"Let's take him to the police van, let the guys have fun." 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.
Late in the evening of August 11, 21-year-old Minsk resident Yakau Sukhnata was detained by plain-clothed police near the Uručča metro station as he was returning home. Now Yakau is treated in a Minsk hospital after rough detention and several days spent in the detention center in Akrescin Street and the compulsory rehabilitation center near Sluck. The young man told "Viasna" what happened to him in the evening of August 11 and on the following days.
"I stumbled upon a minibus with tinted glass, and it stumbled upon me"
According to Yakau, he was detained by five plain-clothed police officers.
"I was walking towards my house. I heard stories that people were picked up in the yards and right from public transport stops, so I decided to take a detour. On that very detour, I stumbled upon a minibus with tinted glass, and it stumbled upon me.
The officers who detained me were wearing regular clothes: a T-shirt, pants, and sneakers. They got out of the minibus. I was quite brutally detained. They immediately grabbed my phone because I was in the middle of a conversation. They said a few words and put me on the ground or my knees, I do not remember that for sure. And then the beatings started.
They tried to unlock my phone, but of course, I did not immediately agree to give the password, and it cost me a blow in the face. They beat me exclusively with their hands and in the face, the batons were not used. When they unlocked my phone, they found subscriptions to certain Telegram channels. I think they can be called opposition channels. They also found text messages, as there was no Internet in the country at that time, so my friend sent me news via SMS. Their content was something like: 'Riot police unloaded at Uručča,' 'There is an open entryway,' 'People get picked up from bus stops.'
When the police saw these messages, they immediately started peppering me with questions: 'Who is your coordinator?', 'Who pays you?', 'How much do you get paid?' and similar questions that I had no answer to because so far I have not been paid for any rally."
"One of the officers stepped on my ear and just folded it in half"
The 21-year-old Minsk resident says that the interrogation with beatings continued in the minibus.
"I was lying in that minibus, I was beaten up, I tried to protect myself. I held my hands next to my face and curled into a ball, but if I covered my ear, I was beaten in the face, if I covered the face, I was hit in the ear. And the climax of it was that one of the officers took me by the scruff, then grabbed my hair and lifted the head, ordered to look into his eyes and asked: ‘So who pays you?' When I said that nobody paid me, I got a blow in the face. And again: 'How much are you paid?' I answered: 'Not at all' – a got a punch in the face. After the question 'Who is your coordinator?' the answer was 'Nobody', and again I got a punch in the face. For each answer, I immediately was punched. Also, I was kicked on a biceps. I was wearing a T-shirt, and the rest of the detainees later asked where I got such a bruise because it was purple, like a 'cosmic bruise'.
I remember that one of the officers stepped on my ear and just folded it in half. Subsequently, I had an ear injury. The ear was swollen, the police laughed and said: 'Oh, the ear of a wrestler. It felt like they were just having fun.
There was also a moment when they were playing 'good and bad cop'. Someone came up to me and asked for my name. And then, 'Well, Yakau, I am treating you well, these guys will beat you, but I won't, so tell me, who pays you?' I answered that nobody paid me and asked to stop the beatings. When he understood that he couldn't get anything out of me, he started threatening that I would go to prison for 10-15 years."
"Hey, Butcher, bring the cuffs"
Yakau was taken to the Frunzienski police department, where he spent about 24 hours.
"They talked to each other: 'Don't put on this body vest.' The other one answered that safety was above all. As a result, the officer put on the vest without any identification marks and a jacket on top. The bulletproof vest had pockets in which I noticed two loading cases with combat or plastic bullets. In his belt kit, I saw two grenades, not the ones that you saw on the photos after the rallies at Puškinskaja and Riga. Those were ‘cans’, i.e. stun or gas grenades, and these were lemon and pear-shaped, but I don't know what exactly they were. Of course, it was scary because a man with combat weapons threatened me with a 15-year sentence and nobody was around. It was scary.
One of the call signs that I remembered was 'Butcher'. They talked to each other and said, 'Hey, butcher, bring the cuffs.' I was really scared when I heard this. Then they turned off the lights in the van and I was taken to the police station.”
"Listen, let's take him to the police van and let the guys have some fun"
“In the vestibule of the police department, I complained about nausea, because I was beaten exclusively on the head and it affected my health. I said that I could throw up and asked to be taken outside. They showed some mercy and took me out. I sat down on the curb and gulped fresh air to get to my senses.
While I was sitting, a masked officer came up to me and told his colleagues, 'Listen, let's take him to the police van and let the guys have some fun.' That was exactly what happened. I was pushed into the van, put on my stomach, ordered to keep my hands behind my back, and they beat my buttocks with batons for 20 seconds."
"An officer was collecting the phones and threw them at the gym wall"
"Then I was taken to the gym, there were about 200 people in it. We were warned about the phones. But anyway, there were so many people, and it was clear that somebody had notifications on, relatives called, alarms rang. If the calls did not stop after the warning, a female officer came up, took the phone and threw it at the wall of the gym as if it was a ball. Then she would pick it up and throw it again in the center of the room for everyone to see, then pick it up again, and if she had enough strength, she would break it in half. Then she threw it at the feet of the detainees and produced a taunt like 'Let somebody call you now.' And we sat there and could not react in any way hoping not to draw attention to ourselves.
We were all sitting on our knees, looking down, hands behind our backs. The knees of many were bruised and covered in blood. I had a head injury and could not lower my head, because the blood rushed to it and I was in terrible pain, but no one cared. We were not given any food or water, only if we found a bottle in someone's backpack. No medical care was also provided.
Near the gym in which we were kept, there was something like a locker room, with white tiles on the walls. They checked the lists of detainees and when they got to my name, they ordered me to follow the riot policemen with my hands behind my back. A masked officer was already sitting inside the room with a tripod and a small video camera set in front of him. Judging by the experience of different people, I thought that I would be forced to confess something that I naturally had not done. But, fortunately, I was only asked to introduce myself on camera, he made a mug shot. While I was standing there, I noticed someone's blood on the floor.
Afterwards, I wasn't beaten so much because I was bloated. When we were transferred, we passed through the lines of police. When we moved in a large crowd in a bent position, some riot policemen took advantage of hitting us.”
“The trial lasted for three minutes”
Further, Yakau Sukhnat was brought to the detention center in Akrescin Street where he spent 24 more hours. The trial took place there as well.
"The trial lasted for about three minutes. No witnesses, I was just told that I was sentenced to 10 days of arrest and that's all. The report said that I had been detained on August 12 at Kamiennaja horka metro station, where I had shouted various slogans. However, they detained me on August 11 at Uručča for no reason. The report also included the names of witnesses, though they were not present at the trial. After the trial, I was left to stand in the corridor for a couple more hours. Then we were taken out again and put on the grass. It was cold and unbearable to constantly be on your knees and look down."
"Drink something so that your guts do not stop working because of the local bread"
On the night of August 12, Yakau and other detainees were taken to exercise yards. According to the interlocutor, there were up to 90 people in a large yard with barbed wire at the same time.
"It was very cold, so we warmed ourselves pressing to each other. I even managed to get some sleep, though there was not much room. Once a kettle of water was brought for 90 people: 'Drink something so that your guts don't stop working because of the local bread.’
That night we were also placed into another, smaller exercise yard. One-fourth of its square was occupied by a toilet – a hatch in the ground – therefore, it was unbearable to stay there. It felt worse than in a minibus at rush hour because we were close to each other. But it was warmer that way.
For 90 people, we got three 1.5-liter bottles. Due to the lack of water, at first, the prisoners hugged each other to warm up, but then they were angry if someone took more sips than they should. Psychologically, it was really hard to be in that yard for me, I was ready to hang myself. If I had to stay there a little longer, I think I would have started to attract attention, so that someone came in and knocked me out, so that I didn't see all that."
According to Yakau, on the night of August 12, a police van brought detainees to the detention center. They were being severely beaten:
"There was so much screaming that it seemed as if a pot with sinners was boiling outside those walls."
"We were allowed to sleep, but only to wake up on cue"
On August 13, Yakau and other detainees were transferred to the compulsory rehabilitation center near Sluck. He stayed there for several days.
"In the morning, we were taken out and put on the grass. The guards were preparing for something. Then we were loaded into police vans. On the way, we had to pass through another corridor of riot police who beat us on the back with batons. There was no room in the van, we sat in an uncomfortable position and had no water. We felt like the elderly because it was painful to sit down; to get up we had to give each other a hand and help because we couldn't stand up on our own. We got only one loaf of bread for six people, which was impossible to eat without water."
According to Yakau, conditions in the rehab center were better than at the detention center:
"Compared to the detention center, it was a five-star hotel. Everyone had his own bed, we were given bed linen. We were even allowed to sleep whenever we wanted, but only to wake up on cue, on command. We were fed three times a day and taken to the shower. After the detention center, such conditions seemed to be paradise.
When we were released from there, I saw lots of people behind the barrier, they occupied the roadway. People, a lot of cars, food, volunteers, relatives – I was crying. Volunteers immediately ran up, asked me if I needed help, got my personal details, offered me food and a ride. My relatives did not even know where I was."
"Now I'm in the hospital dealing with the consequences of all the atrocities"
Yakau went to the emergency hospital the day after his release. There he was diagnosed with a head injury, a concussion, hematomas all over the body, and an ear injury.
"I have a hole in my eardrum. It could appear because of strong blows on the head. Doctors said that the first three days are the most important when you have a head injury, you really need to see a doctor. But I spent the first three days in the police department, the detention center, and the rehab, where I was given five pills of aspirin as medical care. Now I stay in the hospital dealing with the consequences of all the atrocities.
I was lucky because most of the detainees were released with giant bruises. Now I am hospitalized and, fortunately, I am recovering: I can walk and enjoy life."
More stories of people who survived police violence and torture:
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.'
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.