Man recounts police brutality and bullying

The 29-year-old electrician Yury Shafranski was detained after Sunday march on September 27 near the Uruchcha metro station in Minsk. The man was attacked by people in balaclavas, beaten until he collapsed and later poured a bucket of cold water over his face. Soaked in blood, he was locked up in a punishment cell. His wife and child searched for him for three days without results. Yury told about the 15-day arrest and abuse of protesters by law enforcement officers.

Yury Shafranski. Photo from personal archive

Yury Shafranski was returning home from a Sunday rally on September 27. The man was arrested in the Uruchcha district. Around 7 p.m., people began to disperse. Yury was walking towards McDonald’s. Suddenly, he heard people behind him screaming the police were coming. Turning around, two hundred meters away, he saw people with truncheons running in his direction from the forest.

The man ran, but was soon thrown to the ground by riot policemen in balaclavas, who jumped out of the minibuses passing by.

Yury said that he did not resist and asked not to beat him, but the words had no effect on the law enforcers. They handcuffed him and took him to the minibus. Two more guys who were walking from behind Yury were also detained.

“The minibuses drove around the district for forty minutes and picked up the most beaten men. Some had their head in blood, others had a ruptured ear or damaged eardrum. Everyone was denied medical help. There were eight people in the buses, who were brought to the Central Department of Internal Affairs”.

Protests in Belarus. August-September 2020. Photo: Lesya Pcholka

The riot police continued to mock the detainees in the bus. Yury was put on the floor and beaten on his face and head. The man’s phone was found on him, and he was told to unblock it, but Yury says he closed his eyes and kept quiet. He collapsed as a result of blows.

He found out how he came to his senses from the witnesses that were also in the bus. The police gave him a sniffing ammonia, put their feet on his chest and hit his face and genitals, threatened to make an enema and throw him out outside Kurapaty. The beating did not make Yury regain his consciousness, and the law enforcement agencies switched to other detainees.

Central police department

Eight people together with Yury were brought to the Central police department. When pulled out of the bus, he had a bucket of cold water poured in his face which forced him to come to his senses. The policemen were sure that he was faking, so they started beating Yury again.

“They were yelling at me, asking why I was fooling them. They beat me badly, my legs were smothered and they pulled me, forced me to walk, said it would be worse.”

One of Yury’s cellmates being detained. Screenshot from video

In the station, Yury was placed against the wall, and next to him was a phone thrown on the floor. All detainees had to give evidence. The investigator wrote in the report that Yury participated in an unauthorized march and resisted law enforcement officers. The only thing they were allowed to do was disagree with the protocol, Yury said.

“I did not agree with the charges and asked to indicate that I had been beaten. They told me not to make fuss of it because they would take me out and beat me more. I signed the protocol that I did not agree with it.”

Akrestsina jail

All eight of them were taken to Akrestsina jail. The trial took place on the second day, the men received 15 days of arrest. Despite hopes for transfer to another prison, where there could have been better conditions, the detainees were left in the detention center. Here the men were kept in two solitary confinement cells measuring 1.5 by 3 m — four in each.

Yury got to the jail all soaked in water and blood. Some people were dressed in shorts and T-shirts. He had to spend 10 days there. It became quite unbearable when a homeless man was put in the cell, Yury recalls.

A bright light constantly lit the cells. There was no water in the tap or toilet, the excrement was washed off only every other day. A bucket of water was brought in for this. The bed strapped to the wall in the cell was not lowered throughout their stay there, so they had to sleep on bare concrete. Everyone was feeling very cold, some people had kidneys problems, there was no toilet paper to blow your nose, Yury said. Detainees asked for medical help, but the doctor refused to do anything.

“He asked about health complaints. Some said they were collapsing, others said they felt cold on the concrete floor, someone was nauseous, someone’s head was in blood from the wound. He told us that these were not legitimate complaints.”

Yury remembered the attitude of the detention facility staff who did not respond to any request or complaint.

“We asked them to give us blankets to lie on, to which they replied: not allowed. Parcels were left at the cell door so that we could see them, but not given to us. In the morning we were taken out for search, a lot of parcels with warm things were there, but we were “not allowed” to get them.”

Homeless people were regularly replaced in the cell. After one of them shit himself, he was given a bath and a new one was brought. A bucket of chlorine was poured into the cell and left there for half a day. They were afraid to come in due to the stench. There was no window and we did not know if it was day or night. We could only be guided by food serves. The only thing that was fine was food.”

March of Pride on October 11. Photo: Natallia Fedasenka / TASS / Forum


After ten days, all were moved to Baranavichy. Yury says that they were quickly woken up before breakfast, given parcels with bad food, which were lying outside the door of the disciplinary cell, were put in the paddy wagons. They were not told where they were being taken. They learned that it was Baranavichy only from the person in charge there.

The first day, according to Yury, the conditions were acceptable. They were allowed to go wash themselves, it was possible to smoke in the cell, the parcels were brought in daily. They were given paper, pens, puzzles, and taken out for a walk. However, the next day came an inspection from the capital.

“We were only told that there was a high-level inspection from Minsk, we need to appoint a person on duty. The next day everything changed. They took away the pens, banned smoking, lying and sitting on mattresses. They stopped turning off the light. Parcels were only brought in on Thursdays. The only thing they left was walks, be it 10 minutes or 40 minutes sometimes. Well, at least the toilet could be flushed and there was cold water in the tap.”

Hidden from relatives to avoid complaints

The men did not know each other before the arrest. Yury notes that the riot policemen during the arrest called them “criminals who went to attack their wives.” He thinks such a long jail term has to do with serious injuries inflicted by the security forces. The man believes that they were imprisoned for 15 days so that the wounds could heal.

“After 15 days all the wounds were gone. There were bruises from the truncheons, but they also came off.”

Yury also notes that they were deliberately hidden from their relatives. Yury’s wife Vera was able to find him only after the trial. For three days the woman called the police department and prisons where her husband could be kept, but nowhere was she given any information.

“Firstly, our relatives were not told where and when the trial would take place. Relatives called all authorities, and they were constantly redirected. Like, we don’t give information by phone, come in person. They came, and they were told that we were not there, that we were somewhere else. As a result, one of the relatives phoned the Frunzenski district police department, where we were tried. They were told that they had given us 15 days of arrest and they hung up.”

During the time spent in Akrestsin Street and in Baranavichy, Yury, like the other detainees, did not receive a single document, except for a printout of the payment method through the Settlement system (ERIP). However, there are no seals and signatures, as well as information on how much and where to pay for the detentio.

Now Yury is on sick leave. He has a runny nose, cough and chilled kidneys. Most of all, the man is worried about his wife Vera and his five-year-old daughter Nadzeya, who did not know anything and experienced great stress.

“My wife is not angry with me. She was very worried, but she understands everything and shows solidarity,” he says.

Protests in Belarus have been going on since August 9. During this time, at least 15 thousand people were arrested, many of them were beaten, some were raped, at least 6 people were killed. More than 350 people have been detained over criminal cases.

The human rights community has recognized 102 people as political prisoners.