The detainees who were released from the pre-trial detention center in Minsk give deeply shocking first-hand accounts of savage treatment, humiliation and torture they endured behind the bars. Many are badly injured, some were taken to hospitals in ambulances. They had no access to water or food for several days.
The release of the people detained at post-election peaceful protests from the temporary detention center on Okrestin Street started at about 10.30 pm on 13 August. The more people came out the doors of the centre, the more harrowing stories TUT.BY reporters heard.
Here are just some of first-hand accounts by people who were released a day earlier:
“My son had a tooth knocked out during his arrest. They [police officers] swore and beat people with the words: “We will teach you whom to vote for. We will teach you whom to love.” When we arrived to the detention center, the men were put on their knees in the rain – so they stood for four hours. We heard how they were beating them. When we [women] heard those terrible screams, we cried in the cell. We were scared to hear that”.
“52 people were placed in a four-bed cell. We could only stand there. One elderly woman burst into tears and turned to the warden with the words: “Come on, turn on the gas to kill us.”
“When they [the detained] were brought to the detention center, they all were put face down on the ground. Law enforcement officers were beating them. When they were beating one of the detainees, who was an independent observer at the election, they kept repeating: “Here’s democracy for you!”
“There were many young girls. One said that when she was detained, police officers were strangling her, put a white bracelet in her moth and said: “Go ahead, eat your bracelet” [people were encouraged to wear white bracelets on the election day to indicate they vote for the opposition].
Here’s democracy for you!
“Men are treated the worst. Sometimes, they put in a cell ten times more people than they should. To breathe and not to faint, the guys waved their T-shirts over their heads. The worst thing was when the warden threatened to close the “feeder” [a hole through which air gets into the cell] if the detainees keep asking questions or express indignation.”
Znak.com correspondent Nikita Telizhenko was one of several Russian journalists in Minsk on 10 August to cover the presidential election. Telizhenko was arrested and spent the next two days as an eyewitness to the “endless beatings, humiliation, and pain” .
“As we were getting out of the paddy wagon, the officers lined up and kicked and beat us with batons. They said we should have stayed home, called us “fucking revolutionaries”.
“They put 65 people in a cell 4.5 by 4.5 meters. We took turns to sit on the floor. We were given 2.5 liters of water for 65 people, stretching each one a sip. I would be lying if I say that we were not fed – they gave us a loaf of black bread. One loaf. For 65 people. The toilet was also a luxury, and going to the toilet was accompanied by ridicule and shouting. Three people peed at the same time in order to do it in the allotted time”
In the corridors, people were severely beaten if they asked for food or to call a lawyer. They begged to stop, but instead answers there were told: “You knew where you were going. You knew where you will end up. Here’s a change that you asked for”. It is very scary to hear groans and kicks with boots against the body.
“Before releasing us, they bullied us in the yard. We were forced to do army exercises. Those who could not do what they asked were beaten with bats. After that, crawling on the ground, we were brought to the fence and released”.
“People there [at the police station] were lying on the floor like a living carpet, and we had to walk right on them. I tried not to walk on the people, yet I stepped on someone’s hand. But I did not see where I was going because my head was pointed strictly to the floor.
When our guards got bored, they forced us sing songs, mainly the anthem of Belarus
“Everyone on the floor, face down,” they yelled at us. And I understand that there is nowhere to lie, people are lying around the puddles of blood.
“When our guards got bored, they made us sing songs, mainly the anthem of Belarus, and filmed this on their phones. When they did not like how we sang, they beat again. When one sang badly, they forced him to sing again. They judged who sang how. “If you think that you are in pain, when until prison. It will be painful there. Your loved ones will not see you again,” the guards told us.
In audio and video pieces shared online by eyewintesses, friends and relatives who waited for their loved one to be released, screams could be heard from inside the Okrestina detention centre in Minsk and some police stations. In the video below, they are chanting “hang in there”.
Footage from one of the police stations in Minsk holding arrested demonstrators. The tears and anguished faces of those outside — who can hear how their friends, relatives and fellow demonstrators are being beaten inside — say everything. pic.twitter.com/BAvWrb5m3X
— Oliver Carroll (@olliecarroll) August 12, 2020
Deputy Interior Minister: There was no torture
All the remaining detainees were to be released on Friday morning, Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Barsukov said, while denying that prisoners had been tortured. The crowd of parents, friends, volunteers and indifferent Belarusians who gathered at the fence of the detention centre met these words with booing and shouted: “You will pay for this!”.
In an hour and a half, journalists counted about ten ambulances that drove up to the Okrestina detention centre. Recall that during the post-election more than 6,700 people were detained, many were severely beaten, more than 250 ended up in hospitals, two people died.
More stories by former detainees can be found on TUT.BY in Russian.