Rape threats and "shared responsibility". 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.
On August 11, Minsk resident Aleh Kharytonchyk walked along the Svislač River near Niamiha. Riot policemen came out of a van parked nearby and demanded to see Aleh's smartphone. Below is the first-person story.
I was threatened to be raped with a baton
When they found out that Telegram and a VPN application were installed on my phone that I used to read protest channels, the interrogations immediately began: "Where are you going? Why are you here?", "Are you going to build barricades and throw rocks?" One of the riot policemen opened Pornhub on my phone and demonstrated it to me.
I answered that I was coming from my workplace because all the nearest subway stations were closed. My answers did not convince them, they repeated their questions swearing and threatening me. By this time, my phone was already automatically locked. They demanded the code, but I refused to give it. After that I was thrown into the car with the words: "This is our client, treat him tougher! They put my chin on the floor, started beating me on the liver, hitting me on the head and nape, and then stepped on my legs with their boots. They demanded the code to unlock the screen again, I refused again. Threats to rape me with a stick followed, my jeans were pulled down. I grabbed them and said in a low voice: "Don't do anything to me." They "took pity on me" only because the senior among them said: "I am kind today."
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.
"No more student, no more construction worker, no more painter..."
We were brought to the police department, brutally thrown out of the van, ordered to put our hands behind our heads, bow down, and run to the wall. Two rows of riot policemen were already waiting there, they hit each detainee hard on their legs, arms, back, and heads while we were running. We were lined up along the wall and ordered to press our foreheads to the wall, eyes down, hands behind our backs. They started tying our hands with plastic ties. I was hit hard on the back and became dizzy, I lost my balance and fell on the ground, scratched my fingers. I immediately heard a scream: "If you fall again, you will not get up anymore!"
This was followed by an interrogation of all detainees. The interrogation was conducted by two women with captain's patches, at the end of the conversation they told each person: "No more student, no more construction worker, no more painter..." (depending on the person's occupation).
Some detainees were taken away for video-recording, others – for the seizure of possessions. There were general confusion and chaos, all things were thrown into one pile. Absolutely all masks and respirators were taken from the detainees, while all "law enforcement" officers wore masks. After the seizure, the people were taken into a room and placed with their heads against the wall and eyes down. Bloodstains were noticeable on the walls. Many detainees had blood on their clothes, and they were injured in many different ways: black eyes, bruises, baton marks on their arms and legs, scratches on their faces... One had his hair and forehead dyed, the other had some hair cut off, and some could not even stand. An ambulance team arrived. Tired and exhausted, these women medics examined the most crippled, and the riot policemen yelled at them and demanded their names and the brigade number.
"I wish you all die of thirst"
Thus, in a few hours, there were about 35-40 people in the room, among them three young women. About four hours later a policeman gave us a bottle of water. Some people, including me, were cautious about it because they assumed that the water could be poisoned, but most drank it. After a few hours, everyone started to get tired, some sat on the floor. At first, they whispered, then started talking a little louder – this was noticed by a riot policeman. He ordered everybody to line up again and began to beat some people with a baton. Every time people started talking, someone came in and the beatings started again.
Everybody stood like that till the morning, waiting for the police van to come for us. Nobody told us what time it was, nobody let us call our relatives. At about 8-10 a.m. (we were guided by the sunlight) a police van arrived. Two riot policemen had patches with the green inscription "722", and were armed with pistols in holsters. A senior officer entered the room and demanded a bottle of water back, dropping the phrase: "I wish you all die of thirst."
About two hours later, we were loaded into a police van. Immediately we were instructed: "Whoever talks or looks away from the floor or wall will be put down and humiliated."
"Tired of hitting you all day"
We were brought to the detention facility and ordered to put our hands behind our heads, lower our heads, run along the wall, kneel, and press our foreheads to the fence. 15 minutes later, plastic ties were removed from the hands. Then we were forced to run to the building between two rows of riot police who beat us with batons, fists, and legs on all parts of the body.
About 70 people were forced into a yard with a grating instead of the ceiling. Overfilled bottles with urine stood in the corner. Later, everyone heard the same shouts when they drove new groups of people into other yards. We also heard that riot police was "fucking tired of beating them all day." As a result, the yard of about 5 square meters housed 120 people, there was hustle, barely enough room to stand. Above the cage, a masked guard with an AK74 weapon was on patrol.
I noticed that some people had serious beatings: one had a damaged eye, someone's leg was shot, and one person could barely stand on his feet because of a blow to the head. We did not have water, food, or an opportunity to go to the toilet for about 12 hours. Since there was only grating on top, we were afraid that if it started to rain all, the urine in the corner would spread all over the floor. Some crippled people were getting worse, but the numerous appeals, knocking on the door, and then begging were ignored. We could hear footsteps, conversations and riding carts behind the door, sometimes we were told that "everything will be organized soon." The man who was hit on the head was led into the corner closest to the door, he felt sick and threw up, it was harder for him to stand by the minute, later he was just sagging on the elbows of two cellmates. The first medical care was eventually provided to people in about 4 hours.
Many were exhausted, as they had not slept for more than two days. We discussed and made attempts to sleep in such conditions: sitting down; pressing against each other "like sprats". The attempts were not successful: it was possible to stack maximum 2-3 rows, and the rest had to stand almost on one leg because of the crush, so we had to rest taking turns. Some people said: "I am ready to do anything for a glass of water and a bed."
Trials lasted for five minutes. Several people were called by the list, taken out of the yard and taken to "trial". 30-45 minutes later they were brought back: many were given 15 days of arrest, and those who "admitted" everything – 10 days.
Around midnight we finally got a "relaxation": a five-liter bottle of water. We calculated and took three sips each, but still, it was not enough for everyone. Later they let us go to the toilet, first one person at a time, then in groups. People took the bottle, filled it and brought it back to let others drink. We received some food: bread and a bucket of patty-cakes.
Once, after another beating of a detainee behind the door, we heard: "You are an idiot; he has diabetes!" We never knew the fate of that person.
A riot policeman yelled at a detained young girl: "What are you doing here, a revolutionary, you should give birth to children. What's wrong with our country?!"
At about midnight, they started calling people from a list. My name was called, I was put in a group of 15 people and brought to the outer yard. Outside we were all put face to the wall next to a table with fake detention reports on it. We were forced to sign the reports, those who hesitated were threatened with a police van that was parked nearby.
Escorted to the outside with batons
Then we were driven through the gate, along the fence, hands behind our heads, eyes down. They shouted: "In groups of 6 people, stand to the wall" – and next we hear wild screams... Then everyone moves along the wall. I heard at least twice: "Pull up your shirts, drop your pants to your knees... Knife, take them to the van!" ["Knife" – presumably the nickname of one of the riot policemen]. This is how they randomly chose groups that were to stay under arrest. My group was "very lucky"; we were considered timid enough.
We were told: "Now you are collectively responsible: if one of you objects/moves/turns his head, five people on both sides will get to the van." We walked along the wall for about 30 minutes, at times they reminded of collective responsibility. Then we were led to the gate and were told: "You will get your things in 7 days after the trial."
And in the end, we were escorted with batons to the outside.
When we ran out of the gate, we did not know where we were... We came down the hill and met by volunteers, they were handing out money for travel, water and food, showed us where to go, some offered a ride. Suddenly, a man with whom I had shared the cell all these days screamed, raised his hands, started to shake, and fell. He had an epileptic seizure because of the head wound he had received the last time we were beaten. I saw blood gushing forth from that wound and flowing on the ground. People helped him, by some miracle, the man felt better, came to his senses and began to speak a bit... The volunteers warned us to leave faster, otherwise, the riot policemen would arrive. Three guys from our group stayed with that man, they didn't care anymore.
Aleh was released on August 13 at about six o'clock in the morning.
More stories of people who survived police violence and torture:
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.