A year ago, the Minsk-based activist Raman Bandarenka, who was savagely beaten allegedly by security forces or Lukashenka’s adherers amid post-election peaceful protests in the Belarusian capital city, died in hospital.
On 11 November 2020, plainclothes people arrived at the popular offstreet yard known as ‘Square of Change’ in Charvyakou Street and started to remove white and red ribbons (i.e. symbols in protesters’ colours) fastened on the fences. Raman Bandarenka, who resided in a block of flats not far from it, went out and asked what was going on. Bandarenka was put into a van and driven in an unknown direction.
Then Raman Bandarenka was taken to the neurosurgery unit from Tsentralny district police department where he spent about two hours, then to the neurosurgery unit. According to the doctors, Bandarenka was in ‘extremely critical condition’. He was diagnosed with closed craniocerebral injury, acute subdural head hematomas, brain haemorrhage; on November 12, the young man slipped into a coma and passed away. Some doctors speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that the patient was battered by pro-government forces. In turn, the Belarusian Interior Ministry claimed that the policemen found ‘a citizen who got injuries in a fight’. When commenting on the situation, Alyaksandr Lukashenka stated that the deceased was ‘drunk’. But the medical papers anonimously published by health workers on Telegram say that there was 0% of ethanol in Bandarenka’s blood.
On the back of the accident, a number of sportspeople and Internet users familiar with the situation identified sports official Dzmitry Baskau and boxer Dzmitry Shakuta (the both belong to Lukashenka’s coterie) in photos and videos of the masked persons who brutally attacked Raman Bandarenka.
After the death was confirmed, thousands of Belarusians came to the Square of Change to pay the last honours to the murdered protester. Memorial events took place across Belarus and abroad.
The General Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal case over the death of Raman Bandarenka only in February. It was initiated under Part 3 Article 147 of the Criminal Code for intentional infliction of grievous bodily harm resulting in imprudent death. The General Prosecutor’s Office stressed that ‘there was found no involvement of the police officers in the infliction of bodily harm to R. I. Bandarenka’.
It should be noted that three journalists – Belsat TV crew Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova as well as TUT.BY reporter Katsyaryna Barysevich – were sentenced to the terms from 6 months to 2 years in prison for covering issues related to the murder of Raman Bandarenka.
In September 2021, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Belarus suspended the criminal case on the death of Raman Bandarenka. The formal reason for the suspension is ‘the impossibility to identify a person involved in the crime’. On the back of the suspension, ByPol, a campaign created by opposition-minded people who earlier belonged to Belarusian uniformed services, published a new investigation into the circumstances of Bandarenka’s death. In its investigation, ByPol used recordings of telephone conversations received by the so called cyberpartisans as a result of their hacking the Interior Ministry’s database.
According to ByPol, Dzmitry Shakuta, a multiple Muay Thai and kickboxing champion and a training officer at the Special Rapid Response Squad (SOBR), was the first to use violence against Bandarenka. Shakuta was a member of a group formed by Lukashenka’s spokeswoman Natallya Eysmant – they repeatedly raided protest yards to cut off white-red-white ribbons and cover ‘protest’ graffitis with paint. They acted under the shelter of SOBR squad and OMON riot police.
ByPol claims that another suspect in the use of violence against Bandarenka is SOBR senior warrant officer Yauhen Tsimanouski. Before putting Raman into a van, Tsimanouski deliberately threw him down, which resulted in his head’s striking the ground. In addition to Timanouski, the SOBR group also included Captain Sarman, senior warrant officer Antsyufeyeu, warrant officers Buykevich and Savenka. In accordance with the information provided by ByPol, Bandarenka spent in the SOBR van for about 20 minutes, and it is unknown what was being done to the detainee during that period of time. Then Raman, who was in critical condition, was handed over in riot policemen, and they transported him to Tsentralny District Department of Internal Affairs of Minsk, ByPol representatives say. From there, an ambulance took him to hospital.
There are other deaths linked to the 2020 protests in Belarus (Alyaksandr Taraykouski, Henadz Shutau, Mikita Kryutsou, Alyaksandr Vikhor, Kanstantsin Shyshmakou, Vitold Ashurak, Pavel Sibiliou, others).