"Riot policeman took another baton and said: 'I wanted to be a drummer all my life.'" Survivor stories
The Human Rights Center "Viasna” and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) launched a campaign to document cases of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of protesters on August 9-13. Some testimonies of people who survived torture and violence will be published on our website as evidence of crimes committed by security forces.
Around 9 pm on August 10, 29-year-old Minsk resident Anton [name changed – editor's note] was seeing his friend home. The couple were in a tram when five masked riot policemen ran inside.
"They shouted to me, 'Put your hands in front of you, motherfucker,' and then tied them up with plastic ties, took me out of the tram, put me in front of the police bus, and began beating me. Then they took me into the bus, put me in the rear of the vehicle, and started beating again. The ties broke because I was in pain. I don't know what force they must have applied to have the ties torn! The ties fell on the ground, one policeman saw it and said: 'You fucking wanted to run away.' He started beating me again and twisted my hands behind my back," Anton says.
For some time, the bus was driving around the city and other detainees were being thrown into it. Then everyone was transferred to a police van and brought to the detention center in Akrescin Street. When getting off the van, everybody passed through the "baton corridor".
"In the police van, we were placed in a box: it fits four people, but there were ten of us inside. They brought us to the prison, riot policemen lined up with batons and started shouting: 'The first one, move!' I could hear the hits and people screaming in pain. The second, the third, the fourth... I was the fifth, and they also started beating me while I was walking along that 'corridor.' Then they put me on my knees, head to the wall and tied hands behind my back.
A riot policeman took one more baton from another officer and said: 'I wanted to be a drummer all my life.' Then he started beating us like drums."
After that, Anton and the other detainees were placed in a 10x10-meter exercise yard. It was a concrete box with grating on top. There were a total of 55 people in that "cell".
"There were two 1.5-liter bottles, we asked for water, the policeman threw us a bottle and said: 'This is enough for 24 hours.' In the first two days, we didn't eat or drink at all. There was no drain.
Then we were transferred to a cell that had bunks, water, and a toilet. On the third day, we received some food for lunch – buckwheat and pickled cucumbers. There were 25 of us in the five-person cell and we were only given one loaf of bread.
We were glad that we could drink tap water. We drank water because we wanted to eat, so we tried to dull the edge of hunger.”
On the night of August 10, males were taken out of their cells and beaten.
"Brutally beaten. We cried from hearing how they were suffering. We could hear someone who beat them screaming: 'Do you fucking want a change? I will make a change for you now.'
We were afraid to even say something.
There were hits like when you take a stick and swing at a sack of cement, full-force.
And the riot policeman screams: 'It’s the second night I’m not sleeping because of you, it's not me who is bothering you, you are ruining my life routine.'"
Anton describes those who were brutally beaten inside the walls of the detention center:
"They were all blue: legs, buttocks, thighs, bellies, chests, backs, heads. A man had a white T-shirt, it became red, all covered in blood.
One kid had an open fracture – the bone stuck out of his hand, he was simply bandaged up, that's all. Another guy got a bullet in his stomach. He said that if he hadn't worn a thick hoodie and the bullet had gotten into his spleen, he would have died. They shut his wound with a cotton swab and that was it.
When we were staying in the cell, one kid had his sneakers taken away, he was completely barefoot. We gave him insoles and socks so he could walk and took turns warming ourselves up. One guy had his shirt torn, it was not ripped only on his back. We also gave him clothes to warm up. Two people slept on each bunk, the rest lay on the floor."
Anton and his cellmates were forced to sign the administrative offense reports, all of them were identical: they walked on Victory Square, shouted the slogan "Long Live Belarus", were detained by law enforcement officers.
"They said that if we didn't sign the report, it would be worse, and if we did, the sentence would be softer: fewer days of arrest, or not at all, they might punish us with a fine, and we would be released. Well, we all agreed and signed.”
The trials were held right inside the detention center and lasted five minutes each. There was a judge, a secretary, and a policeman sitting in the room; one could invite a lawyer who was standing in the hall.
"But that lawyer did not inspire any hope at all, he would not actually defend anyone. They just gave the order to put everybody under arrest, not to give fines to anybody. Even the judge, when reading out the sentence, did not look me in the eyes, and if he asked me something, he just looked at the report.
The detainees were sentenced to administrative arrest.
"We waited for a transfer to Žodzina detention center and looked out of the window to see who was coming in: if the soldiers drove in, we could breathe a sigh of relief – we wouldn't be beaten up; if riot police drove in, we were not lucky. We were praying to not get on that transfer, because we could be beaten again when leaving the building, and in the police van itself. We were told that the military did not do that.
But all detainees were released on August 14. Anton was also released:
"At the release, we signed a document in which we pledged not to go to any more rallies, otherwise we would be persecuted. And we were given a two-week curfew: we were not supposed to leave home after 7 pm, because the riot police could get us.
We were welcomed by volunteers as if we were winners. They immediately gave us food, cigarettes and brought us home. I'm so grateful to them!"
Anton believes that he and other guys were detained illegally and that the persons involved should be punished for this.
"It is the violation of human rights, let alone beating up a person. Beating for what? I was just slightly injured: my back, buttocks, legs were blue, but I have recovered from the injuries. But the other guys... A guy came from my home town, he told me that his spine had been broken.
The chiefs should take responsibility for that. Because those were real excesses."
More stories of people who survived police violence and torture:
Andrei Kazanovich, a member of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, was detained by the riot police in Minsk in the evening of August 10. He did not make it to the detention center at Akrescin Street and had no time to sign the administrative offense report at the police department where he had been taken because after the beating he lost consciousness and was taken to hospital. But this did not prevent Kazanovich from being charged with participating in an unauthorized protest.
Minsk resident Piotr Kiryk was detained at about midnight on August 12 when he was getting off a bus with a friend (between Malinaŭka and Piatroŭščyna metro stations). The boy was 16 years old (17 at the moment), but this did not stop the riot police from using force against him.
Some 10 minutes later another van arrived and they threw me there, face against the wall and hands behind my back. There were about 10 people in the cage, including a girl – she was detained because she had bandages and cotton wool in her bag. She was psychologically pressured and cursed.
18-year-old Illia was detained on August 11 near "Pushkinskaya" metro station when he was driving to his native city. He told "Viasna" how inhumanely he was treated and beaten in the police department and in the detention center in Akrescin Street.
Stas and his friend were walking along Arlouskaya Street when they were overtaken by two vans with tinted windows. A law enforcement officer wearing a green uniform came out. The couple asked him how dangerous it was to go forward.
28-year-old Minsk resident Uladzislau Salavei, a kindergarten teacher assistant, was detained on August 9 and placed in the detention center in Akrescin Street. There, he was sentenced to 14 days of arrest and then transferred to a compulsory rehabilitation center near Sluck to serve his time.
Maryia Ambrosava from Minsk told Viasna how she and her husband Yury went to a police station on August 10 to report their son missing, but found themselves in a police van and spent four days in the detention center in Akrescin Street. All these days, they were not aware that their son had been released, so when people were shouting from beatings, Maryia felt it was her son who was screaming.
Aliaksei Prakharenka works as a taxi driver in Minsk. On August 11, he was driving a client when he was stopped and then detained by road policemen. During the detention, they broke Aliaksei's arm. That was the reason why he spent only half an hour in the detention center in Akrescin Street. Nevertheless, in this short time, he had to see a lot.
Siarhei Herasimovich was detained on 10 August at 9 p.m. near the Yubileynaya Hotel in Minsk. He was walking with his journalist colleagues when the cars on the avenue started beeping. Siarhei raised his hand in a Victory sign. Suddenly, the riot police shouted: "Come here!" The journalist walked up and was brutally thrown into the police van where the policemen started beating him with batons.
18-year-old Uladzimir Pahartsau says that he was not beaten so hard compared to other detainees, because he was chosen to give an interview to a state TV channel about the “coordinators of the protests.”
23-year-old Yury Panamarou was detained in the evening of August 11 on his way to a street food market in central Minsk. He told Viasna about the cruelty of his unjustified detention and the conditions under which he was kept for two days in the detention center in Akrescin Street.
On August 11, Dzianis Selivankin was approached by two police officers at the intersection of Pieramožcaŭ Avenue and Mieĺnikajte Street. They asked for his ID. Dzianis replied that he had no passport with him. Then the young man was forced to unlock his smartphone. What they saw in Dzianis’s Telegram enraged them.
Vasil Hushcha (48) was detained in the evening of August 9 near the Maskva cinema next to Niamiha street. He was freed in the morning of August 14. Vasil told “Viasna” about the tortures in the detention center on the Akrescin Street, his transfer to a prison in Žodzina (60 km from Minsk) and the conditions there.
Hleb was detained on August 11 near the shopping center “Skala”. He says that the riot policemen detained him when he simply walked down the street with headphones on his head. He spend the next three days in the police station of Maskouski district, then in the detention center on Akrescin Street and finally in a correctional facility in Sluck.
I turned up by chance, they put me in a bus or in a police van, I don't remember which. They took my phone away at once, broke it, asked for the password, I do not understand on what grounds. Then they took me to the Maskoŭski police department. They didn't beat me much in the police van, but started beating in the police department.
A Minsk resident was detained on August 9 and left the Center for the Confinement of Offenders on the morning of August 12. All this time he, like the other detainees, was deprived of food. Forty people were held in a six-men cell, and riot police insulted and beat people at night. The guy, who chose to remain anonymous, agreed to tell Viasna what he had to go through.