– On the morning of February 24, I read the news and was completely shocked, as “Vadim” Dagbladet told.
Russian troops entered the suburbs of Kyiv, which we know today as Potzga and Irpin, through Belarus already on the first day of the war on February 24.
In Belarus, the war led to demonstrations and subsequent arrests of those who took to the streets.
Dagbladet has spoken to “Vadim” and “Aleksej”, who will not be identified for their safety.
They were sentenced to 13 and 15 days in prison respectively – along with more than 900 others arrested after the demonstrations.
Don’t count on war
– We were afraid that Russia would attack, but we thought that it would be confined to the Donbass region. No one relied on all-out war. I was so horrified that Putin was using Belarus as a springboard to attack Ukraine.
Since the 2020 presidential election There were protests in Belaruswhich the special police have always taken strict measures against.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first to congratulate Alexander Lukashenko – also known as “Europe’s last dictator” – on his election victory, saying he could intervene militarily if protests threaten Lukashenko’s regime.
There are more than 1,100 political prisoners in the country, many areas long prison sentencesAccording to the human rights organization Vgasna.
Now Putin and Lukashenko are united by joint participation in the Ukraine war, but very few in Belarus support Putin’s war against Ukraine.
survey conducted by Chatham House It showed in January/February 2022 that only 5 percent of respondents would support a possible war in Ukraine. The morale of the war among the Belarusian army was so low that, despite pressure from Putin, no thought had yet been given to sending them to Ukraine.
“No to war”
On February 27, a referendum was planned in Belarus in which a new version of the constitution would be voted on. Alexei wrote “No to war” on the ballot paper and set off for a local demonstration.
Vadim was arrested during the largest demonstration in the center of Minsk. They barely managed to start shouting “No to war!” When the special forces stormed the place.
– It was the young boys who were sent to the “expedition”, perhaps their first mission, says Vadim.
They seemed frightened and overly aggressive. They were violently beaten with batons and threatened with weapons. I really wanted to quit, but a badly beaten guy stopped me. Then I was also taken to the prison car, he said.
Vadim said that the car eventually filled up with about 30 protesters. He describes how everyone was ordered to turn off the phones, and no one was able to send messages to their loved ones. At the police station, phones and other belongings were confiscated. Vadim never got the phone back.
Alexei was arrested elsewhere in the city. He secretly took two photos of the riot police, was stopped and ordered to show the phone. He said he refused and was taken to the police minibus. Here he realized that it was in his best interest to unlock the phone.
It’s over Vadim and Alexei The notorious Okristina prison in Minsk.
The prison became known after the protests of 2020, when more people came Reports of violence and torture of political prisoners in prison.
Alexey and Vadim talk about what they met when they arrived:
– The guards roared “Head, run fast!” He paid the detainee with batons.
They should then be placed outside in the cold in an inner courtyard, faces facing a wall, to wait for their turn to be physically searched.
– chase back and forth
Over the next three days, speedy trials were held via Skype in the prison corridors. Almost all of them received sentences of between 13 and 15 days or heavy fines.
Both men describe appalling prison conditions. They claim that during the two weeks they were in prison, they were not allowed to shower or change clothes. Al-Kisij tells about 32 people in a cell of eight people.
There were no mattresses, the bunk beds had either metal bottoms or wooden planks, and many had to sleep on the floor.
They said the light was never turned off, and the toilet was just a hole in the floor.
– It was clearly an order to create the most unpleasant conditions for “political” prisoners, unlike those who spent time in other departments, as Vadim claims.
– One day they said that we should be moved to another city – and then “forgotten” us for two days, he says and estimates that he lost about 10 kilograms of body weight.
Amnesty International’s political advisor, Gerald Falkford, cannot comment on this particular incident, but told Dagbladet that torture is extremely brutal and widespread in Belarus.
– This applies both in prison and in detention. Worse than that, are the detainees for political reasons, as in the demonstration. He says they have no one to protect them.
Falkford says brutality has only intensified after the 2020 presidential election.
– During the large demonstrations that followed the elections, torture was observed. The police drove buses and took people off the street and actually started torturing them on the bus. He affirms that this is a systematic and systematic matter and is agreed upon by the First Party.
Alexey can confirm:
One has only to understand that they view all prisoners, especially politicians, as objects or animals, or at best enemies. If you ask for something or ask for something and you’re not so lucky, you have to squat until you collapse from exhaustion, spray tear gas into the cell, rinse chlorine water on the floor, or “forget” to give your food.
The day before his release, Vadim was taken to a city 200 km from Minsk.
– I can’t explain it, it makes no sense but to make it as difficult as possible for our loved ones to pick us up, he says.
– When we were transferred, we immediately realized that an order had been issued to give us from the capital a particularly “gentle” welcome. Our hands were tied back and forth across the hallway, our heads bowed. On the last morning, they took us out of the cell every hour without clothes, handcuffed us, and told us to squat and get up again and again.
Amnesty International’s investigation in the region is currently focused on the war in Ukraine, and the organization has not had the opportunity to investigate violence against anti-war protesters in Belarus. However, Falkford believes there is every reason to fear a repeat of the extreme brutality against protesters we saw in 2020 and 2021.
None of the above surprises me. Individuals were beaten and tortured, while others were thrown into prison cells with appalling hygiene practices. This is a system that exists to break people, says Volkford.
It’s a way to force people to shut up, simply to scare people, he adds.
Volkford says freedom of expression in Belarus is virtually non-existent.
Freedom of expression does not exist once you want to use it to criticize the authorities. Brutality and imprisonment crush any criticism. Things have always been bad, but they got worse after the election. Especially when it comes to the widespread use of torture. There is now a lot of frustration and oppression among the population and the mind among them is growing.
The only positive thing about the residence was the people they shared cells with, say the men Dagbladet spoke to.
– They were great people! exclaims Vadim.
Most of them were convicted under the Penal Code of illegal mass events.
– But in the end we got more people who were arrested preventively, because they were active before, and we got 15 days. Even more disgusting, some of them, after their release, were immediately arrested again before they had time to leave prison, and were given another 15 days. I personally have seen two such cases. This uncertainty is very annoying. You don’t know if you will actually be released or sent back to your cell. This is called a carousel and it breaks the psyche of the prisoners.
From what was said on state radio, the inmates understood that Ukraine had resisted the war, and they were happy with it:
– I hope that one day the Ukrainians will find out that even talking is dangerous here, but in spite of this we are not silent, says Alexig.
– But will they understand? Do they accept and forgive? He says these are the important questions for me.
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