Those detained on 8 November 2020 told their stories on how they were tortured in prisoner transport vehicles, police offices, and detention centers
14 November 2020, 16:01 | Adarya Gushtyn, TUT.BY
More than 1,000 people were detained in Minsk on 8 November. People were held outside, with their hands up against the walls for hours on end, sprayed with gas, beaten and humiliated. The evidence collected by us and human rights defenders from the detainees who received fines and have already been released indicates that the inhumane treatment that shocked Belarus right after the election has returned to the detention centers and police offices. So far, there have been no criminal cases opened against the security forces.
On 8 November another Sunday march took place in Minsk, although it’s difficult to call it a full-fledged march since several thousand participants managed to gather only briefly, mostly in small scattered groups that were soon detained by security forces. Moreover, the detentions lasted almost until night.
We were able to talk to several dozen detainees who received fines in court and were released after spending up to three days in police offices and detention centers. They are mostly women (according to the law, women who have minor children cannot be placed under administrative arrest). Summing up the evidence, we can conclude that security forces have selectively returned to harsh detention practices and inhumane treatment of detainees, beginning with their placement in special vehicles and ending with detention in containment cells. The people were humiliated: they were yelled at and threatened, their phones were taken away and photos and correspondence were looked through. These people were beaten, sprayed with gas, held without food and water, transported in crowded compartments in prisoner transport vehicles (PTVs), kept in overcrowded cells. One of the latest “innovations” – the detainees were forced to walk on a white-red-white flag. Those who refused risked being beaten up.
The interviewees asked us not to mention their names for security reasons, but the names are known to the editorial board.
“We were not fed at all, a woman with diabetes was given a piece of bread”
“I was detained near the city hall,” says a 33-year-old woman from Minsk. “I offered no resistance, I calmly went to a PTV. There were other women already. I took out my phone to call my husband but it was ripped out of my hands. Then we were transferred to another PTVs twice. There was a white-red-white flag at the entrance that we had to walk on. I didn’t want to do it and bent down to move it aside, at this moment the riot policeman threw me into a prisoner compartment. The prisoner compartment is designed for one person, but there were three of us: me, a 71-year-old woman, and Volha Khizhynkova. We were sprayed with gas in the prisoner compartments, although no one offered any resistance and didn’t say anything. At that time, men were brought there, they were put on their knees and beaten, they were marked with paint and their hair was wet. All of us were brought to Zavadzki police office.
There we stood against the wall for a while, then we were taken to the assembly hall, it was about 4 pm. I stayed at the police office until 1 am. When they found a white-red-white flag during the search, a young police officer threw it on the floor in disgust, her colleague in a balaclava trampled on it, and, of course, the flag was not included in the inventory list. They arrested my phone and all my money. I asked to call my family, but they didn’t let me. While I was in the police office, my relatives tried to give me my personal belongings, but they [police] refused to take them, citing coronavirus issues. We were taken to the restroom quite often where we could drink tap water. At 1 am, 32 women (many of them were older than 50 years, the oldest was 71 years old) were put in one police van and taken to Zhodzina. Upon arrival, we waited in the prison yard for another hour as many PTVs had gathered.
We were lined up in a chain. The first one was a 50-year-old woman. A white-red-white flag was lying at the entrance again. She didn’t trample on it, then a young police officer punched her in the chest and forced to walk on the flag. If a 50-year-old woman was treated like that, I was terrified of what they could do to me. Then we were told to form a line, squat down, and run in a single file. Women, among whom were retired ones, 60-70 years old! If someone fell and couldn’t run anymore, the security guards pushed them and said that the others would continue to crawl because of them. All this was accompanied by obscene shouts. After that, we had to lower our heads, bend 90 degrees, turn our arms out and put them behind the back – and run like that! I was the first one, my heart was racing, I didn’t see where to run since my head was down, we were running like that through the dimly lit prison corridors at 4 am. Then we had to stand at the bars with our palms out and hands raised as high as possible. Then we were stripped naked, while a female police officer stood by and waved a baton. On her order we had to raise our breasts, turn around and show crotch. By 5 am, we got into a cell where we were not allowed to sit at first, we had to stand with our hands behind our backs and our heads down. Then we were allowed to sleep, but it was impossible because there were 23 of us in a 6-bed cell without mattresses or bed linens. The worst thing is that later on men were brought to the prison and we heard them being tortured. They were forced to sing the [state] anthem, beaten up with batons… We weren’t fed at all. When a 61-year-old woman felt unwell, she had diabetes, we knocked, but they came to us only in an hour and gave her a piece of bread.”
“They forced us to walk in a single file, to crouch, to run to the cell”
“On 8 November at roughly 12:30 pm I was “picked up” at Masherava Avenue near the Development Bank”, says a man from Minsk who asked us not to disclose his name. “I was walking without any symbols, there were a few people around, then a police van approached, there was no place to run to for me. I was politely guided inward, the policemen demanded that I show my phone, I did, they saw Telegram channels and some photos from September, after that there were a couple transfers into PTVs. There I saw different people: beaten and not, tied up and not. My hands were not zip-tied. There was a religious man in the PTV, he tried to talk to the police officers, mentioned facts – it was like talking to a brick wall, it’s clear they are brainwashed by the propaganda.
I was taken to Partyzanski police office where we were sitting in the gym, nobody touched us or beat us, we were allowed to go to the restroom. Firstly, our personal information was copied, reports were drawn up. The policeman who was drawing up my report let me call my relatives and write to them.
Closer to 11 pm we were taken to Zhodzina, the PTV was filled up: some were sitting on the benches, some were sitting on the floor, we would swap regularly. Guards didn’t touch us, they gave water if somebody needed it and opened windows. Also they hung up a video recorder in the cabin and warned us against saying we were beaten up.
And now the most absurd thing: we were debussed in Zhodzina (there is a pre-trial detention centre and a prison – TUT.BY). There were some people working that shift who made us run crouching in a single file for a portion of the distance to the cells. I got a couple baton blows to my knee. Then we reached the cells, everybody was placed in front of the bars, the policemen started writing down our information. People would take off their clothes in one room, then they had to do squats with their underwear lowered to the knee level. After that we were taken to the cells, there were 13 of us in a 6-bed cell, bed linens were not provided. In the afternoon the guards only opened the door a bit for airing. There were people of various ages and professions in my cell, it was pleasant to spend time with them. It relieved the stress, although it was hard to realise all that.
On the second day a major entered the cell and said, “Six people who agree with their reports will go home today.” I didn’t contemplate for a long time, everything was blurred, so I agreed – the trial took a few minutes, the report was read to me, I was warned: next time I may get a criminal charge. Then they began filling out documents for our release. It was peaceful, nobody touched us. Later I got into a conversation with girls, they told me that even a 60-year-old woman was forced to run crouching. Some strangers met us at the exit, treated us with hot tea and cookies. And they drove us home. I’m grateful to them and to all people who supported us.”
“A foreigner was released, while a brave girl was crying, she fought for him against riot police”
“I was arrested and taken first to Maskouski police office, and then to Akrestsina,” says a woman from Minsk. “There was a lot of humiliation, but it is bearable for a mature person. A relative of mine, who was also arrested with me, was less fortunate because she got to Zhodzina where men were beaten up with peculiar ferocity. So this is what she has said: “There is a “creative innovation” in PTVs. They lay out white-red-white flags on the floor so that we walk on them. In the first PTV there was a frightened foreigner sitting next to me. And apparently he had zero knowledge of Russian language. He was in sport shorts, blinking as if trying to say, “So here I am, having taken a jog in the centre of Europe in the middle of the day!” He was released immediately, while a girl who bravely fought riot police for him was crying. While being loaded into the PTV, a guy was battered because of a sticker and laser pointer. Such people are marked with paint right away. I know that one of them later had his hair cut to pieces.”
A fire started in our PTV on the way to the police office, and smoke instantly began to fill the limited space of the prisoner compartment where six fabulous girls were sitting-standing-hanging. To tell the truth, at this point a wild fear descended on me, a simple realisation that no one would act heroic and rescue us. The fire in the PTV started due to a phone catching fire because of the sanitizer, and soon when they heard us coughing, the door was opened for airing.
Later on, closer to the morning, we were taken to Zhodzina in the same compartments. When there are 5 people in a 2-seat compartment (about 70×100 cm), and you don’t know where your arms and legs are, and this thought that the road would take really long… But we persevered, it is our contribution. 120 people gathered in the assembly hall of the police office. Roughly half of them were women, the oldest one was 73 years old! Officers didn’t crack down on us, except when we asked for water they answered, “Your problems!” Still we stood, it is our contribution.
The night shift in Zhodzina took us in harshly: they yelled at us, insulted and humiliated. I was psychologically prepared for this, but their “arms behind your back, lower your heads” is not easy to bear emotionally. All of us were lined up and led to the cells crouching. After personal search men were forced to run in the corridors in their underwear for several hours, to crawl, jump… All that was accompanied by blows. Yeah, that’s their approach – to humiliate a person, to make them feel a terrible discomfort.
In the morning another shift came, they called us “ladies”, and that boosted our spirit. In general, our girls didn’t shed a single tear! There were 24 people in a cell designed for 6, resembling a bus during rush-hours. Yeah, without air, food, every other one having a splitting headache! But there wasn’t a single whiner, no weeping or crying!
We persevered, and that was our contribution. Frankly speaking, a thought about another day in custody got me down, but I kicked out all frustration and was thinking about our political prisoners.
When we got our possessions and were waiting for the trials, we saw our men through a half-opened door, a little beaten, bruised up, but with a light in their eyes. Special thanks to drivers who honked at PTVs. You can’t imagine how invigorating it was.”
“We were transferred in metal prisoner compartments, like meat”
“On 8 November we were surrounded near the Stele. There were many police vans and PTVs. The government security forces were high on adrenaline,” recollects one of the arrested women. “First, they dragged all men of different ages, from the young ones to the elderly ones. Then they went to women: there were brutal arrests, people were beaten and tear gas was used. When I managed to escape the entrapment, I went along the Niezalezhnastsi avenue, where my husband was waiting for me. I met Nina Bahinskaya along the way and I accompanied her together with 20-30 women. We were arrested near “Viacherni Minsk” building along with other passersby. There were 25 women in total. We were taken to Pershamaiski police office. There was a severely beaten woman with me, who was crying and asking to call an ambulance. The ambulance took her from the police office to the emergency hospital. One more woman was dragged out in front of the police office and beaten with batons and fists for refusing to put her face on a car’s hood. Her glasses were smashed.
We were held in the gym until 4 am. There were some men inside. The ambulance took one of them. Later he was brought back, although he felt unwell. Then I was transferred to Akrestsina. I managed to avoid custody only because I have a child. The most terrible thing is that we were transferred in metal prisoner compartments, like meat. It was crowded with people, we felt terrible, we were insulted – that is dreadful. The floor in PTVs is covered with white-red-white flags. We were treated like scum. Only a few of the staff showed some compassion. I am so shocked with what is going on. But I am most worried about the arrested. They are scared, depressed and they only hope that all hasn’t been in vain.”
“A guy couldn’t stand after the corridors of Zhodzina as his legs were beaten so severely”
“I was filming a guy being rounded up when a riot police officer came up to me and took me to the police van,” says a girl who was arrested on 8 November near the Stele. “Then he watched my video, opened the Telegram app. It looked like he found nothing interesting except for the Telegram channel “Belsat”. But my mother goes by Anarchy in my contact list. He noticed that and then his commanding officer came in. I started explaining myself, but he took a blow at my head. I got frightened that they would keep on beating me, but I was just rounded up and taken into the PTV. Thank God, I wasn’t marked with paint. Then there was that standard report filing in Tsentralny police office. When the police report was filed, everyone was taken to the criminal investigation department where we had to testify. One of the staff members was taking photos of everyone once again using his own phone.
Later we were transferred to Zhodzina. Nobody was beaten in my PTV, but girls who were brought later told us that young men were beaten on their way there.
We were treated not so badly. We were placed in a prison cell with a toilet, we were not punished for sitting on the bunk beds in the afternoon. But they gave us no food at all. They said it would happen only after the court. The first trials started around Monday afternoon. Young men, on the contrary, were constantly cursed at and beaten with batons. There were up to 24 people in a 6-people cell. After a trial, a guy was released together with other girls and myself. He couldn’t stand after the corridors of Zhodzina as his legs were beaten so severely. He had a hearing loss in one ear, he was carried to the volunteers. I don’t know what happened to him later.”