In 2020, Belarus became a country with thousands of detained, beaten, tortured people. In its project ‘I Was Being Lucky’, Belsat TV tells the stories of 21 Belarusians who suffered police brutality.
Anton (it is not his real name) had clearly come prepared for the interview. He recalls a lot of details. He and his wife have told their story in detail before. The family is trying to get a refugee status in one of the European countries. He said that when the Internet was turned off in Belarus, they had to pull out an old TV set. From it they learned the official election results.
“I felt it was a victory at last – 26 years later. Yarmoshyna and all these official election figures looked like regime convulsions. I wanted to see the beginning of the end,” he says. As the young men were walking home, they asked the riot police for directions. “Now it looks like an incredibly stupid decision,” Anton laughs.
One of the security officers ordered to open the backpack, and while Anton was taking it off, the other started beating the man. Three riot policemen threw him in a bus to another group of their colleagues. They continued the beating, demanding to unlock the phone and show the media files. Anton believes that the security forces actually expected to detain some armed people or at least the protest coordinators. Seeing a partially empty smartphone, the security officers were a little confused until the order came to “arrest everyone”. Then the beating continued.
“I was lying on the floor, bleeding, with a riot policeman’s foot on top of me, while more people were thrown into the bus and beaten,” Anton recalls. Even then, the man hoped that they would be taken to the police station, forced to sign a ‘no complaints’ paper and released home.
“I was sure that I would not even have to pay a fine, because the country would wake up different. And I thought that in a couple of days I would be able to laugh with these riot policemen about what was happening,” he recalls.
However, they were not taken to the police station, but to Akrestsin Street jail. Hundreds of detainees stood in front of the gray wall for several hours. Every movement, every question resulted in the thud of truncheon breaking the silence of the night. “Someone started crying, asking to be let go. When someone was crying and screaming, they were beating them harder to fuel the horror,” says Anton. Then a group of 15 people was taken to the corridor, ordered to undress.
Their personal information was collected. Everything was accompanied by incessant beatings. Then they were thrown into a cell for 6 people. In total there were about three dozen people inside.
They spent three days in a small cell. Sweat was dripping from the walls. Anton said that the time in the cell undermined his health more than torture and beatings. Closed windows, almost airtight doors: only the warden sometimes opened the small window to shout at the prisoners. Two tightly closed windows and high ceilings meant there was nothing to breathe.
“On the first morning, all thirty people in the cell woke up with swollen eyes, we began to stink, itch, we smelled like thirty sweaty men who were beaten,” says Anton.
The man is sure that the riot police in Akrestsin Street jail were under the influence of some psychotropic substances. “Those who detained us beat us because they could. Usually without rage. And the people inside … they were actually beating us to break our health. When we found ourselves there, the hope vanished,” Anton says. He tells about dozens of people who could not stand the beating and defecated.
They were forced to wipe everything with their own clothes. He mentions a person with asthma, who continued to be beaten during the attack. Then they poured water on him and dragged him in the cell by the legs. Just like Mikalai, Anton saw two bodies covered with cloth in the jail yard. Whether those people were alive, he does not know.
Something like a monument was erected in the yard of Akrestsin Street jail. A helmet was put on the garbage can and a shield was attached. “A riot policeman was killed, you scum! If I find out who did it, I’ll end you!” shouted one of the security officers. The death of the security official was not even officially reported. Anton does not know whether the riot police scared the detainees this way, or whether they really got information about the death of a colleague.
After a symbolic trial via Skype, where everyone received 13-15 days in jail, people began to be released. In the yard, a riot policeman asked Anton if he knew why he had been there. He replied that, of course, he understood everything, regretted participating in the protests and promised not to take part in anything else.
“As I understood, this was the right answer. I was given something to sign, but I couldn’t look up to see what it was. Those who said they were just walking by and not taking part in anything were beaten and returned to their cells,” Anton recalls. Before his release, even those who answered “correctly” were beaten again.
After his release, the family decided to leave Belarus almost immediately. At the end, Anton mentioned an interesting detail: when he was collecting things from Akrestsin Street jail, he found in his Telegram several channels to which he had not been previously subscribed. He believes that this way the riot police can quickly find out whether a person has been detained before, and advises everyone whose phone was unlocked to check their subscriptions.
Get acquainted with our interviewees and read their stories here.