Raman Bandarenka died yesterday as a result of a vicious beating by a group of unidentified assailants in the capital of Belarus. Today, thousands of peaceful protestors across the country demanded justice for his murder.
On November 11, a group of masked thugs showed up in a Minsk courtyard, known among protesters as the “Square of Change.” Like every other day since August, they came to tear down the white-red-white ribbons that have become a key symbol of the protests and paint over a mural on the wall. The mural celebrates two DJs, who were prosecuted for playing a song called We Want a Change! at a public event before the August 9 presidential vote. The mural is recreated after every attempt to destroy it.
According to several witnesses, at around 10 p.m., Bandarenka, 31, tried to stop people from taking down the ribbons. He wasn’t violent but at least two men started beating him and dragged him into their minivan.
Around midnight he was hospitalized with severe brain injuries. One day later, he died.
Belarus’ chief investigative agency claimed that the police found Bandarenka in the street, severely beaten and with signs of being drunk, brought him to the Central police station and called the ambulance. The agency stated that a preliminary inquest into his death is underway.
The Minsk Police Spokesperson called the assailants “concerned citizens” who confronted those spreading “anti-government symbols.” A prominent Belarusian human rights group alleged the assailants were plain clothed police officers.
Belarusian people have many reasons to doubt the investigation into this heinous killing will be prompt and effective. Since the beginning of protests in August, thousands of peaceful protesters have been detained; hundreds reported torture and other severe forms of ill-treatment. Despite systematic and well-documented abuse, authorities have not opened a single criminal case in relation to the police abuse against protestors.
The death of Bandarenka is another horrifying reminder that impunity for gross human rights violations serves to perpetuate abuses. International inter-governmental organizations, including the EU, the OSCE and UN agencies, should redouble their efforts to ensure accountability for violations against peaceful protestors in Belarus and support the protestors in their demands for justice.