She has been in jail for over a year now

Natallia Hershe, a citizen of Belarus and Switzerland, has been in prison in Belarus for over a year now. On September 19, 2020 she was detained at a women’s march in Minsk and later in December was sentenced to 2.5 years in a penal colony for ripping off a riot police officer’s balaclava.

Natallia Hershe went out to a peaceful protest once, coming to Minsk on vacations. She was pleaded guilty for participating in an unsanctioned event and causing bodily harm to a riot policeman during her detention. She was accused of scratching 22-year-old Sergei Konchik by pulling off his balaclava. The victim himself demanded compensation of 1000 Belarusian rubles and asked that Natallia "were not severely punished".

"There was insufficient evidence that it was Natallia who caused the scratch. There was no video recording, which should have been made at the detention, there was no photo of the scratch itself. And there are many inaccuracies, which suggest that the verdict was pulled out of his fingers," says her brother Gennady Kasyan. Belarusian human rights activists recognize Natalya Hershe as a political prisoner.

Natalia has been living in Switzerland for 13 years. Her children are waiting for her at home. "It is important for children that their mother takes care of them, even though they are adults. My daughter is studying at the University of Zurich. It’s difficult for her without her mother. She had to interrupt her studies for a year for now and start working part-time," says her brother. And although the children do not quite understand the motivation of Natallia to participate in the Belarusian protest, they do not feel aggrieved at her and accept her choice.

Natallia is supported by the Swiss Ambassador to Belarus, Claude Altermatt. "I'm very much looking forward to meeting Mr. Altermatt. He’s already like a relative to me. Last time we even exchanged air kisses. Who could have thought of such a thing more than a year ago," Natallia writes in her letters. The embassy secretary reports in detail to her brother about all the visits. The Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs notes that the Foreign Ministry has discussed the case of Natallia Hershe several times with the Belarusian authorities at the highest level, but so far no mutually acceptable solution has been found. "Within the framework of consular protection, Switzerland continues to work to ensure that Mrs. Hershe is treated as fairly as possible," a spokesman for the Swiss Foreign Ministry replied to DW’s inquiry.

In turn, Swiss human rights activists continue to draw attention to Natallia’s situation and put pressure on the authorities for her speedy release. They launched an online petition in three languages, addressed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, Iñazio Cassis. Although Switzerland imposed sanctions against Minsk, they demand more economic pressure.

At least three times Natallia was offered to write a petition for clemency, but she categorically refused, considering herself innocent. In one of her letters, Natalia explained why she did not write a petition for clemency: "By writing a petition, I would trample myself spiritually. Would that make it easier for all of you? I doubt. I understand that the deadline is very real, due to the recalculation of the pre-trial detention center, the day of my release is January 27, 2023, and it will come. Prison is not the worst thing that could happen, and in general, perhaps, thanks to this "worst" something "better" will happen, which could not have happened without the first".

On October 20, 2021, Natallia’s birthday will be 52 years old. This is the second year in a row that she has "celebrated" her birthday in prison.

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