"Show everyone we have no connection with." We recall the political prisoners whom the authorities showed in prisons
In Belarus, a number of political prisoners are in complete isolation without communication with the outside world. For a long time, relatives, lawyers, and the public have not been able to get information about the condition and health of some political prisoners. We still have not seen the condition of politician Viktar Babaryka in the colony after his hospitalization. During these three years, officials and pro-government Telegram channels showed only about ten political prisoners in prisons and hospitals. These were shots of political prisoners from pre-trial detention center-1, Zhodzina, Hrodna, and Mahilioŭ prisons, Baranavičy pre-trial detention center, and other places of detention. They were published by both official departments — the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Investigative Committee — and propagandists with pro-government Telegram channels. Most often, such publications were made to "refute" declared hunger strikes of political prisoners. We recall these rare cases.
"We are making every possible effort to make the facts of the regime's crimes known in the world"
As of November 17, 2023, there is no information from Mikalai Statkevich — 283 days, Maksim Znak — 281 days, Maryia Kalesnikava — 277 days, Ihar Losik — 271 days, Viktar Babaryka — 208 days, Siarhei Tsikhanouski — 136 days. It is known that some of them were placed in a punishment cell (PKT). But the list of prisoners the relative cannot communicate with is much longer. After all, because of the penalty, political prisoners are deprived of phone calls and their correspondence is blocked.
Human rights activists are convinced that the incommunicado detention of political prisoners creates favorable conditions for abuse by the authorities, including torture and prohibited treatment. Meanwhile, the UN Committee against Torture noted that each state party to the Convention against Torture is obliged to take actions that strengthen the prohibition of torture through legislative, administrative, judicial, or other measures that ultimately should be effective in terms of their prevention, recalls human rights activist of Viasna Pavel Sapelka.
We recall cases when official agencies, propagandists, and security forces showed political prisoners to society.
Siarhei Tsikhanouski and video from Žodzina prison
On the fourth of July, 2023, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya received a message from an unknown person that her husband had died in prison. Tsikhanouskaya said that she had not had any information about her husband since March 9.
But soon propagandists published a video dated February 5, 2023 with an offensive comment on the Telegram channel ZhS Premium showing Siarhei Tsikhanouski in Žodzina prison. It is quite difficult to recognize Siarhei Tsikhanouski in the person filmed, but his wife Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, after seeing the video, recognized him.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya commented this:
"My heart is glad to see Siarhei. Alive. And strong.
If you have shown him, also show Viktar Babaryka, Maryia Kalesnikava, Mikalai Statkevich, Maksim Znak, Pavel Sevyarynets, Ihar Losik, Volha Mayorava, and everyone we have no connection with now. And allow lawyers to see all political prisoners."
Earlier, Tsikhanouski was shown on April 28, 2021 on the pro-government television ONT in a propagandist film Kill Lukashenka. It showed footage of a conversation between the political prisoner and his lawyer Natallia Matskevich in the pre-trial detention center on Valadarskaha. This video caused great indignation both of the lawyer herself and the public, since it violates attorney/client confidentiality.
Recall that blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski was detained on May 29, 2020 at an election picket in Hrodna after a provocation. Tsikhanouski was sentenced to 18 years of imprisonment in a closed session. Then he was transferred to a prison security level and sentenced to another 1.5 years in prison.
Mikalai Autukhovich and a video from Hrodna prison
During the trial on July 11, 2022, the political prisoner started a dry hunger strike due to the fact that only letters from his mother were given to him, and no newspapers. Autukhovich was on a dry hunger strike for 23 days. During this time, he lost 20 kilograms, became very thin, and could not move independently. On August 1, the prisoner stopped his hunger strike and drank tea. Three days later, the Telegram channel ZhS Premium published a video claiming that Mikalai drank juice during his hunger strike. The video is dated July 28.
The video shows three men in a small cell of the Hrodna prison.
Uladzimir Hundar and a video from the Baranavičy pre-trial detention center
The Baranavičy activist and local historian, who has already been convicted three times in three criminal cases, has repeatedly declared hunger strikes in prison. The first time it happened after the first sentence, when Hundar was placed in a punishment cell. On June 30, 2021, the daughter of the political prisoner reported on his hunger strike:
"He was put to a punishment cell, and dad started a hunger strike. He has high blood pressure; recently it's been 160.
As we have understood, most likely the necessary medications are not provided to him (and he needs pills for blood pressure on a regular basis and also ones for his disease). Without these pills, he may have a hypertensive crisis again, which he has already suffered in the KGB pre-trial detention center. And there is also a risk of him losing his second leg."
On July 2, 2021, the Ministry of Internal Affairs published a video saying that the information about Uladzimir's hunger strike does not correspond to reality. The video shows that the activist is eating, but there is no date on the video, so it is not known exactly when it was filmed.
Maryia Kalesnikava and a photo from the colony's medical unit
On November 28, 2022, political prisoner Maryia Kalesnikava was hospitalized from solitary confinement cell of Homeĺ colony No. 4. She was diagnosed with a perforated ulcer. Maryia immediately had a surgery. On December 1, she was transferred from the intensive care unit to the surgical department. Soon she was returned to the colony medical unit.
There she was granted a meeting with her father, which lasted about 10 minutes in the presence of a doctor and colony staff. On December 5, 2022, pro-government Telegram channels published a photo of Maryia Kalesnikava at a meeting with her father.
Mikita Yemialyanau and a video from Mahilioŭ prison
At the beginning of February 2022, the political prisoner, while in a solitary confinement cell, started a dry hunger strike to protest against the actions of the administration of Mahilioŭ prison No. 4: they did not accept applications and complaints from Mikita. The dry hunger strike lasted 10 days, and then, due to poor health, Mikita started drinking only water.
On February 24, 2022, a Telegram channel affiliated with the security forces #znayanarkhistavlitso published a video from Mahilioŭ prison No. 4, which shows that Mikita began to eat. The video is dated February 23rd.
Uladzimir Matskevich and a video from Valadarka
On the evening of February 3, 2022, political prisoner and philosopher Uladzimir Matskevich began a hunger strike in Minsk pre-trial detention center No. 1, demanding that the preventive measure be changed to one unrelated to imprisonment, the investigation of the case be completed, and a trial date be set. On February 15, Matskevich started a dry hunger strike. The philosopher's hunger strike caused a great public outcry. On February 16, due to a serious deterioration in health and a meeting with an investigator, the political prisoner stopped his hunger strike.
On the afternoon of February 17, a propagandist video was posted on Telegram with a man similar to Matskevich eating in a pre-trial detention cell. The indicated date is 19.00 on February 16. A little later, a pro-government Telegram channel Harakiri published a photo of a statement to the head of the pre-trial detention center No. 1 on ending the hunger strike, signed by the name of Matskevich.
Volha Takarchuk and a video from a punishment cell
On June 9, 2021, it became known that political prisoner and blogger Volha Takarchuk started a hunger strike in a punishment cell of the Žodzina prison.
"She went on a hunger strike because she pas put to a punishment cell for a fabricated reason. Her term is 7 days: from June 7 to June 14. Volha generally feels good, but a punishment cell is a punishment cell. A psychologist works with her," her father said at the time.
The next day, the Ministry of Internal Affairs published a video that allegedly denied that the imprisoned blogger Volha Takarchuk was on a hunger strike. But many questioned the fact that Volga was really in the video, since there was no date and time on the video, and also the woman in the video was sitting with her back to the camera all the time. It is impossible to understand whether it was really Volha Takarchuk.
Aleh Rubets and a video from the Baranavičy pre-trial detention center
From February 4 to February 9, 2021, Aleh Rubets, a political prisoner in the Pinsk case, was on a hunger strike in the Baranavičy pre-trial detention center No. 6. Then he was placed to a punishment cell. Two days later, the Ministry of Internal Affairs published a denial that the political prisoner from Pinsk was on a hunger strike, and stated that the information did not correspond to reality. The video without date and time shows how Aleh is eating in a punishment cell.
Vitold Ashurak and the latest video
On May 21, 2021, political prisoner and activist Vitold Ashurak died in Šklou colony No. 17 under unclear circumstances. On May 25, the Investigative Committee published a video from surveillance cameras in the detention center where the political prisoner was held.
The Investigative Committee stated that the death of the political prisoner was not of a criminal nature, and has not yet opened a criminal case. The official reason is cardiac arrest, but there are already about a dozen testimonies of former prisoners of penal colony No. 17 about the pressure and harsh conditions of Vitold's detention, as well as torture in this colony.