Chilling testimonies of police brutality, humiliation & “re-education” amid vicious crackdown on Belarusian protesters

Protesters released from the Okrestina detention center meet their relatives. Photo: tut.by 

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Article by: Asia Panasevich, Aleksei Shuntov, Aleksandr Borodikhin
On Thursday, August 13, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus Yuri Karayev apologized for the injuries sustained by “random people in the protests who got it in the neck”. According to the mayor of Zhodzina, 500 people were released from the local pre-trial detention center. Late in the evening, dozens of detainees were released from the Okrestina pre-detention center in Minsk.

All the released protesters complained of brutal mistreatment, including beatings, threats, and humiliation. Here we publish the testimonies of some, translated and abridged from the Russian outlet MediaZona, and add additional video testimonies from TUT.BY, translated by the volunteer initiative Pray For Belarus.

Aleksei Khudanov, the journalist

I was arrested in Minsk on the night of August 9-10, and spent the first night in the Frunzensky District Department of Internal Affairs and three days in a prison in Zhodzina.

When my neighbor lifted his head to speak again, one of them stepped heavily on his throat, choking him mercilessly.

At first, I was thrown into an overcrowded passenger bus, where the riot police cursed the protesters and beat them randomly. Our hands were bound tightly with zip ties. An OMON riot baton landed squarely on the head of my neighbor, a young man in dreadlocks, who fell to the ground with blood gushing from the wound.

We were taken to the gym of the Frunzensky District Department of Internal Affairs. Some were dragged by the hair, kicked mercilessly by the OMON police, and ordered to lie quietly on the floor.

Some asked for medical help, others slid to the ground and lost consciousness, but no one seemed to care. An ambulance was called only in case of an emergency when a person was on the verge of death.

We lay motionless, surrounded by OMON units and police officers, as well as some men in white shirts, trousers, and shoes. Apparently, they were in charge. When my neighbor lifted his head to speak again, one of them stepped heavily on his throat, choking him mercilessly.

After a few hours, the protesters asked the police officers to remove the zip ties. All they got in return was a cold stare or a four-letter word. We had no food or water, and it was only after a certain period that they allowed us to use the toilet selectively.

Next morning, they began drafting the protocols. We were all charged with taking part in an unauthorized event, and shouting such defamatory slogans as “Long live Belarus!”, “Stop the cockroach!” [a moniker for Lukashenka – Ed]. etc. I was denied legal services and ordered to sign the protocol that included a paragraph stipulating that I deeply regretted my actions and was ready to confess to everything.

Then, they loaded us into a closed, airless paddy wagon. Our throats were parched from thirst and we were all exhausted from lack of sleep and food. Several people passed out; we begged them to open the door, but to no avail. Thankfully, I fell asleep and woke up in Zhodzina, a town situated 50 km north-east of Minsk. Finally, a prison officer unlocked a cell with a washbasin and we were allowed to enter one at a time. I quickly took the soap to wash my hands and face, hastily lapping up the soapy water, which was probably the sweetest water I’d ever tasted in my life.

We were put in cells – 12 beds for 12 people. They closed the door… and we breathed a sigh of relief. We were given some bread, borshch, oatmeal, stew, and tea. We all slept like babies.

The next day, another thirteen people were put in our cell and we gave them our beds so that they could rest. On the night of August 12-13, another ten people were brought in from the detention center on Okrestin Lane in Minsk. They’d already been sentenced from 12 to 25 days.

We were convinced that the protests had been quashed and that we’d never leave this place.  But, for some reason or another, I was released on August 13. We were met by a crowd of people, applauding loudly and looking at us as if we were some kind of heroes. They gave us food and drink, and drove us back to Minsk. I suddenly realized the protests were still ongoing, the doctors were on strike, and popular TV host Yevgeni Perlin had left Belarus-1 channel. This news raised my spirits, and I knew I hadn’t spent three days behind bars for anything.

Marat, the doctor

I was arrested on August 9, and spent two and a half days in the detention center on Okrestino Lane. I was waiting at the bus stop when a mini-van pulled up, OMON officers jumped out, grabbed me firmly by the neck, and shoved me inside.

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I was taken to the Oktiabrskoe District Department of Internal Affairs. Actually, the police officers were quite polite and treated me properly. One of them even told me I could text my family and friends to let them know where I was. They wanted to let me go, but the guy in charge received an order that he should pack everyone into the paddy wagon and take them to the detention center on Okrestino.

We were treated differently at this center. They spoke to us rudely, pushed us around, and threw some random foot jabs, aiming at the back or the shoulder blades. Several protesters were beaten on the hands and told to hold their arms more tightly behind their backs.

I guess their mood depended on how long they’d been working. The longer they worked, the angrier they got. They took out their frustration on us, beating us arbitrarily on the knees, on the back, etc.

Photo: courtesy of Marat

The bloodiest night was from August 10-11. Protesters were beaten violently in the streets. Piercing cries, inhuman screams, OMON guys cursing and yelling, raising their truncheons and beating people relentlessly… They poured out their anger on anyone and everyone who crossed their path!

I’m absolutely sure that taser guns (electroshock weapons) were used on some prisoners. It’s a very distinctive sound. You hear the person trying to scream, then the sound is suddenly cut off as the charge passes through his body.

Back at the detention center, we were threatened and told that we wouldn’t get any food for three days. Then a biker guy asked the attending police officer to stop the beatings. He gave him a cold stare and left the cell. A few minutes later, a uniformed woman came in and doused him with at least eight liters of water. That night, we all slept on a damp floor.

I’m absolutely sure that taser guns (electroshock weapons) were used on some prisoners. It’s a very distinctive sound. You hear the person trying to scream, then the sound is suddenly cut off as the charge passes through his body.

We were forced to sign the protocols. I was charged with disturbing the peace (Article 23.34 of the Administrative Offense Code). They told us that we’d be released in two hours. Well, they probably forgot… We waited for hours but realized that nothing would happen that night.

Yes, there was shooting on the streets. I don’t think they were shooting directly at the people, but they definitely wanted to frighten us, firing in the air or to the side. They don’t want to kill anyone, just cripple and humiliate as many as they can. These verbal and physical abuses are aimed at degrading you as a human being. There’s no more “I”; you’re not even allowed to raise your head to see who you’re with. As soon as they see you lifting your head, they hit you brutally on the neck.

We supported each other, saying that ours was a just cause. We have a saying: “If you weren’t arrested, then you aren’t Belarusian!”

As soon as they see you lifting your head, they hit you brutally on the neck.

They filmed me from all angles, and four times. They have a special facial recognition system. If you turn up at another rally or event, this system will recognize you, and you may be charged with organizing riots.

They woke us up in the middle of the night, put us against the wall and told us we were going home. They shoved us into a vehicle and started hitting us, shooting everything on camera, beating us heavily with truncheons, and shouting:

“This will teach you not to go out!”; “This will teach you to choose the right person to support!”; “You bastards, you won’t go anywhere now!”

They made me sing the Belarusian anthem… well, not sing, but recite the text like a mantra. After that, we were taken to the gate, and the last thing they gave me was a strong kick in the butt.

Sergei (the name has been changed)

I spent a day and a half at the detention center in Okrestino Street. I was arrested on August 10, while walking in a park in Minsk with my girlfriend. The police were suspicious because they found a mask in my backpack. I mean… it’s for COVID, tear gas, but they didn’t listen. Later, I learned that my girlfriend managed to make it home safe and sound.

They don’t give you any reasons; they just grab you off the street

I was very lucky as they didn’t beat me so much, just a couple of hard blows as I was getting into the vehicle. Maybe because I listened and followed their orders, that is, doing squats, running around, getting down on my knees, putting up my hands. The guys who received a hard blow on the head were unable to follow their orders. They stumbled in pain, they fell to the ground. The OMON fellas beat them with truncheons, sometimes kicked them really hard. Things often got out of hand, and many protesters were seriously injured.

They don’t give you any reasons; they just grab you off the street, even people who are strolling by peacefully. Then, into the paddy wagon with you and on to the detention center. Physical and verbal abuse, and finally forceful methods of “re-education”.

Re-education is imposed through hunger and pain; they say you’re not allowed to clap your hands, chant, or listen to the “leaders”. They call it “taking preventative measures”; this takes place at least twice a day.

If a prisoner starts screaming, saying that he’s hungry or thirsty, or that he needs to use the toilet, he’s taken out and “preventative measures” are applied: they put him against the wall and start beating him.

First, they put me in a tiny cell designed for one person, but several people were already there. There were five of us, standing tightly pressed against each other. There was no ventilation; it was impossible to breathe; some guys were feeling very sick. Of course, no one explained anything, and it was better not to ask.

Finally, we were taken to the detention yard. There were about 80 to 100 men standing in an open area. No chance of sitting or lying down, but thank goodness it wasn’t raining! There was no food. Once a day, they threw us a loaf of moldy bread. It was impossible to go to the toilet, and with so many other people in the other four cells/yards, we didn’t dare ask. At times, they said that fifteen people could come out, but as soon as they left the yard, they were beaten haphazardly. Not everyone came back. I don’t know what happened to them.

There was no food. Once a day, they threw us a loaf of moldy bread.

One of the guards brought a bottle of water for 80 people. We took turns taking small sips. We spent the night in these inhuman conditions; the bosses arrived in the morning and we were finally allowed to go to the toilet. I guess things were more or less okay during the day if you followed orders, but the nights were horrible, frightening. They beat you if you moved, if you uttered a single word, even if you made the slightest noise.

Yes, there was blood; we saw it on the floor, and they brought in protesters with bloody wounds on their heads. But, when they hit you on the legs and back with those truncheons, there are no open wounds. I had large bruises on the elbows, lower backs, buttocks, and legs. But, as I said before, I was very lucky, because they beat most people much harder and longer.

Most protesters released from the detention centers have large bruises over their backs and legs – a result of being beaten with truncheons. Pictured is Aleksandr from an article by  tut.by

The whole point of their “re-education program” was to deprive us of food and water and the toilet, make us stand the whole day and beat us into submission. What do you expect in the end? People’s brains become muddled; they don’t understand what’s happening, so most of them obey or lose consciousness. When a man fell, they called a doctor: sometimes the door opened immediately and the person was taken away; sometimes, he just lay there for 20-30 minutes.

During the night, one man began shaking. We put him on the side and called for a doctor. Thirty minutes went by, he was no longer breathing, there was no pulse. They came and dragged him away, but we don’t know what happened to him. Another man had an epileptic fit, he was foaming at the mouth, no one came for 15-20 minutes. They took him away, but here again, we don’t know what happened to him.

The day I was released, the OMON officers took us out for a final “re-education lesson”. Squats, push-ups, different physical exercises. They beat the men who couldn’t get up. Then, they put us against the wall and yelled in our faces:

We’re releasing you now, you can come and get your stuff in three- four days, and if you continue listening to your so-called “leaders”, you’ll be back here in no time and it’ll be much worse for all of you!”

Naturally, no one wanted to know who these “leaders” were. We nodded out heads in assent… and walked out hastily through the prison gate. I really don’t know why I was released. They didn’t write up a report; I didn’t sign anything. I don’t think I’ll go back there to pick up my belongings. They might decide to throw me behind bars again.

What I want to tell everyone is that these OMON guys don’t regard us as human beings. They were trained to treat us like animals. There is absolutely no way to reason with them, to explain or request something. They seem to be in a state of war, we are the enemy and for them it’s a game of survival.

Aleksei

My brother and I were arrested on August 11, while we were driving along a street in Minsk and waving a white-red-white flag.

We were stopped by traffic cops. They called an OMON team, who dragged us out of the car, threw us on the floor of the minibus, and took our phones. If you refused to give them your PIN, they beat you until they got it out of you.  They looked through all the photos, videos, whether there was anything about the rallies. Then, we were herded into a paddy wagon and dispatched to the Leninsky District Department of Internal Affairs

We were ordered to run toward the garage wall. They beat us randomly while we ran and when we arrived at the wall – on the buttocks and legs. Some construction workers were picked up along the way, and the police found knives in their belongings, probably work knives they used for cutting up sausages. They hit them harder, shouting madly:

“So, you bastards were gonna cut us up into little pieces, eh!”

One guy had some kind of tool in his backpack. They beat him hard; an ambulance took him away when he was already unconscious.

We stood in the yard for half an hour. They took us to the garage, put zip ties on our hands, and lined us up against the walls. We stood there until the next day. The policemen looked on silently, not daring to interfere with the OMON.

On August 12, they loaded us into paddy wagons and drove us to the detention center in Okrestina Street. They threw us into a cell with a metal-grated roof – 127 men to one cell, five by five meters, cold concrete walls.

We asked for water, but no one came. In the middle of the night, they brought us a pail of cutlets, and we devoured them along with a loaf of bread. They took us out to the toilet in groups of ten every two hours. Some men were unable to hold it back, and pissed in the corner. There wasn’t enough room for everyone to sit down, so we took turns, 40-50 men at a time. Some just collapsed to the ground due to the pain in their legs and backs. The young man beside me spent the whole day on his knees.

We heard shouts, groans, and cries of pain whenever new people were brought in. A lot of women were arrested yesterday, and they were beaten just as brutally. When I was leaving, I saw the inscription “Women” on several cameras.

Some blokes in our cell told us about a man who’d shown his ass to the OMON guys. They turned him around and stuck a truncheon up his behind. I didn’t see this, but the story was going around the cell.

At two o’clock in the morning, a policeman came in, read out 55 names and said that we’d be going home. He added that the protocols should be signed. We weren’t allowed to take our time and read the fine print. The guys who refused were beaten until they agreed to sign. Each protocol consisted of 15-20 sheets of paper, carefully stitched together in a thick file. I don’t know what I signed. They asked us what we planned to do on the weekend. We all shouted loudly that we’d behave and stay home.

We entered the yard and heard loud shouting, moans, and groans coming from behind the maintenance shack. It was clear that this was a farewell beating. We stood facing the fence, and in groups of ten, they led us there, threw us on the ground, and hit us mercilessly with their truncheons. The workers and people who had made videos of the rallies were beaten more harshly.

We returned to our places by the fence and walked slowly with side steps towards the exit. They released us at six in the morning.

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Translated by: Christine Chraibi

Source: Abridged from Mediazona

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