31, financial technology specialist, Minsk
On the evening of August 10, riot police dragged Kim and his friend out of their car near a shopping center in Minsk and took them to the Partizansky precinct. “They put us on our knees, hands in the back, face to the floor. At midnight, riot police rushed into the room and started beating everyone,” Kim recalled. “We’ll teach you how to respect the police,” the officers yelled. Fifteen hours later, Kim was stacked on top of other detainees on the floor of a truck which took them to Zhodino prison, some fifty kilometres from Minsk. “You have to crawl like a worm on top of the others while the OMON guys are beating you to go faster, but you slow down so you don’t squash someone’s head as you move… They walked on top of us… One sat on me and took selfies. Another put his boot on the neck of my friend, choking him.” At Zhodino, Kim shared a cell meant for ten with 36 detainees, all of them arrested in connection with the protests. “I was doing push-ups and making jokes, trying to cheer up people. We got porridge in the morning, tea at lunch and fish at night. I think that fish was tortured too before they served it to us. After three days, on the night from the 14 to the 15, they threw us out, with no explanation, no papers, nothing.”
20, student, Homel
Pavel and a friend were on their way to Homel’s main square on the evening of August 11 when they saw a group of OMON officers heading towards them. They dragged Pavel into a van and drove him and other detainees to Tsentralny precinct, where riot officers were standing on both sides of a dark corridor on the fourth floor. “They told me to crawl and beat me with truncheons... [and kicked] me in the head.... My head hit the wall,” he said. During the interrogation after the beating, an OMON officer crushed Pavel’s hand, threatening to break his fingers and toes if he didn’t tell him who coordinated protests. Once a rubber-stamped charge sheet alleging Pavel’s participation in an unsanctioned mass gathering was drafted, the police took him to a big hall and ordered him to lie on the floor face down, next to other detainees. Eighteen hours later they finally moved him to a cell. “When I was freed three days later, I went to the hospital. I had a concussion and the doctors kept me there for two days. " Pavel said the experience of abusive detention actually “made [him] braver” and that he’ll be seeking justice for the abuse.
28, engineer, Minsk
On the evening of August 10, Sasha and some of his neighbours, including women and children, joined a peaceful protest in central Minsk. Police beat the protesters with truncheons and grabbed “anyone they could lay their hands on.” They took Sasha to Moskovsky precinct. “Going up the stairs, I could hear the screams of people being beaten,” Sasha said. “When we got to the fourth floor, riot police greeted each [new detainee]with a different kick... I got a knee in the stomach. They were laughing, like it was a game.” The police forced the detainees to lie on the floor in a hall, face down, hands behind their backs. “The floor was dirty with blood and mud... It was difficult to breathe. If we put our head to the side, they beat us...” Beatings continued throughout the night; some of the men lost consciousness, were revived and then beaten again. Then the police locked the detainees in a small cell. “It was just four bare walls, no beds, no toilet.... One guy had been so badly beaten up that he lost his bowels.” Finally a police van took them to Zhodino prison. “They stacked us on top of each other between the benches of the van... I was... on top of another guy and had two more on top of me... We were beaten constantly.” At Zhodino Sasha shared a cell for 12 with 34 people. He had a perfunctory court hearing on August 12 and was released on the evening of August 15. “The guards kept playing Russian pop music from dawn to late at night. I will hate [it] for the rest of my life,” Sasha laughed.
35, construction worker, Minsk
Alexander did not vote on August 9 – he had a party that night and he was not into politics. But the next day he stumbled upon a crowd of protesters close to a Minsk shopping mall, after he had grabbed a kebab with a friend. When riot police arrived, protesters started fleeing and Alexander ran too, stumbled and broke his left leg. Police officers dragged Alexander into a truck and showered him with blows, on his body and head. “They stepped on my broken leg and kicked it [laughing] ‘Is this leg really broken?’” In the truck, officers also threatened to rape Alexander with a truncheon. They eventually passed Alexander to another group of police officers who beat him again inside their van, splitting his lip. They drove Alexander to Tsentralny precinct and forced him to stand against the wall, his legs spread wide. “I started to lose consciousness and so they laid me faced down on the ground. But they kicked my broken leg again… four or five times.” After an hour and a half, the police had rubber-stamped charge sheets ready for the detainees to sign. Alexander could not walk, so they carried him in. He and the other detainees spent the rest of the night in the yard and were transferred to Zhodino prison the next day. At Zhodino, the guards took him to the infirmary. “There were around 150 [detainees] there… [many ]with with injured faces, broken jaws and ribs, blood over them. Some were afraid to speak to the doctor and said they were ‘OK.’ Alexander spent two days at the prison hospital before being transferred to the Minsk Emergency Hospital for surgery.
18, college student, Minsk
Police stopped Alexander and his two friends, also students, on the evening of August 11 in Minsk, searched their backpacks and found a respirator. The police handed the friends over to riot police officers, who took the three inside a minibus, kicked them repeatedly, cut up their shorts in the buttocks area and threatened to rape them with a hand grenade. One officer chopped off Alexander’s shoulder-length hair, cackling “you’re ready for the army now.” The officers transferred the detainees to a police van, forced them to crawl on the blood-splattered floor, and beat them. One kicked Alexander with a booted foot close to [both eyes] and on the nose. “These blows caused the most pain, and my nose squirted blood. Most likely, that’s when it was broken,” said Alexander, who was later diagnosed with a nose fracture, cranial trauma and multiple hematomas. The three were delivered to Frunzensky precinct where riot police beat them brutally, gave them electric shocks, and threatened rape with a truncheon. “We won’t leave a single intact spot on your body, you’ll be lying here in your own [filth]!” an officer yelled. The next day, the authorities transferred the young men to the Okrestina detention facility, subjecting them to more abuse on the way. When Alexander was released on August 13 he went to the Minsk emergency hospital by ambulance for treatment. He is now seeking justice for torture in detention.
28, patternmaker, Minsk
Yulia was an independent election observer and the police detained her on August 9 next to a polling station. They took her straight to the Okrestina detention facility where riot police officers shouted abuse and threatened her. The Okrestina staff took her medicine away along with her other belongings, although she flagged that because of a chronic condition she needed to take the pills daily. Yulia spent the first night with 12 other women in a cell designed for six. Throughout the night, they heard sounds of blows and screams of tortured men. Some of the women were menstruating and begged for sanitary napkins but didn’t get any. The next evening, the guards moved them to another cell meant for four with 20 women already in it. The women, crammed inside so tightly they had no space to move and no air to breathe, repeatedly called out to the guards asking to split them up. “Finally, they opened the door and poured a pail of cold water over us – so, we had to sit on the wet floor in wet clothes,” Yulia said. One woman fainted, a doctor arrived but “didn’t do anything.” Until Yulia was transferred to Zhodino prison late at night on August 11having received a four-day custodial sentence at a perfunctory court hearing, she had only been given a few pieces of bread to eat. At Zhodino, she shared a cell meant for eight with 12 women. On her second day there, guards brought them a pack of sanitary napkins, which they apparently “bought themselves.” Released on August 14, Yulia is seeking justice for abuse.
33, journalist, Minsk
Vitaly, a correspondent with Belsat, an independent broadcaster, was on his way to a work assignment in central Minsk on August 10 when two police officers searched his backpack and found his camera and a microphone with the Belast logo. They crammed him into a tiny compartment in a police van – “literally pushed me in there with their feet, because there were already four people inside, on top of one another, unable to move.” At Zavodskoy precinct riot police beat him and his fellow detainees with truncheons, ordered them to drop to the ground, and tied their hands behind their backs. A man next to Vitaly called out that he had a kidney transplant and couldn’t lie on cold ground – the police beat him. Those who moved or asked for medical assistance were beaten. Police processed rubber-stamped charge-sheets, which the detainees didn’t even get to read. They spent the night outside, first flat on the ground, then kneeling by the wall. The next day, police shoved them into prison vans. “We were crammed in, like fish in a barrel, drowning in our own sweat, some on their knees, some flat on the floor on top of one another... The queue by the gates [of Zhodino prison] was two-three hours long. The sun was burning through the van, it was suffocating. When we asked for water or to open the door even by a crack, all we got were threats and curses. [Eventually] one guy started having seizures… they relented and gave us some water, let some air in,” Vitaly said. At Zhodino, a staff doctor called an ambulance for a man with fractures but waved away the health complaints from other detainees, saying, “You should’ve stayed home.” Vitaly was released on August 14 having never been brought to court.