Arrest conveyor in Zhodzina

Monologue of a Minsker released due to judges time pressure

11 August 2020, 15:57 | Aliaksandr Baradzikhin, MediaZona
Source: Celestino Arce Lavin, ZUMA / TASS via MediaZona

Yuri Meleshkevich, 37, a member of the council of the center-right BPF party (Belarusian Popular Front party), was detained by riot police (OMON) in the center of Minsk on August 7 during the crackdown of an opposition bike ride. According to the police record, he was protesting on a bicycle, although he did not even have a bicycle. Meleshkevich, along with 80 other detainees, was taken to a detention center in the city of Zhodzina – and yesterday he was released because the judges simply did not have time to look into his record. “Mediazona” has recorded Meleshkevich’s monologue about his detention, transportation in a stuffy police van and release from Zhodzina.

On Friday – I knew that there would be motorists’ actions in the city – I was walking in the street. I was watching what was going on, but I did not participate. I witnessed the ride of cyclists – that is an action that was held on the eve of the elections. I was following the column, they were moving much faster. At some point, I reached the place of the clash of policemen from the [special unit] traffic police “Strela” (‘arrow’), it was in the area of Yakub Kolas  ​[square] from the side of the philharmonic building [on Independence Avenue].

There were two “Strela” cars – they were detaining some of the cyclists, whereas some of them were able to leave through the yards and driveways. When I was passing by, a car with special forces drove up, people both in plain clothes and uniforms came out. Also, a bus with special forces of the internal troops in green uniforms pulled up. I walked past them, some 20 meters up to the intersection to take a picture: I turned around and took two photos of people being detained, cut off, of bicycles falling, people falling, there was a mess. While I was taking the photos, two riot police officers noticed this, turned around and silently rushed at me. Only when they ran up to me, did they start yelling: “What are you photographing? You’re detained!”

They twisted my arms and threw me into the bus, where they tried to inspect my personal belongings, to which I said that they did not have the right to search until they gave me the reason for the detention and the reason for the search. They threw me into the back seat of the minibus and then simply were driving along the avenue: they cut off the cyclists, jumped out and grabbed the cyclists. There were five of us there, one woman and four men. One man was injured during the fall – he fell and hit the asphalt. I was helping him, I handed over some wet wipes to wipe off the blood – he had injured his elbows, there was an abrasion in the area of ​his temple, he felt bad. As a result, he was sent to the hospital, because after a few hours in the police office he began to lose consciousness and was in poor condition.

I was taken to the Leninsky police office, where the officers filed a report, according to which I had been riding a bicycle. I will now demand “my bicycle” if I was on it as the report stated – note: I do not have a bicycle, and I do not use any paid services. They stated that I had participated in the cyclists’ demonstration and had not obeyed the legal requirements of the police, although this is absolutely not true: I did not resist and proceeded to the bus.

All the participants received two reports, all of them lost their bicycles, they were taken out without bicycles. There were four more people in the prison cell, the so-called barbecuers: the guys were detained in the park where they were at a barbecue. They took the barbecuers, the cyclists, all those detained with flags to Zhodzina – a guy named Artyom Dobrokhotov was given a six-day sentence yesterday, he was walking with the flag on the avenue; the barbecuers were set free. 

In total, there were about 80 of us – four or five police vans were sent to Zhodzina. The conditions in the police van were not so great, of course. We stayed in the stuffy air for three hours: I was sitting in a “glass” (kind of a small cage) deprived of everything, four people were suffocating in a metal box, so they were put behind bars. We waited for three hours for everyone to be registered. It was Sunday morning.

On Monday morning we were told that there would be trials – and somewhere at 2 or 3 p.m. they began to take people out to the trials. The judges came directly [to the detention center], and examined the cases there. They tried to look into everyone’s record – the last trial took place somewhere at 19:45, it took about 20 minutes, this was of Artyom Dobrokhotov. I stayed in a cell with him, there were four of us: me, Artyom, one of the barbecuers and a bike ride participant. They simply did not have time to convict us, as the judges left. As it turned out, three people in total were not convicted in Zhodzina due to the lack of time. Those who were sentenced to imprisonment were taken back to the cells: they were given a sentence and a summons, someone a summons and a fine, and mainly they were returned to the cells.

They even searched the apartments of two guys: Denis Malko and Roman Kozlovsky. Malko was in the apartment, they took pictures of it, and Kozlovsky’s place was searched,  his equipment, phone and laptop were taken in relation to mass riots preparation. It was so absurd – if only you saw these people, it’s a far cry from participation in, or even more so, preparing riots, these are absolutely random people who were not involved in political processes.

I have two police records in my possession, a property inventory and an explanation that I gave; the bicycle is not mentioned in the property inventory. The other cyclists were told that their vehicles were taken to a parking lot, but no one knew anything.

When we left Zhodzina, it was already past 2 a.m. We were met by the people who came for [a prisoner Markelov who was released at that time], and they gave us a lift to Minsk, and after that I got home on my own.