"We felt like we were chickens brought to a cage with tigers." 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.
Emil Kutas and Martsin Minin are cousins from Minsk. They were going to visit a pizzeria with friends on the evening of August 11. However, they were severely beaten by riot police. The cousins had informed the police that they were minors: Emil was 17 and Martin was 16 years old (at that time). Their mothers Katsiaryna and Halina picked them up from the police station and immediately took them to the hospital. Together they told "Viasna" their story.
On August 11 at about 11 p.m., Emil, Martsin, and their friends (they were seven people in two cars) came to Domino's Pizza in Dziaržynskaha Avenue, but the pizzeria was closed. The guys stopped for a while at the parking lot of Magnit shopping mall. Here is Emil's story:
"We saw that the crowd of people started to disperse, but we didn't understand why. I turned my head and saw a special unit of the road police driving into the parking lot. We immediately got into our cars and wanted to leave because we were scared. But they blocked two exits of the parking lot. The riot police came out of the road police car. They poked their shotguns into our windows and told us to get out. We did. They put us on our knees and asked, 'Do you want change?' They hit us on the head with batons. They threw out our possessions. Martsin had a backpack, they just took it and [aggressively] shook it out. There was a bottle of Fanta in there – they said we had wanted to make a Molotov cocktail with it."
The law enforcers were wearing a green camouflage uniform and a bulletproof vest. One of them used a gun – a rubber bullet went through the window of Emil's friends' car, almost hitting them.
Then everyone was loaded into a big car that looked like a police van, but it had no stairs, and the floor of the cabin was at the neck level of the guys standing outside. So they had to jump up and pull up to get in.
"Out of fear you tried to get in there as fast as possible because it seemed like if you didn't get in there in time, you were going to get beaten up even more. That's why we were jumping up as best we could, trying to hold on something," recalls Emil.
Martsin showed his hand to the law enforcers (the boy has a disability: several phalanges of his right hand are missing). But they simply said, "Jump in!"
The boys also informed the police that they were minors. "Oooh, youngsters!" reacted with laughter the riot policemen.
"In the cabin, the law enforcers had an electric shield, plus, they were tasing everyone in a row," Martin recalls. "They also took my phone out of my pocket and asked me to unlock it. One of the officers took my phone and went away. Then he came over and said he'd formatted it.
At the police department
All the guys (along with Martsin and Emil, they also arrested their five friends) were taken to the Maskouski police department. However, the guys found out their whereabouts only upon release.
The teenagers were taken from the van to the fourth floor of the police department, they were beaten on the way: "hits landed on the legs, back, kidneys, ribs, and head." The detainees were taken to the assembly hall. The first thing Emil saw was the bloody floor:
"There's white tile in the hall, but it was all bloody. They put us on the floor, put our hands behind our backs, and we had to crawl to the end of the hall using our elbows. Meanwhile, half of the riot police started walking all over us, and half of them just beat us with batons. You were crawling, and blows were felt all over your body."
Lying on the floor, the detainees had to answer questions: full name, date of birth, place of residence and study, and contacts of relatives who could pick them up. After that, each was taken to a separate room for drawing up a report. Emil was interviewed by a woman and a man in a police uniform:
"So they sat there and giggled deciding what article to charge me with. Then the man said: 'Now we're going to write you up that you were walking in the park at night and selling pictures of yourself to minors.' I said I didn't do anything, I was sitting in the car. And he said, 'Shut your mouth. I'm going to stick a knife in an officer's vest and tell him it was you who attacked him.' Later, he asked what I had been doing at the parking lot and put his foot in my groin. He pressed harder with each question. I already thought that if he hit me harder I was going to be disabled."
Then the policeman asked Emil who his local police officer was. Emil gave his name, Siarhei Viarouka, and the latter was brought in.
"I thought I would be... well, protected... That my district officer would take me to his office, so I wouldn't get beaten up there. But he just rudely told me to shut my mouth and added that I was throwing stones at their cars.
Then the riot police picked me up, took me into that assembly hall with my arms twisted, face down. I could see by the number of legs that another riot policeman was standing there. He asked about me, 'Who is this guy?' And the one who was accompanying me said, 'We've detained a teenager.' The next second I got a hard blow on the back. I started shaking with fear, I was thirsty because I couldn't breathe through my nose – there was blood in it. Because of all that I couldn't breathe in. He asked, 'Why are you shaking, animal?'"
Both Emil and Martsin were made to sign the reports without reading them. Both guys said there were four sheets, and they put three or four signatures on each one.
Emil also noted that he saw one of the detainees have an epileptic seizure and the other had a broken knee.
Emil and Martsin were constantly threatened in the police department, but it was hard for the boys to say whether the threats came from the simple or riot police, because all the detainees were in a "face down" position.
"They said, 'You're lucky, because all the cops are busy, otherwise we'd bring you into the woods and you would dig a hole'," says Martin.
Moreover, the law enforcers kept asking the detainees: "How much did you get paid?", "So did you have enough of throwing stones?" and insulted them.
After the reports were drawn up, both Martsin and Emil were taken to a video shooting room, where they had to give their personal details again on camera.
"20 minutes later I could hear the security guards starting to talk amongst themselves, 'Fuck, now these kids are going to be taken away by their parents.' It was so relieving when I heard that, because before they were saying that I would sit in a cell for five people and 'We'll put 50 of you there and close off the ventilation,'" recalls Emil.
The only personal belongings Emil was given back when he was released was his phone. The passport, keys, cash ha had on him had disappeared. The search report was not drawn up for him, unlike for Martsin, although the latter did not see it himself. Nevertheless, Martsin's report had a note "refused to sign" and included the following names: "A.N. Krupicheuski conducted a personal search and drew up a report", and S. Morozko was listed as an attesting witness. Martsin found this report in his backpack – all his belongings were returned to him upon release, except for his glasses which fell off when he had been beaten on the head.
Martsin's mother Katsiaryna received a phone call at at 3.20 a.m. on August 12: "Come to the Maskouski police department, pick up your son, you have serious problems."
"Martsin was taken out of the police department, it was dark," Katsiaryna shares her story. "A short blond officer wearing a black mask came out. At first, he explained quite politely, 'Your son was caught, he was out late, we had an explanatory talk with him, he said he would never do that again.' I listened and it all didn't look serious to me. Then he said, 'Write that you take your minor child and have no claims.' I signed and as soon as I gave him the paper, he took a step back, immediately changed the tone of the conversation and said, 'A report has been drawn up against your son – participation in an unauthorized mass event. If you complain, you'll be f*cked.' I replied that I didn't agree. 'Then you should complain to the prosecutor's office,' he said.
Halina, Emil's mother, learned about her son's detention from Katsiaryna. Emil left the police station at 4.52 a.m.
"When we saw Emil, everything clicked into place," said Katsiaryna. "I dialled the number they had called me from and said that I didn't agree to anything, what's going on? I was told to 'complain to the prosecutor's office' and then they hung up. My sister Halina was hysterical when she saw her son in such a state."
The mothers took their children to the Emergency Hospital.
"The doctors there already knew where we came from," recalls Halina. "Because they were asking each other, 'Are they coming from there?' I think we were literally the first to arrive because after us they started bringing in patients in heavier conditions."
"There was a guy under escort, handcuffed," continued her story Katsiaryna. "His head was shaking badly. I went over and asked him, 'Who should I call? Who to inform?' He quickly told me the phone number of his mother. The escort consisted of two very young guys. They said, 'Don't tell her he's coming from the police.' I reacted, 'Look, what do you mean I'm not supposed to say it if my children have been injured?!' I called his mother, and we're still in touch with her. The guy had a severe head injury."
Martsin and Emil were diagnosed with a mild closed head injury and a concussion. Moreover, Emil had a broken big toe.
To "Viasna's" final question about what the guys would like to add to their story, Emil replied:
"In the police van, it felt like we were chickens brought to a cage with tigers, and it made them happy. They were beating us and laughing, getting satisfaction from the process...
When I was lying on the floor in the police station and I just listened to them yelling – their voice was so shaky... I mean, he doesn't really have that voice, but he makes it sound tough on purpose like he's so cool. You can hear the shaky voice, the voice he's trying to make lower. And it's shaking like that because they're so scared of it all. And yet they do it anyway, they hit people..."
More stories of people who survived police violence and torture:
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.
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.