Doctor in shock after police brutality and torture in jail

This Sunday, November 8, physician Iryna Markelava walked around Minsk with her neighbors. But the evening did not end according to plan: she was detained in the Niamiha area. The doctor told Belsat about the pepper spray in the paddy wagon, the strip search and torture by hunger.

Doctor Iryna Markelava talks about the torture she experienced in Zhodzina. Photo: heroine’s archive

Life before and after

Iryna Markelava, together with her friends, went for a walk on Sunday, November 8 to Niamiha. They got there at about 3 pm.

“We were in a good mood, we sang songs. We walked towards GUM. But everything was blocked there, so we returned to the Pobediteley Avenue,” recalls Iryna.

When Iryna and her friends were returning to Niamiha, it started to rain, and they opened their white and red umbrellas. At that moment, paddy wagons drove up from behind with men in black.

“They came up to me and said “Come with us”! And then all of us were loaded into a paddy wagon, 32 people,” Iryna says.

What happened in the paddy wagon turned turned around Irina’s life.

“We felt some kind of smell, as if the gas had been turned on. Everyone began to cough. And then I couldn’t breathe. For the first time in my life, I had laryngospasm – a condition when the vocal cords are closed and you can neither inhale nor exhale. The people next to me started shouting that I felt bad, but the door was closed and none of the security officials heard it. They took me to the door to breathe into the opening, it became easier. But then the gas was turned on again.”

Then the door was opened and the paddy wagon was aired. The riot police entered there, and they literally started throwing in guys. They were severely beaten, put in shameful positions: so that they would stick their faces in the behinds of others. They were also constantly beaten with truncheons.

“I realized there that I could easily die there,” she says with tears in her voice.

Doctor Iryna Markelava. Photo: family archive

The white-red-white flag was used as a rag

It took the paddy wagon several hours to reach a police station. Iryna says that after their arrival, they stood in the street for about 15 minutes, facing the wall. Then the detainees were taken to the assembly hall.

“There were about a hundred people there: both men and women. In the police station, I noticed that some were beaten, some were limping. Some of the detainees were marked with paint, their hair was cut off. They took away my earrings and a cross. The jewelry was never returned,” Irina describes her experience.

The registration at the police station ended at about midnight. Then the people were loaded onto a bus and taken to Zhodzina.

At the entrance to the paddy wagon, as well as at the entrance to the jail, there was a white-red-white flag — it was used as a rag. A woman tried not to step on the flag, but she was hit with a truncheon.

Iryna says that in the Zhodzina prison the detainees were treated in a rude manner. They were sworn at, threatened to use physical force on any occasion. The prison staff forced them to crouch down, and they mocked those who could not do it due to their sore legs.

Crowded cells, not enough air

The torture did not end there. In the Zhodzina prison, the detainees were forced to stand with their hands behind their backs, palms up. It was so uncomfortable that Iryna’s hands began to swell very quickly.

Then the detainees were examined.

“We were stripped naked, even asked to show the crotch,” says Iryna in a trembling voice.

At about 4 o’clock in the morning, the detainees were taken to their cells. There were 6 metal surfaces, made of metal plates, without a mattress. Iryna says she was lucky with her clothes – she put on a ski suit. But others suffered a lot: it is painful and cold to lie on such “beds”.

At about 5:30 am, another 13 detained women were brought into the cell. In total, there were 25 people in the cell for 6 people, there was not even a place to sit down. There was not enough air in the stuffy room.

“In the cell, we heard how they tortured the detained guys. We heard truncheon blows, we heard people running, but they seemed to have no shoes or even moved around on their knees. We heard them stomp, but it was too quiet.”

At about 7 am, a woman with diabetes felt sick. Due to the nature of the disease and treatment, she must eat every 2-3 hours. But no one fed the detainees.

“They knocked on the door, tried to call for help for the woman. But nobody came. A person could die and nothing would happen!” Iryna said indignantly. “In the end, we got through to some employee and he brought the woman three small pieces of bread. The rest were never fed.”

Iryna says that the cells in Zhodzina are now overcrowded — I saw a lot of things on the prison floor.


The trial began the next morning. Many people were given fines. Iryna has a minor son, so they could not punish her with a jail sentence. At the trial, she said that she was on her way to church with others. As a result, the case was returned for revision — the next hearing will be held on November 23.

Even during the trial they spoke very rudely to the detainees.

“There was a man who said, “If you don’t shut up, I’ll have to use force!” They talked to us as if we were a herd of sheep,” recalls Iryna.

When Iryna was released, volunteers in Zhodzina met her at the exit. A neighbor drove her home from prison.

Riot police during the “March of Democracy” in Minsk. November 8, 2020. Photo:

The pleasure of bullying and power

She is convinced that there was no purpose in torture.

“They want to intimidate us, break us. It is obvious that some of these people enjoy torturing us. Not only bullying, but also their authority. They realize that they can do whatever they want with us, and they won’t be held responsible for it,” the woman emphasizes.

After what happened with her, Iryna says that she does not plan to walk at the protests yet. “I will rest,” she says.

Iryna was in the same paddy wagon and police station as Miss Belarus Volha Khizhynkova, who was detained on Sunday. She says she was shocked, so she didn’t pay attention. But other women later told her that they recognized Volha.

“Some young policemen spoke about her being a model, saying that “she was already old”.

Activism is a family matter

The Markelov family has long been involved in civic activism. Iryna’s son Pyotr Markelau is a co-founder of several social movements; he was repeatedly detained by security officials.

Her husband Dzmitry Markelau, also a doctor, was detained on November 2 for taking part in the action of solidarity of doctors with expelled students. For expressing his civil position, he was arrested for 8 days. Dzmitry was released on November 10.

The Markelau family at the BNR-100 celebration. Photo: family archive

Iryna emphasizes that now many are protesting with their families.

“I spoke with a lot of people, when I was walking around the city, in paddy wagons and the police station, I waited for info at the police station, gave parcels, waited for the trials. They told the stories of their families. Everyone is fighting with their families. Those who cannot go out, give support in other ways, transfer money, take people out of dangerous places. Being around such people is the main source of inspiration,” she says.


  • According to the Viasna human rights center, at least 16,000 people were detained during the entire election campaign in Belarus.
  • The Belarusian human rights community recognized 121 people as political prisoners.
  • According to human rights activists, 1,055 people were detained on November 8. This is the most massive wave of repressions in Belarus since August.
  • The International Committee for the Investigation of Torture demands from the Investigative Committee to initiate criminal cases for the use of special equipment and acts of violence on the march of democracy.
  • On November 9, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Belarus announced that it had transferred to court more than 100 cases related to massive bail and violence against employees of the internal affairs bodies. At the same time, not a single torture case was initiated.

Ksenia Tarasevich /