Endless night of torture: Story of young Minsker arrested on his way home

22-year-old Minsk citizen Yahor Skarabahaty is one of the many so called randomly arrested people. On August 10, he was dragged to a police van by security forces in the middle of the day, then violently beaten and tortured.

Yahor Skarabahaty after release from pre-trial detention centre. Photo: Belsat.eu

Telling his story to Belsat, Yahor Skarabahaty said the arrest was very similar to what happened to 90% of the people those days.

“My friend and I were at the shopping centre in Nyamiha street. That day the shopping centres were closing earlier than usual. We left the building and went to the tramway to catch a tram home. Upon entering the park, we saw two riot police officers and two minibuses. Behind us, there were police vans with more riot police officers putting on the anti-riot armour.

Innocent musical instrument craftsman tortured by police

We thought that if we started running back, they would definitely run after us. That moment we should have run indeed, in fact. Instead, we came up to them and asked if we could get to the tramway. They said that yes, totally but demanded that we show the contents of our backpacks. Once we started opening them, those two riot police officers ran up to us, tied our hands and had us follow them.

OMON officer wrote 3% on our foreheads

They found a sweater, band-aid, sanitiser and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide in my backpack. An officer stared at it for a while and commented that I was well-prepared for the protests. Then they had a look at my passport, took a photo and asked me where I studied, how much money I got for participating in the protests etc. After that they put us lying face down on the bus, labelling us with a 3% mark on the forehead and the neck by a black felt tip pen. Later, I found out that was a way for differentiating us: if a person had a black mark, he could be beaten with all the violence and brutality; if the mark was green, the person could be beaten less.

Yahor Skarabahaty after release from pre-trial detention centre. Photo: Belsat.eu
Yahor Skarabahaty after release from pre-trial detention centre. Photo: Belsat.eu

Punches in face and head with fist in glove

Then we were transferred to another bus. There we were violently beaten right away. I was trying to hide my head between the seats but that made the officers even more angry. One of them took my head, the other one hit me several times in the face, jaw and nose with a fist in the glove. After that we were punched in kidneys, back and legs. I felt blood dripping all over my face. Then we were put into the police van, our hands were handcuffed behind the back. The van stood still till it was 100% full.

The temperature in the police van was about 40°C, we were all sopping. A guy next to me got short of breath. He might have had asthma. Riot police officers paid no attention to him saying that they would easily bring him back to consciousness. All this time they kept violently beating people and waving their batons.

It was a long trip in the police van. The driver didn’t slow down a second so every bump on the road was resonating in the aching beaten body. When the van stopped we were taken outside and put on the bare ground face down. The hands were constantly handcuffed behind the back – we couldn’t feel our fingers anymore.

Yahor Skarabahaty after release from pre-trial detention centre. Photo: Belsat.eu

Endless night of torture

Then one after another we were taken up on our feet and asked our names and surnames. They were filming our responses. Then they laid us back on the ground. After some time they took us to another place and repeated the procedure. I didn’t get why. This is how we spent the night – around 16 hours on the bare ground. Riot police officers shifted several times. Very few of them were decent and allowed us to change body postures; lying face down with your hands behind the back was painful.

There was a man lying next to me who had an epileptic seizure. His whole body was shaking, he didn’t react to anything around him. During that hour OMON riot police were approaching him, poking him with their shoe, asking if he was still alive, and then going away. It took quite some time till they felt sorry for him and took him by his arms and legs to the ambulance.

Raped with truncheons, beaten and insulted: peaceful protesters suffered for their views

There was another man who asked for his pills. He was saying that he had just recently got out of the surgery and may die without the medicine. Little did they care though. The beatings kept going on. One guy addressed an OMON officer, urging him to take off his mask and show his face, questioning why they were so afraid to reveal themselves. He was violently kicked for that.

That’s how I spent the unforgettable sleepless night at the most horrible hotel in my whole life. It was only the next day, approximately at 11 am that people were transported to the prison in Akrestsin street or the pre-trial detention centre in Zhodzina.

Beaten with batons

I was facing down during the whole journey and was asked to hold my hands above my head while kneeling. My hands and legs were completely blue. If someone complained about being tortured, they continued to beat him with batons. The perpetrators told us that if we thought we were in pain, they could actually hurt us even more.

One more thing caught my attention in the pre-trial detention centre in Zhodzina. When we were standing in line for registration or sitting in police vans, the officers were talking to each other. One of them asked if anyone could fix a man’s arm? One of them replied “No, but you could break the other hand to even it up.” It made them laugh.

Yahor Skarabahaty was released on Friday, August 14. He says that many detainees and people subjected to torture were arrested when they were on the way back home from their offices, shops, etc. The young man is determined not to let the security officials go unpunished. Yahor managed to undergo a forensic examination and register the beatings. Not everyone could do the same though, as he observed, a forensic expert very often refuses to do his job and does not accept complaints. But in his case, Yahor expects that his claim of torture by riot police officers will be considered.

Human rights center Viasna already has 450 testimonies of beaten people. Here’s another story

Syarhei Yahorau, belsat.eu