Guy François Toukam: I wanted to kill myself after 40 days in Akrestsin jail
In his interview to the European Radio for Belarus Guy François Toukam told about the conditions in the Minsk jail, beating, prison food, racist jokes of cellmates and also noted having to pay $250 for 1,5 months of the ‘rest’ in Akrestsin Street.
28-year-old Guy François Toukam is a Cameroonian goalkeeper who lives in Europe and has a residence permit in Spain. On 1 June he flew to Minsk to play for the Norwegian futsal club IOF at a match of the European championship on futsal. However, he was detained in the Minsk airport on suspicion in the forgery of his passport.
44 days passed before the Belarusian border guards made sure that the Cameroonian passport and the Spanish residence permit of Guy François Toukam were valid. The Cameroonian was kept in the pre-trial prison in Akrestsin Street all this time.
A week ago the emaciated goalkeeper with scratches from the prison berths flew back to Spain where he was met by his beloved, Inmaculada González García who fought for the rights of her fiancé during the whole period of his detention. The European Radio for Belarus managed to get them on the phone.
Euroradio: We congratulate you on the ending of the unpleasant story and the return home! How do you feel? Did you manage to recover your health for the week that has passed since your release?
Guy François Toukam: I am recovering gradually. Today I feel well, as I am in a country that respects human rights. Everything is quite here, no problems.
How did the story of your detention begin?
I am a citizen of Cameroon, but live in Spain and have a residence permit here. I came to Minsk with my friends from Norway to play football. At the airport, a female passport officer had a look at my photo in the passport and said that it wasn’t my photo, but a photo of my brother. I showed her my Spanish residence permit and asked how I could take the brother’s passport and fly there if I had a European residence permit.
They started to discriminate in the situation and led me upstairs. Then they said that the documents were allegedly invalid. I tried to explain everything in English, but they didn’t understand, or pretended not to understand. May be, they wanted me to give them money.
Were you tried at court? Were you provided with an interpreter and a counsel?
There was no trial! A woman asked me several questions in English on the fourth day of my detention at the airport. Then they immediately took me in a car and drove me to the place where I spent the rest of the time. I demanded that they provided me with a counsel and familiarized me with my case. ‘There’s no counsel, shout up and come with us!’, they answered.
After a couple of weeks in detention I was asked whether I had the money to pay for my detention. They said I owed them 250 dollars and that I should phone to my girlfriend and ask her to pass the money. As a result, this money and the money for the flight ticket were passed by her and paid by the Spanish consul.
Tell us about the conditions in the Akrestin jail.
The prison officers show zero respect to prisoners. Foreigners have no rights. Even criminals have the right to take a shower and phone. One can take a shower once a week, and only in the case one asks for it. I spent there 44 days without walks. All personal belongings were taken away from me. There are no beds, the people sleep on a wide wooden berth.
Foreigners aren’t kept there separately, but share cells with tramps and madmen. There are visibly ill people among the prisoners. Some of them are kept there for 7-8 months and cannot even walk when they are released!
How were you fed in prison?
The food one is offered there is absolutely unsuitable for people. What they call soup is just salty water with something strange. They throw a spoon in the plate and that’s it! One also gets a slice of white bread. I drank only tea and ate only white bread for about 40 days. Prisoners aren’t provided with drinking waters, there’s only low-quality tap water. I lost about 20 kilos for the time of my imprisonment (as noted by Guy François and Inmaculada González, the earlier media information about 40-kilo loss is a result of a misunderstanding – note of Euroradio).
Were you allowed to phone home and receive letters from relatives?
No, I wasn’t. The Belarusian human rights defenders passed me a parcel with some things (soap, a book…). However the girlfriend’s letter wasn’t accepted by the prison guards. I read it only after my release, while getting onboard the plane.
How were you treated by the prison guards?
They threatened me a lot! I refused from food and water on the 37th day of imprisonment and demanded to call a doctor several days after it. Then I was beaten by two prison guards all over the body. I tried to ask them what for I was kept in such conditions.
I wanted to tell them: look, I am not a criminal, I haven’t killed or robbed anyone, I haven’t sold drugs and I haven’t come to your country to live here! I am a foreigner and you need to treat me normally and place me to the center for immigrants. They didn’t understand what I was trying to say and started quarreling. They told me not to show off and that I would have more trouble otherwise.
Who did you share the cell with and what relations did you have with your cellmates?
There were nine of us, including people from Ukraine and Russia. They played racist jokes everyday and threatened me all the time. I was lucky that there was a guy from Moldova who spoke English. He helped me talk with the guards. However, when he was released I didn’t talk with them as well, as they don’t understand any foreign languages. I showed everything with gestures.
What did you think having spent almost 1,5 months in custody in a foreign country, without legal advice, personal belongings and communication with friends?
I began thinking that my life was over. After 40 days of detention I started thinking about suicide.
Will you come to Belarus again, for instance for a football play?
No, I will come neither to Belarus, nor to Russia or Ukraine. Despite all respect for the country, but due to such a terrible experience… I pass a great gratitude to the Belarusian human rights defenders who helped me, provided me with soap, water, a book and some other things! I call on them not to give up and continue their struggle, as there are people who are literally dying there! They can hardly walk after half of year in such custody, loosing their strength and sight…