On Tuesday, 27 April, trials were held over some of those detained in a Zhodino sauna last weekend. Nine out of 20 people were sentenced to 15-25 days of administrative arrest. Men and women were charged with Art. 24.23 of the Administrative Code [Violation of the order of organizing or holding mass events].
On Saturday, after the arrest, we recall that some of the people with the protocols were released. As a result, eight people ended up in the local ITT. Among them is one girl, as well as the son of the owner of the sauna.
“Today we came to court at 10 am, but the hearing began only at the end of the working day. Those who were held responsible for the first time were sentenced to 15 days in jail. These are four people. Among them are a young woman and the son of the sauna owner. This guy, by the way, was scheduled for hospitalization today, he was supposed to be operated on, but he remained in custody.”
Three more detainees who had no prior convictions were sentenced to 25 days of arrest.
“Today is my son’s birthday, so at eight in the evening, we had to leave the court to organize a small party for him at a pizzeria. When we were leaving, the trial of the eighth detainee had not yet ended, so I do not know what he was sentenced to. It is not yet known when those who were released home with police reports after the arrest will be tried.”
Later it became known that this person was also sentenced to 25 days.
What happened in the sauna
13 women and 7 men were detained in a sauna located in a private sector in Zhodino in the evening on 24 April. The people themselves, who were in the sauna, tell a slightly different story: they say, they did not hold any “unauthorized mass events”, they were just going to have a bath and hang out.
“The city is small, everyone knows everyone. We have a group of women, we are friends. We learned that there would be no water in the city on Saturday and decided to go to the sauna. We didn’t hide it or made a big deal about it, we just agreed as friends. Then I asked if the others would mind if I took my husband with me. The girls did not mind and we decided to invite other friends and husbands. First, we planned that there would be 10 of us, but slowly the number grew. The sauna has a large steam room and a small one. Initially, they thought to take a small one but then rented a large one.”
The friends came to the sauna at five in the evening. The owner of the sauna told them that previous guests overused the water and asked them to wait.
“We went to a banquet hall. We had drinks and sushi with us. We planned to eat and drink after the sauna, but since we waited anyway, we started earlier. We ate, laughed, talked and then at about seven in the evening riot police broke into the hall. We even had thoughts that this was some sort of prank. The thing is that earlier people wrote in city chats that there would be police raids on the weekend.
But what does the bath have to do with raids? We did not even imagine that this will affect us, that we need to worry and not go. People in uniform shouted, ‘Freeze!’ and ordered to turn off the music. One riot policeman was very rude and shouted obscenities. Others behaved normally. They asked who is in charge of us. Everyone was silent because, well, there were no such people.”
Then, according to the interlocutor, the security forces told everyone to take their stuff and go outside one by one. People asked them to explain what was going on, why they were being detained, but no one explained anything.
“When I went downstairs, I saw other people standing along the wall. There was the owner of the sauna and his wife. The guy was barefoot, in one T-shirt, with bruised elbows and handcuffed. His legs were already blue from the cold, he was shaking. It turned out that this guy lives in the owner’s house, it was his son or brother. He slept in his room, woke up, wanted to take something in the nightstand, bent over. Riot policemen broke in, they attacked him from behind. He stood up abruptly, waved his hands, they took it for resistance and began to use force against him – he told us in the police station. We asked to give the guy shoes and get dressed, but we were not even allowed to throw a towel over him. Then they brought some rubber slippers for him.”
During the search of personal belongings, the woman was standing nearby and saw what were in people’s bags and backpacks.
“Someone had a phone with the Pahonia coat of arms sticker on it. These are all “protest symbols” that they found. We didn’t have any symbols or flags. People had swimwear, towels, shampoos, hairdryers, that’s all. Some had pills. We were later told that this is why they suspected us of using drugs. They suspected us, but, apparently, not really: they did not take a single pill for examination. When they searched the things, we were told to get on the bus.
And suddenly from the banquet hall, we heard a voice, ‘Whose backpack? Whose backpack?’ A white-red-white flag was allegedly found there. But none of ours was there anymore. And we don’t know if there was actually a backpack there. Each took his own bag with him. Well, and, probably, there should have been by which it would be possible to identify who it belongs to? Phone, some documents. It’s not just a backpack with one flag in it. They didn’t show us a backpack.”
In the police department, people were shown a photo with a spread flag on the floor in the banquet hall. They assume that it was spread on purpose.
“All our ‘protest’ was that, but we are not at sure about this, they found a white-red-white flag in someone’s backpack that we did not see. Then they took us to the police department, put us in the corridor. We had a feeling that they did not know what to accuse us of. One policeman asked about drugs, said that they got a message. They even asked if any of us was joking about drugs. But they did not take any blood or urine for tests. Just imagine: there were mostly women 40+ and their husbands. Typical drug addicts.
Another policeman told us that an administrative case was opened against us for an unauthorized mass event. Well, if they arrived 15 minutes later, they would get us out into the street in swimsuits. It’s surreal!”
Human rights activists report that a total of nine people were convicted: Yevgeny Litvinov, Yury Shestak, Artem Krot, Vasily Ovcharenko and Sonya Yermochenok [15 days of administrative arrest], Alexey Kozlov, Alexander Kovalev, Yevgeny Shelepen [25 days of administrative arrest] and Stanislav Repkin [25 days of administrative arrest].
Recall that on Saturday the press service of the Internal Affairs Directorate of the Minsk Regional Executive Committee reported: people “organized an unauthorized mass event using protest symbols.” All those present in the sauna were taken to the police station, where they were charged with participation in an unauthorized mass event. Some of them were repeatedly brought to administrative responsibility for participating in rallies, the regional police said.
Zhodino residents claimed that they decided to go to the sauna since the city was planning to shut down hot water. They had no protest symbols with them. As reported by human rights activists, the four detainees went on a hunger strike in protest against the charges brought against them.