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"These were the first minutes when I put on this pink bag." Women spoke about their mugshots after the transfer to the colony

2024 2024-03-07T13:58:01+0300 2024-03-07T13:58:01+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

In the project Mugshots of Political Prisoners Belarusians told human rights activists the stories of how they were photographed in places of detention. Former female political prisoners shared how they were photographed for "yellow tags" immediately after the difficult transfer to the Homieĺ women's colony No. 4. On the eve of the International Women's Rights Day, we are publishing some stories. 

Former political prisoner Volha Dubovik was photographed for a "yellow tag" in April 2022:

"On the very first day, the colony staff photographed everyone who had just arrived. The day was difficult and restless, but it can't be called a bad one either. The transfer from Mahilioŭ to Homieĺ started late in the evening. We travelled by a special train for prisoners all night, so we didn't get enough sleep. Then, as usual: a search, shower, sorting things (keeping those you can take with you and leaving those which go to a warehouse). We were all given the same uniform and then filled out some tests. But we saw the outside: trees and houses, normal windows. I saw my reflection in a mirror in proper light. And my term was coming to an end in three weeks! But I wasn't exactly sure about that: I was afraid that they might have dug up something else from my past. So I was tired, but I was in a good mood." 

Activist Alana Gebremariam also recalled the difficulties of her transfer:

"If I'm not mistaken, the picture was taken on 09.10.2021 in the building of the quarantine detachment, where we stayed for 14 days upon arrival at the colony. This moment was preceded by a very difficult — emotionally and physically — path: a transfer from pre-trial detention center-1 by a prisoner truck to a prisoner train to the women's colony.

With four heavy bags, which they forced me to carry myself at the same time, while the guards were screaming and threatening me and others were prohibited to help me, I moved between parts of this journey. I listened to the wild stories of my companions convicted under various articles and did not sleep all night in a trembling smoke-filled train car with 15 people in it. Upon arrival at the colony, there was absolutely no relief. We went through long searches, including naked one, and received our set of uniforms.

After I got dressed and went to the assembly hall of the quarantine detachment with the things left for me, they began to say further instructions and give me various organizational papers to sign. At that moment, I felt despair, anger, intense anxiety, incredible fatigue and impotence, which formed a lump in my throat. It felt like I'd lost something very important."

Kasia Budzko, a participant in the Students' case, recalls that her mugshot was taken on October 20–22, 2021, after a difficult transfer to the Homieĺ women's colony No. 4:

"As soon as you enter the colony, you are immediately searched, all your belongings are taken away, and you are given a terrible uniform. As soon as you put on this uniform, you're photographed. Your condition which is captured in this photo is very strange. You've just gone through a transfer: more than eight hours of travelling in prisoner trucks, by train, in handcuffs. Not the best time I've had. And so you finally got to the colony, where all your things have just been taken away from you, you still don't understand what's going on at all... And then they give you a pink dress and say: "Stand against the wall, and we'll take a picture of you!" You can't take multiple photos there. The first one is for your entire term.

I don't really like this photo. I think I look very stupid in it. I remember how I felt in the moment, and it was an unpleasant feeling. It was very unpleasant for me to be in that dress. There were the first minutes when I put on this pink bag, and I felt so uncomfortable... I do not know how to describe it. It was disgusting. I hate dresses, that's the first thing. I don't really like pink, that's the second thing. And third, I don't really like being in prison. Alongside the realization that you will have to spend the next two years in this dress. I was very depressed by this condition and it seemed to me that I looked very bad and did not feel well. That's how this photo appeared."

Former political prisoner Asia Bulybenka said:

"I remember this moment quite vaguely, because there was a huge contrast between the frozen life of the pre-trial detention center and getting into a colony. It was literally the first few hours we arrived. We were given a uniform. Then at some point they told me: "Come into the room!" There were several convicts standing there, holding a white sheet. They tell me to stand there... And then I'm photographed. I didn't even realize what was going on. I enter this room from the hallway, where this photographer takes a picture... I have a slightly confused look in the photo, because I didn't have time to figure out what was going on, where I was and what kind of sheet it was."

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