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"The head of the colony personally beats up political prisoners." A former prisoner speaks about the Viciebsk colony

2024 2024-06-18T15:39:06+0300 2024-06-18T15:39:06+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Former political prisoner Mikhail (name changed for security reasons) was detained at his workplace in the fall of 2021 in the Zeltser case. He was sentenced to 3 years in a penal colony for "insulting a representative of the authorities" and "inciting social hatred." The political prisoner served time in Viciebsk colony No. 3, where political prisoners Vadzim Khrasko and Mikalai Klimovich died. After his release in early 2024, Mikhail did not wait for further pressure and went abroad.

Mikhail told Viasna how he was detained by armed KGB officers, how the head of the Viciebsk colony, Filip Sturchanka, personally beat prisoners, how the political prisoner secretly brought cellmates' contacts out from prison. And also about how he persuaded "activists" to work with political prisoners in the colony.

"I don't feel sorry for him. Karma has befallen him"

Mikhail has been born in one of the regional cities. In the fall of 2021, he left a comment on Zerkalo Instagram page about the death of a KGB officer during a shootout with IT specialist Andrei Zeltser: "I don't feel sorry for him. Karma has befallen him." The next day, KGB officers came to his work with weapons and shields. The security service of the enterprise where Mikhail worked closed the gates at the entrance and exit while the man was detained.

"When the security forces said they had come for me for comments, I was very surprised. By the number of weapons, it looked as if they were detaining an entire criminal group," Mikhail says.

Already in the car on the way to the KGB, one of the security officers told Mikhail not to worry, "No one will lay a finger on you."

"Where is this bastard, give him to me"

Upon arrival at the KGB building, when the man was led up the stairs, he heard a shout addressed to him: "Where is this bastard, give him to me."

"They put me in a cell in the basements. They ordered me to kneel down and cross my arms behind my back. An operative in plain clothes came into the room and began to beat me severely with his hands and feet. I'm used to physical pain, but this beating was a humiliation for me. I thought that if he hit me a couple more times, I'd hit him back."

Then another officer entered, playing the role of a "good cop." He ordered the first one to "keep his hands to himself."

Eating in handcuffs and waking up to the anthem of Belarus

After being interrogated by the KGB, Mikhail was taken to a pre-trial detention facility, where he was constantly handcuffed.

"We even ate in handcuffs. And woke up to the anthem of Belarus."

In total, while serving his sentence, the former political prisoner changed several pre-trial detention centers.

"I thought I was going to be beaten up."

The interlocutor speaks about his first impressions of meeting with his cellmates in Žodzina.

"I had stereotypes from films that I would go into the cell, and they would start bullying me, that they would beat me. I entered the cell; everyone there was bald, it was hot, and the fans were working. I shortly explained why I got here and that was it.

Later I remembered this moment with my cellmates. They waited for about the same thing as I did. When I appeared, they thought who I was going to beat them up."

Writing down the prisoners' contacts on the lining of his trousers

When Mikhail found out about his transfer, he began collecting contacts of cellmates he had befriended.

"I started writing them down on the pocket lining of the trousers which I wore when I was detained. During an inspection, when we were transferred, the contacts were found. But due to the fact that these were my only pants, they were not confiscated. Upon my release, I contacted everyone whose numbers I managed to get out."

Getting into the punishment cell for walking around the cell in underpants

Once Mikhail had to spend 10 days in the punishment cell for an absurd reason.

"It was a hot summer, and I walked around the cell in my underpants and was seen through a surveillance camera. As I was later told, at that moment the video was viewed by some boss who came from the Department of Corrections. And according to internal rules, you can't walk around the cell without pants, even if it's hot. He personally ordered that I be given some kind of punishment for this. As a result, I was sent to the punishment cell for 10 days."

Letters from loved ones were taken away for refusing to ask for clemency

Mikhail served his sentence in Viciebsk penal colony No. 3 during 2023. He says that upon arrival, all political prisoners are sent to a solitary confinement cell (SHIZO) for far-fetched reasons. The administration of the colony had no complaints about the former political prisoner until he they started to persistently persuade him to admit guilt and apply for clemency to Lukashenka. Mikhail refused, and then one of the colony operatives, V. V. Spirydonau, took letters from Mikhail's relatives away from his personal belongings.

"Maybe for the first time, "activists" worked together with political prisoners"

At first, the ex-political prisoner worked in a sewing workshop. Mikhail says that they sewed uniforms and sleeping bags for the Russian military, and boxes for artillery shells were made in the woodworking shop.

Them Mikhail was transferred to the metal sorting workshop to clean the cable and wires from plastic.

"Once, we received 17 tons of cable. It was unloaded outdoors, and had to be moved to the third floor of the building. Usually, only political prisoners were involved in such hard work."

The political prisoners loaded the cable to the third floor in a chain, and the "activists" (prisoners who worked for the administration) reproached the political prisoners for ostensibly not working fast enough. As a result, the administration of the colony issued an ultimatum: if 17 tons of cable were not moved by the end of the working day, then political prisoners would be deprived of washing in the shower.

"Then we all put our tools down and refused to work, because in any case we would not have had time to put get everything up. Then why bother in vain. The next day, we were told that if we did not lift the cables today, we would be deprived of a shower for a whole week."

Mikhail, along with another political prisoner, managed to come to an agreement with the activists and together they began to load the rest of the cables. Their foremen, Unukau Siarhei and Semimekha Andrei, refused to help. The political prisoners were outraged by the unequal treatment, and began to argue. But the conflict did not escalate further: the cables were loaded, and the political prisoners were allowed into the shower.

"You should all be divided"

The administration of the colony found out about the incident and Mikhail was sent to SHIZO for 10 days. But after that, they did not release him, but began to repeatedly add 10 days more. In total, the man spent two months in a row in solitary confinement.

Soon, Dzianis Fedchanka, the deputy head of the colony, came to Mikhail's cell in the detention center for a personal conversation.

"I asked him why I was held here. After all, the conflict was resolved, everyone was satisfied, people got a shower. As he explained to me, I showed others by my example that something can be achieved in the colony through joint efforts. And this should not be the case. He then said: "You should all be divided. Today you have solved the situation in the industrial zone, and tomorrow you will rise up, and the administration will have to make concessions to the prisoners." He said, we have to be each on his own."

Filip Sturchanka, head of penal colony No.3 in Viciebsk. Photo from the VKontakte page of Sturchanka, Zerkalo

The head of the Viciebsk colony personally beats up political prisoners

The head of the colony, Filip Sturchanka, and his deputy, Dzianis Fedchanka, personally came to beat political prisoners who openly spoke out against the administration of the colony and its procedures, Mikhail says.

"One day, prisoner Mikalai Shkaliar washed in the shower with me. He was blue from head to toe from a beating. He hardly manged to come into the shower room. I've heard before that someone was severely beaten in the colony. And it was him. "Sturchanka held a baton in both hands and beat me so hard, as if he wanted to cut me in half," Shkaliar told me."

An officer of an operational unit, major Anton Salavei, works in the colony and also systematically beats up prisoners, says the interlocutor.

Mikhail says that all the beatings usually took place in SHIZO, since there are no witnesses around.

"A crowd of security forces officers entered the SHIZO cell and a beating began. They used batons or tasers."

Did not pay the fine and went abroad

Mikhail fully served his sentence and was released in February of this year. He had an unpaid fine, which was imposed on him along with imprisonment. The man refused to pay it, as he does not admit his guilt. Lately, people in civilian clothes have began to come to the former political prisoner' place of registration and ask where he was. At that time, Mikhail had not lived at home for some time, did not use a SIM card and did not pay for purchases with a bank card, so as not to leave a digital footprint. Immediately after his release, he decided to leave Belarus, and unknown people searching for him was the last straw. As a result, Mikhail left the country a couple of weeks ago and is now in a safe place.

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