After a rigged election in Belarus Sunday, protesters turned out in the streets and faced off with police for several nights. Nearly 7,000 people were arrested and now, under international pressure, many of those people are being released. They describe beatings and torture while they were detained and many have the bruises to prove it:
Released prisoners shared pictures showing their bruised and swollen bodies, including injuries to backs and buttocks that they alleged were caused by police.
Amnesty International said detainees described being stripped naked, beaten and threatened with rape.
“Former detainees told us that detention centres have become torture chambers, where protesters are forced to lie in the dirt while police kick and beat them with truncheons,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
A 16-year-old who was arrested during the protests while crossing a street said his family figured out where he was being held and came to demand his release. Instead, the police arrested them as well:
“The police said if they were given an order to kill us, they would kill us all without any hesitation,” Vitushka told BuzzFeed News. “They were shouting, ‘Oh yeah, do you need your democracy now?’”
“They were trying to scare people so they wouldn’t take part in any protests,” he added.
A Russian journalist who was arrested during the sweep wrote a long account of his detention and what he saw:
The guy in front of me had his head slammed into the door frame of the police building on purpose. He screamed in pain. In response, they started beating him on the head and screaming: “Shut up, bitch!” The first time they hit me was when they were taking me out of the van. I hadn’t bent down low enough and got a punch to the head, then a knee to the face.
In the station, they first took us into a room on the fourth floor. It was full of people lying on the floor like a living carpet, and we had to walk right over them. I felt very uncomfortable that I stepped on someone’s hand, but I couldn’t see where I was going at all, because my head was bent towards the floor. “Everyone on the floor, face down,” they yelled. There was nowhere to lie, because everywhere people were lying in pools of blood.
I was able to find a place and lie down, not on top of people, but nearby. I could only lie on my stomach, with my face down. I was lucky to be wearing a medical mask, which protected me from the dirty floor into which I had to bury my nose. The guy next to me was trying to make himself more comfortable and accidentally turned his head to the side, immediately getting a kick in the face with an army boot.
Around us were horrific beatings. Everywhere we heard blows, shouts, and screams. I thought that some of the detainees might have broken arms, legs, or spines, because they screamed in pain at the slightest movement…
At about 2 a.m., new detainees were brought. And this is where the real brutality began. The officers forced the detainees to pray, to read the Lord’s Prayer. Those who refused were beaten with all available means. We heard people being beaten on the floors above and below us. The feeling was that people were being practically trampled into the concrete.
There’s no need to even take anyone’s word for it. Several videos on social media recorded the sounds of people being beaten in the detention centers. The screams were loud enough that you could hear them from outside:
[SOUND ON] "It feels like we live in Middle Ages." Here is audio recorded last night near the Minsk detention center where hundreds/thousands are being kept, indoor and outdoor. You can hear screams and moans from beatings. pic.twitter.com/flb4CjdyDY
— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 13, 2020
Here’s another video put together by the BBC:
In reaction, the US and the EU have threatened sanctions against Belarus. Also today former opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya released a new video from exile in Lithuania.
“The majority do not believe in his victory,” she said.
She also called on authorities to stop the “bloody slaughter” of protesters and agree to a dialogue.
“I ask the mayors of all cities to organize peaceful mass assemblies in every city on Aug. 15 and 16,” she added.
Here’s the video. You can turn on auto-translate to get a sense of what she’s saying.