Reports suggest that people who were detained during the protests in the past few days in Belarus have been subjected to torture and mistreatment by Belarussian police and security forces. On Thursday, August 13, 2020, Belarus’ security forces reported that since last Sunday’s contested election, they detained around 7,000 people.
On Friday, August 14, 2020, ESW learned that Aliaksandr Bystryk, a fellow in New School for Social Research under the Global Dialogues Fellowship Program at the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies, has been among the detainees. Aliaksandr, a Ph.D. Candidate in History at Central European University, has been researching the evolution of the Belarusian national movement, a little known cultural, educational, and political mass mobilization led by Belarusian elites at the end of the First World War. Together with his friends and wife, he was detained, tortured, and threatened to discourage their participation in protests.
According to a report published by the ABC News, detainees have witnessed organized beatings, and people being kept for days without food and threatened with rape. Alina Beresneva, 20, a student of the faculty of journalism, told ABC News that she was picked up by police on the first night of protests shortly after Sunday’s election results were declared giving Lukashenko a landslide amid widespread allegations of ballot-rigging. Beresneva said she and friends had stopped near the protest while coming home, surprised by the riot police lines in central Minsk. Beresneva said when she arrived in the detention center, she witnessed guards screaming derogatory terms at the detainees as they entered. She said guards forced several women to hand over their underwear, and they were placed inside a cell meant for three with 13 other women. From the first cell’s window, she said she watched a group of men detainees being forced to kneel together.
“They were practically naked, on their knees in their underwear. If they moved, they would get hit with sticks,” she told ABC News. At the start of her detention, she said the women had asked to see a lawyer. “They said: You’ve been watching too many American films. This is very different.”
Beresneva said after two days without food, guards came around, forcing people to sign statements they were not allowed to read. She said she could hear screams and people being beaten as the guards went around the cells and when it came to her turn; the guard threatened to rape her if she didn’t sign. She was eventually taken to court, having spent three days without food, and received a fine of around $200, and was released.
Many of those emerging from jail had severe bruising on their faces and other parts of their bodies and told similar stories to journalists of constant beatings, of people being stripped and threatened with rape.
Amnesty International said it had also recorded similar accounts.
“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. “They described being stripped naked and subjected to sadistic beatings while listening to the screams of other victims.”
Endangered Scholars Worldwide condemns the brutal treatment of the protesters in Belarus and stands in solidarity with Belarusians in their struggle for freedom and a peaceful transition to democracy.