A jail term for wearing clothes or decorating a window in the ‘wrong’ colors is not much of a surprise these days. But sometimes there are really absurd stories. For example, Pavel, a citizen of Minsk, has been punished with 12 days in jail for flying the flag of… England. It is a red cross on a white background. It has the colors of the WRW flag. Belsat has spoken with Pavel about white-red-white flags, conditions on Akrestsina and football.
Pavel is 39 years old. He lives in Minsk and worked in construction. He likes exhibitions, communicating with interesting people and Belarusian music. In his youth he was strongly fond of football: he supported Lokomotiv Minsk club and the England national team. Long ago he was given the flag of England with the St. George cross as a gift.
In 2016 he decided to hang it in the kitchen for entourage. On the Freedom Day 2017, Paul even had problems because of it:
“Then, on March 25, the police came to see me, but I was not at home. They even climbed the tower to see what kind of flag it was. Then they realized that it was the flag of England, not the Belarusian white-red-white. After that incident, there were no claims”.
After the 2020 elections, Pavel understood that he could have problems because of the colors of the flag. But as a matter of principle he decided not to take it off.
“After all, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s the flag of England. What kind of problems could I have?” he explains.
So he had the flag hanging instead of curtains. From time to time Pavel took it off to wash and iron it. On the evening of March 3, when Pavel was detained, the flag was missing from the window.
At about 11 p. m. somebody rang the door. The men said they were district police. There was no flag, but Pavel was watching a movie by Stsyapan Putsila on his laptop.
“I turned off the computer, but the officers noticed what I was watching. They suggested I go with them to the police department to file a report. I wanted to take the flag, so that everyone would be convinced that it was St. George’s. But I was told that if I wanted to keep it, I’d better leave it at home. They promised that I would return home,” Paul explains.
At the police station, they drew up a report on Pavel under Article 23.34 and showed pictures of the front of his house. The policemen asked him if he recognized his window. They also asked him to plead guilty, which Pavel refused to do. As a result, he spent the entire night at the police station.
In the morning, when a higher-ranking officer arrived, Pavel started arguing with him.
“I said that they had deceived me. They promised that they would let me go home, and they lied.”
The trial took place via Skype. Pavel tried to explain that he disagreed with the decision: it was not a protest, the flag was used as a curtain. The judge didn’t even know which flag it was. She had to Google what it looked like. She went out for a break. On her return, she sentenced Pavel to 12 days of arrest.
“You could see that it was hard for her to making this decision. It was like she got an order to jail everyone,” Pavel now says.
He got to the Akrestsina jail already in the evening. He describes the conditions as “hellish, but in good company”.
“I was constantly in the same cell, among educated, interesting, well-read people. Everyone there had been sentenced under Article 23.34. Some hung flags in the windows, some sang songs in the underground passages. The everyday routine was more difficult: they cut off the hot water, even though it was in the cells of the non-political detainees. The administration regularly took away the mattresses. During one of the searches they took away the pens so that the detainees could not write their complaints”.
During the entire 12-day period Pavel was only taken for a walk three times. They managed to get some fresh air after they sang the anthem. There were no baths or showers, and they could only use cold water to wash themselves. There were parcels, they did not know if they were given all of them. For example, food mostly arrived, but books and crosswords did not.
“But we had supplies from previous prisoners. So if you have something left after your jail term – leave it in the cell,” advises Pavel.
This experience only strengthened Paul’s views.
“I saw the powerlessness of the system, that this marasmus is long overdue for change. They thought that people would do their time and be afraid. But only more hatred is born. More eyes are opening to what is happening in the country.
Will Pavel continue to put up the flag? The man is not so sure about that.
“There are other ways to express my position politically. I have the flag, but not on the window, so as not to provoke them. Why pull the cat by the whiskers when there are other methods.”
He keeps in touch with his former cellmates. He says they call each other “the little family of 23.34.” But all is not so happy: the term badly undermined the health of Pavel’s mother, she began to have major heart problems.
But all the same, Pavel believes in a bright future.
“My prediction is that everything will be fine. But not right away. Any dictatorial regime will end badly. Maybe it will not happen today, or tomorrow, and not in a month from now. But it will happen. It’s inevitable.”
Kseniya Tarasevich/ belsat.eu