The people we interviewed are of different ages, different occupations and even with different political views. They only ask for one thing – not to reveal their real names. After being repeatedly beaten at Okrestina (detention center where most political prisoners are held), they are afraid they will be targeted again by those who put them on the knees at night and beat with rubber and wooden batons, making them crawl on the floor and scream, “I love OMON” (*riot police).
Warning: you may find some of the accounts below disturbing.
The names of the interviewees were changed for obvious reasons – the photos below talk better than any words. Their bodies are black-and-blue after the beatings and two of them are currently in hospital. One of the man was immediately transferred from strict confinement to the ICU.
My legs are a bloody mess
Mikhail, who is a little bit older than 40 years, has not approved any of the candidates for presidential election and that is why he has voted against all candidates. When after the election on 10 August people took to the streets, he convinced his wife to take a walk on Independence Avenue.
“Near the circus, they blocked an access to pedestrian streets, riot policemen were on both sides of the road. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I approached them and asked why they blocked the street. Their main officer pointed at me, so they captured me. Right away I was put against the wall with my feet as wide as my shoulders’ size, all the standard procedures during an arrest.”
Mikhail says, when police searched him, they did not find anything suspicious because he was outside just to take a stroll. “I had not had any illusions about this political system but, honestly, I was shocked about what I witnessed. I had no idea that situation is so bad.”
He was the first one who was put inside a riot police van, his arms were tied behind his back while he was witnessing others were being detained outside. Others, who were coming back home from work or just riding a bicycle. It all started, when detainees were transferred from a police van into a riot police van.
“Then brutality began, riot police officers showed us their real faces. When they delivered us to a detention center on Okrestina street, they made us stand in a line, with our heads down, arms behind our backs and ordered: “Go!”. And when we were passing they were beating us on our backs with rubber police batons, cheerfully screaming, pressuring us, with dogs barking in the background. ‘Just you wait! So you wanted changes? There you have them. How much did they pay you? Confess!’
Then they took us into a 6х8-meter yard. It had metal net above, floor and walls were made of concrete. There were around 80 people and the next day there were 120. One guy lost his shoes during the arrest, so his was standing with bare feet for almost the whole day on the cold concrete floor. The guards had a pair of someone’s sport shoes and police slippers, but they did not give them to him. It was painful to look at this guy, some good person gave him his own shoes.”
The man recalls that it was riot police officers, not the guards of the detention centre who beat him three times that night.
“I am a grown-up man, I screamed, howled, I am not going to keep that in secret. I think, they usually beat people at night, so there was no witnesses. Near the prison there is a suburb, besides, police disperse relatives in the evening, so the tortures begin after 1 am. You can’t tell what time of the day there, they take away your watches.
Around 4 am they pushed us outside, put us on our knees on the tile floor with arms, again, behind our backs, heads down. When someone did not understand their orders – they hit this person with a police baton. While we were standing in such condition, they wrote down our details. It was riot police who beat us mercilessly.”
After that, Mikhail was transferred into a cell meant for four people but instead there were 61 persons inside.
“Riot police officers threw one loaf of bread to us which we had to share among 120 people, I even did not get chance to eat. We could take water when going to the restroom, two bottles of water for all the people inside. But they did not allow us to go to the restroom at times.”
Did you see people with injures in a detention centre? Did they get any medical attention?
There were such people, with head and brain injures, open wounds which needed stitches. I did not see it myself that someone’s got emergency medical help.
In the night from Thursday to Friday, when some of the detainees were released, ambulances were coming one by one to take people to hospitals.
“I was forced on my knees a couple of times, this is their favorite type of fun. You can’t see the faces of those who hit you, it is impossible. They were wearing helmets and we had no right to lift or turn our heads, those who tried were immediately beaten. The third time I was beaten before they let me go home. At 4 am they threw me outside and told that they would lecture me on what I should tell mass media. I had no idea what they meant and thought that we will have a conversation.
We were put with our faces down to the ground and they hit our legs even more fiercely than before.
Or it can be that I was unlucky to face a sadist, they beat us and said, ‘Are you going to take to the streets again?’, I answered: ‘No’. But he went into such rage and in a blind frenzy was hitting me even harder. Then they made us stand up near the wall and told us to do squats for a long time. If we did squats badly, they hit us. My legs are a mess, they have mutilated them. And then they told us: ‘Now you know how to act with mass media. What will happen to you if you happen to be here again.’ The scariest part is that most of them are young men who seem to truly believe that they punish evil people.
Mikhail was released from a detention centre without an official police report, there were no trial either. He has already asked for medical help.
I crawled while they were smahing me with a baton
There is no place without a bruise on Maxim’s body: his legs, arms, bottom are covered with dark-violet bruises, his head is stiched. He was detained near a shopping mall, where anti-terrorist ALZMAZ special force and riot police were working.
“When they arrest you, they hit you over and over again. I had my backpack with medical protective masks, respirators, gloves. One of them decided that my backpack belongs to the protests’ leader and decided to clarify that, I denied everything. Then three riot policemen took me around the corner of the shopping mall, showed a live grenade, put it in my underwear and said: ‘We will pull out the ring, you will explode and we will say that you blew yourself up with self-made bomb. We will not be held accountable for your death. They put a grenade in my underwear and ran for a safe distance from me, a couple of meters, then came back and started hitting me. And then they took me into a riot police van, all this time I had my arms tied behind my back.”
In the police van, as Maxim says, police didn’t allow people to sit down, they were thrown one on top of another, and from time to time they got hit or walked over by the police.
“My arms became numb because they were tied up behind my back. If you have any complains, they beat you on the hands. In the police van, there was an asthmatic, he started suffocacting, screaming. Then a policeman approached him and put his leg on his neck strangling him: ‘I don’t care if you croak’.”
Maxim says that ALMAZ guys are the worst. They could approach and hit a detainee in the face without any apparent reason for that. He also recalls that they deliberately beat him and other detained men on the legs targeting their knees so they were not able to walk.
“Riot policeman was constantly holding his leg on my neck, pressured it, beat me. If you have a phone with you, they break it or try to unlock. When you refuse to tell your password, they interrogate you. They stripped a guy and said that if he didn’t tell his password they’d rape him with batons. So he agreed.
There were young girls in a van, they were abused whenever they tried to bring attention to the guys who felt sick. One guy from riot police, can’t say whether he was from OMON or ALMAZ, approached a girl, grabbed her hair and started screaming at her: ‘Shut up, you wh*re! Don’t you dare open your mouth’. He shaved off part of her hair. He then ordered her to stay silent or they would take her to male prisoners to rape her and then take her to forest.”
Maxim was beaten constantly before they threw him into another police van “like a sack of potatoes.”
“I was crawling where they told me to and whenever I did it too slowly because of the injured legs and arms tied behind my back, they kept on beating me. While I was crawling, a riot policeman approached, he put his leg on my back and started hitting my head. He was smashing me with not just a rubber police baton but a special one with a steel rode inside.
It is hard to say how many hits I got, I was unconscious and they threw others on top of me. Those who were laying on me were being beaten too. I was lying thinking: whether it was better to be above the pile of people where you can breathe but were constantly beaten or under them where you can’t breathe but at least they didn’t hit you.”
When he was transported to a police station, the man couldn’t stand on his feet and was holding onto other people. At some point, all of them were pushed up against a wall and he realised that he was bleeding from a head wound. So, they took him aside where he was lying on the floor until the doctors came.
“I should say that they didn’t beat me there, I passed out a few times. I was shaking, saliva was coming out of my mouth, my arms and legs were black and blue. Medics arrived and told that I need to be hospitalised. Only this allowed me to escape more torture. I want to thank doctors, they do their best, provide medical help and calm us down. We have the very best doctors.”
They used tear gas and a taser
Sergey was taken from the detention center on Okrestina street straight to the ICU of a Minsk hospital. His famliy, after seeing his condition, recorded his story. They say they did this to keep him safe, so no one would force him to change his testimony later. Not to bother the man, his relatives passed the recorded interview to TUT.BY journalists.
“I was at Pushkinskaya metro station, separated from the rest of the crowd, and was walking home alone. A small van drove up to me, four people forced me onto the ground and started beating me with batons. They forced me into the van and drove for less than an hour, then they threw me into a riot police van. There they used tear gas and tasered before taking me to detention centre on Okrestin street. When we arrived, I was beaten again and forced into a plank position, this lasted for an hour.”
According to Sergey, about 150 people were held in the yard of the detention centre for the entire day. The man has diabetes and needs insulin, althought at the detention center, they asked if anyone was sick and he replied. But his response was ignored.
“We didn’t have any food for two days, only water, we were taken to the restroom once in three-four hours. When we had a chance to go to the restroom, we filled a bottle with water. All 150 people were drinking from the same bottle. (…) Then we had one meal, a cup of tea and a couple of bread loaves. (…) The first time I got sick, they called a doctor, tested me with a glucometer and told me: ‘It’s tolerable, stay here.’ The second time I started vomiting, I was taken to a doctor, he started an IV, I got even worse, they called for an ambulance and that’s how I ended up in hospital.”
Big policeman came and sat on my girlfriend
Alexander is at hospital too, he got here after spending time at Okrestina detention center. On 11 August, he and his girlfriend were driving on Victors Avenue, they honked two-three times to express solidarity [with protesters], this is when they were stopped by traffic police.
“We were stopped and asked to come out of the car, but we stayed inside, there were people in black uniform, who were they? We asked them for their names and identification, but they started smashing our windows and shot at close range.”
Together with his girlfriend he was forced into a car. The man says that a rubber bullet hit his left shoulder. In 10 minutes the car stopped, Alexander’s girlfriend was let out and he stayed in the car.
“Two riot policemen were holding my hands, the third one was hitting me in the face with his fist and baton, and when I started choking on my blood, they turned me around. He started beating me on the back and the back of my head, then most likely I got my brain injury. This lasted for 10-15 minutes, then they forced my girlfriend back into the car and drove. I was passing out, and they were strangling me with their boots.”
At first the couple was brought to the Frunzesky district internal affairs office in Minsk and forced on the ground in the yard next to it. Then they were taken to the assembly hall and where they stood in a doggy-style position.
“My girlfriend weighs 50 kilograms, and a big policeman decided to sit on her. She was forced into a “doggy-style” position, you know, a position when you are on your knees and you are supporting yourself with your head instead of your hands. It’s very difficult to stay in this position. My girlfriend kept saying that it hurt a lot, but he was hitting her on her buttock and going through her phone. Then he got up, smashed her phone and went somewhere. I was next to her, but couldn’t do anything. They picked me up, took me into a room, and started beating me to extract false evidence. They wanted me to confirm that I hit two officers with my car while being detained and they were at hospital at the moment.”
“They put me on the floor, three of them were holding my arms and legs, while one of them was hitting my legs, back and buttocks with a police baton, sometimes in the head too. In order to survive and make them leave me, I told that I could accidentally hit someone with my car but I didn’t see that. In another room, there was a man in a black balaclava with a camera. They put me up against the wall and started recording: ‘Tell me what happened”. I told him what I knew, he stopped the recording, said that if I do not want to cooperate, they will make me do it. People in balaclavas came in and for the next 20 minutes they were beating me. This is how I gave my statement.”
Later they were transferred to the Central district internal affairs office for more explanations with the Investigative Committee.
“We were lying on the ground of the police station yard for eight hours, there were about 100 of us. It was impossible to sleep, they were constantly walking around us, if you spread your legs in a wrong way, they beat you in the groin with military boots. They hit you so hard, so that you don’t put your legs together again.
They checked personal belongings, and when they found a hammer in a backpack of a 14 year-old teen, they were beating him for an hour. It was a horrible night. They were beating everyone. In the morning, they forced us to the wall, we were freezing and asked them to allow us to do squats to keep warmer. After that, one by one we singed a police report which we were not allowed to read. If you refused to sign, they will make you do that in just 20 minutes.”
“Then there was a ride to the detention center on Okrestin street. They threw five people into a small cell of a van, there was an old man with us, we let him sit down, while ourselves were standing. Police van didn’t move for four hours, in two hours we couldn’t breath, we knocked, screamed but were ignored. It’s a miracle we didn’t suffocate to death. They opened the door for five minutes after and closed it again.”
He spent one day in the yard of the detention centre. He said that, under these circumstances, he did not want to eat but was very thirsty.
“There were wounded people, some with gun wounds on their arms. Besides, it was freezing cold, so we came up with a plan: we were lying and hugging each, that’s how we got warm. I was released in the morning, but before that I was beaten again. They took turns two times and were beating me for one hour, when policemen got tired they asked others to continue. Those who did not have any bruises were beaten so hard they were screaming like kids. They released us one by one. I saw women’s hair in the streets, it looked like someone threw away wigs. When they released me, they said: ‘Run and don’t look back!’. So you run without asking.”
Alexander is going to bring to account those who tortured him. He has a head and brain injury, his right palm is broken, he has multiple bruises, a wound in the shoulder, head and leg injuries.
Translated by Katya Keiushka