"We brought you to the execution, guys." 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.
21-year-old Mikita was detained by riot policemen in Minsk on the night of August 9-10 for having a white ribbon in his pocket. The young man was on his way home but ended up in the detention center at Akrescin Street, where he was sentenced to 13 days of arrest under Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for allegedly shouting slogans at protest actions. Now Mikita stays in a Minsk hospital. He is diagnosed with a head injury, contusions, including on internal organs, and abrasions. Mikita told "Viasna" what happened to him that night and how the following five days passed.
"Why are you sitting here, do you want to be detained?"
"On August 9, there was no Internet, my friends and I decided to take a walk around the city. We saw some people and a lot of police. Then we reached the bus stop and the guys went home. I called my friend who at that time worked in a cafe in Zybitskaya Street. I decided to go to that place to get him and go home together because we live next to each other.
When I got to Niamiha, there was a cordon, a lot of cars, special vehicles. I sat down on a bench and got into a conversation with some girls.
People began to scatter away. Special squads started to get off the police vans. They ran after people, grabbed them, the people fell and were dragged on the ground. When we wanted to get up and leave, a squad stopped us: 'What are you doing here? If you do not want to be detained, sit still.' We obeyed and sat down. Again the special squad goes somewhere: 'Why are you sitting here, if you want to be detained – we can do it, otherwise, get away from here.' It repeated several times.”
"When we overtook a police van, three people in balaclavas jumped out of it."
“We got to Burger King in Niamiha Street and met a friend. We wanted to go get the car that was parked in Kharuzhay Street. We approached the bridge, but couldn't pass, they told us to go to the Sports Palace, there was a passage. We went there. There they flipped us off frankly and threatened with detention. One of them said, 'Guys, go further, towards Frunzenskaya metro station, you can pass there.' Through the yards and small roads, we managed to arrive at the 'Minsk is a Hero City' monument. There was a police van, and next to it, on the pedestrian walkway, there was a masked man in black. We saw that some girls were walking peacefully, and thought that everything was fine. But when we overtook the police van, three people in black and balaclavas jumped out of there. They had patches on their chest – a triangle and a number. I was surrounded by the three of them, one came up to my friend. Someone took out a baton. They said: 'Guys, show me the phones, show me the contents of your pockets and bags.' I did not have anything special on me. I took out the phone, unlocked it. He started browsing the phone and said: 'Empty your pockets.' I had money, keys, and a white ribbon in my pocket. When he saw the ribbon, he said: 'Now it's clear.'"
"It's because of people like you that I'm afraid to let my children play in the street."
"I started to pack my stuff, the phone was in my hand. At that moment, he shouted something abusive and hit me in the face, on the head. And again. Before that, somebody hit my leg from behind. Then, three people twisted me and threw into the police van. There, I got beaten again. I tried to protect myself in a sitting position as much as I could. He shouted: 'It is because of people like you that I am afraid to let my children play in the street.'
Inside the van, we had a conversation with a riot policeman. We said, 'How is that possible, we were on the way home, we just got caught in the street, beaten up...' He replied, 'I see you guys are okay, sensible, I heard and saw everything, we'll just take you to the police station, there you either sign the report or tell everything as it was, and I think they will let you go.'
We were sitting like that for some time. Another person was taken in, he was waiting for a wrap near a street shop. He hadn't been beaten much yet. Then the second van arrived. A small column of people in balaclavas, helmets, with batons, was formed. They shouted: 'Look down! Hands behind your backs! Run!' They beat us unmercifully with batons transferring to another police van and threw us on our knees on the floor. We drove for about 20 minutes, if someone moved, they were kicked. Again we were transferred to another police van. Again, they beat us on the way between the two vans. I was thrown into a metal box and locked there. There was a bench inside. I hit the wall with my shoulder and head."
"We ran up to the third floor crouched and were beaten with batons along the way."
"For a very long time, we drove to an unknown place. We went out accompanied by masked people with batons. We were taken to a room with cameras. We were put facing the wall: we did not see or understand anything. They ordered us to undress and started recording it. I was taken to a room for the inspection, completely undressed. I asked a person there: 'Where are we?' 'In prison.' That's all, I didn't ask him anything else, because I saw that he was tense. He looked through everything, removed by shoelaces, put everything in a bag.
We ran up to the third floor crouched and were beaten with batons along the way. They put people in cells in threes. Our cell was meant for six people. After a while, there were 32 men in that cell. Of various ages and professions. We did not know anything, did not understand, we only heard screams, groans, we heard people being beaten on the street."
"A pregnant woman was beaten when she asked for help."
"Someone constantly came up to the door, called out surnames. If a person was sleeping or did not respond the first time, or it took him long to get up, he was taken away and immediately beaten. It was difficult to wash my shirt and let it dry because we needed to put it on wet when a guard came in.
Once somebody shouted: 'Everybody stand up, look down.' He opened the door and watched. Someone looked at him: 'Bastards, why do I feel the look on me? If anyone else looks up, I and my baton will have fun.' He said that in obscene language.
There were a lot of unpleasant episodes. For example, there was a pregnant woman in the opposite cell, she got 25 days of arrest. Something happened to her stomach, she started screaming, asking for help. She was beaten up for it.
The KGB would come, film us, and ask provocative questions like 'Why did you throw stones?', 'Who paid you: the U.S. State Department or the Russian Federation?' After such an interrogation, they would ask each other: 'Where is he going, back to the cell or a separate room in our agency?' No one was sent to that room, I don't know, maybe they were just intimidating us. They tried to break us psychologically as much as possible."
"This is not consistent with the reports, it can not be this way."
“We were fed only on the third day. They gave us 100 grams of bread and some porridge. Generally, I do not eat porridge. I took a spoon and tried to eat not to starve to death, but I started feeling sick. Eventually, I shared it with someone. The bread was eaten with stinky tap water. On the fourth day, it all repeated. The light in the cell was on all the time.
I was sentenced only on the third day. The trial was absolutely inadequate. The judge arrived, I was taken to a room. He informed me that I was detained on August 9 at 9 p.m., that I chanted something. 'Do you agree?' I said, 'I agree if it can speed up my release. Can I tell you what really happened?' I told him the truth. He said, 'This is not consistent with the reports, it can not be this way. So, don't you agree?' He meant I was cheating. I said, 'It's up to you, I told you how it happened.' 13 days of arrest. I was taken away.
I went back to my cell. They kept calling people somewhere. I was in a horrible moral condition. We didn't get any information from the outside. Through the feeder, we could hear people shouting the time.”
"We brought you to the execution, guys."
"On the fourth day, we were taken outside and kneeled at the fence. We stood on sand and rocks for about an hour. If someone felt bad and started stretching his legs, he got beaten. Someone asked if we could lie on the ground, a guard said, 'Yes, you can'. We lay on the sand because our limbs were numb.
Then they commanded, 'Get up! Follow the sound.' There was a corridor of special police, they shouted something, hit us with batons. I ran, almost stumbled upon an officer, because they stood in the shape of a zigzag, he pushed me away. We ran to a police van. We spent quite some time inside before it started. Then, we drove in a terrible heat for 40 minutes. It was sunny, even though it was evening. We were trying to lower our heads to get air. While we were driving, the cars were beeping, people were applauding – it was nice.
We had a pierced wheel, as it turned out later. Someone asked, 'Guys, where are we, why did we stop?' They shouted with serious faces, 'We brought you to the execution, guys.' Then, after two or three minutes, they started laughing at how cool their jokes were."
"My parents did not know anything about me for four days."
"We came to the compulsory rehabilitation center near Sluck. We were kindly welcomed there. We even washed. I'm really grateful to the officers who treat people so well. We stayed in Sluck until Friday, for less than 24 hours.
We were all brought outside, forced to sign a piece of paper saying that we repent of what we did, that we wouldn't do it anymore, that we were warned about criminal responsibility – it mentioned five articles. I asked a policeman what are those articles. He said rudely, 'Google it. Now sign it.' I didn't want to sign such a crazy thing to the last, it was a very hard decision for me. Before that, I had not signed anything. And they let us go without any papers. Without money, possessions, shoelaces – just like that, we were thrown out on the street in some town.
People met us very emotionally: they shouted, waved at us, offered us everything we could imagine. It was very pleasant and touching. My parents were already waiting there; they didn't know anything about me for four days."
More stories of people who survived police violence and torture:
Bartender Ruslan was detained on August 10 at 2 a.m. in Zybitskaya Street in Minsk when he was returning home from work. He spent the next three days at the detention center in Akrescin Street. Ruslan told "Viasna" what happened in the detention center on August 9-12.
"A riot policeman sat on me in the police van and exclaimed: 'Look at my nice chair!'" Survivor stories
Andrei Viarshenia was brutally pulled out of his car by riot policemen on the night of August 11, when he was driving his friends home past the Riga shopping center. He was being beaten all the way to the detention center and after, until he lost consciousness. The man shared his detention story with "Viasna".
Ivan told "Viasna" the details of what happened: during the detention, his arm was broken and no ambulance was called, even when he reported a heart condition. The doctor at Žodzina detention center said that his arm was fine because it had not swollen up. The guy received medical attendance only after the trial.
"The man in civvies said very rudely, 'Show me your leg.' I couldn't roll up my pants, so I said, 'There are a lot of men here, maybe you should invite a policewoman.' He said, 'I don't care, come on, take them off.' I had to take down my pants and stand in my underwear just in the middle of the assembly hall.
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.