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VILNIUS — It’s harmful to oppose Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian chief of Belarus.
Whereas opposition leaders are calling for one more wave of protests towards him — an effort to restart the demonstrations that shook the nation after August 9 elections broadly thought of to be fraudulent — anybody seen to be disloyal is in danger.
“Probably the most grievous factor is how simply folks might be arbitrarily detained, and the way simply the courts imprison them,” stated Nikolai Kozlov, a 54-year-old former police lieutenant colonel who grew to become an opposition politician a decade in the past. He was freed in April after spending 15 days in jail and described horrendous situations.
Kozlov was locked up within the Okrestina jail in Minsk, which grew to become infamous after a number of incidents of torture and humiliation of protesters had been reported there.
“At this time, the workers there aren’t protecting it a secret that they’ve orders to create insufferable situations for everybody arrested on political causes,” stated Kozlov, a former envoy of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Lukashenko’s most important rival throughout final 12 months’s election.
Kozlov was held in a small cell designed for solitary confinement along with six different folks.
“There was no option to open a window to ventilate the cell. The following morning, I stated to the guards that these situations had been near torture, that they had been committing crimes for which they must reply ultimately,” Kozlov stated. “I suppose my feedback upset them, as a result of they poured extraordinarily concentrated bleach resolution onto the ground of our cell.”
The prisoners began to suffocate inside a minute or two.
“Somebody started to cough, all of us started to really feel nauseous,” Kozlov stated. “We began banging on the door and ringing the bell.”
The guards “lastly realized that they could really kill somebody,” he added. “They opened the cell, took us out, and gave us some rags to wipe the bleach … However the harm was already executed. I nonetheless have issues with my eyesight. So far as I do know, one other prisoner’s lungs nonetheless haven’t recovered.”
Instances like his aren’t uncommon. Viasna, a Belarusian human rights group, stated that as of final month there have been 360 political prisoners within the nation, with one other 304 detained in April. It referred to as the “inhuman situations of detention” a deliberate authorities coverage that quantities to “torture.”
Kozlov demanded medical help and was despatched to hospital. As soon as again in jail, the mistreatment didn’t finish. Lights had been stored on across the clock. There have been no mattresses and never sufficient bunks for prisoners. “Normally, there have been 4 folks to at least one place in a cell. Nearly all of prisoners slept on the ground,” he stated.
“The aim, so far as I perceive, is just to humiliate folks. To humiliate the docs, scientists and IT specialists who’ve been arrested,” Kozlov stated. “The state needs to indicate these those who their place is on the ground, below a bunk.”
The dearth of air flow in cells led to virtually insufferable situations. “There was not sufficient oxygen,” he stated, including that the one option to get some air was via the small hatches used for delivering meals to prisoners. “But when the guards had been upset about one thing, they’d shut these holes. Folks began to suffocate then.”
Belarusian authorities deny opposition activists are tortured and stored in inhumane situations. Inside ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova stated reviews of ill-treatment and abuse with bleach had been “a large farce,” in accordance with the official Belta information company. Nonetheless, different former prisoners echo Kozlov’s story.
Ihar Barysau, the chief of the opposition Belarusian Social Democratic Occasion (Hramada), was additionally launched in April after a 15-day imprisonment. He was arrested by masked males whereas driving along with his household to a Minsk store. “I used to be compelled to desert my spouse and daughter within the automobile,” he stated in a cellphone interview.
He was additionally held in Okrestina. At first, there have been seven folks in his two-person cell. “After some time, there have been 10 of us. Nearly all of them slept on the ground with out mattresses. The situations there have been very tough,” he recalled.
“On the very starting, the guards got here in and scattered all our belongings. They weren’t searching for something, they only needed to do one thing nasty,” he stated. “After which they poured a bucket of bleach resolution on the ground.”
The bleach was not as concentrated as in Kozlov’s case, but it surely was sufficient for the prisoners to develop complications inside a couple of hours, one thing that “causes you bodily and emotional struggling,” Barysau stated.
He was transferred to a jail in Zhodino, virtually 60 kilometers from Minsk, the place situations had been initially higher. However the scenario deteriorated quickly. First, guards took away mattresses, then they confiscated all books, notebooks and stationery. Typically, there was not sufficient meals for the prisoners and workers restricted meals parcels delivered to the jail gates by kin.
Three days earlier than he was launched, Barysau and all his cellmates had been put towards a wall by a squad of riot police.
“Virtually all of us received overwhelmed on the legs. Some folks received overwhelmed on the arms,” he recalled. “Typically they’d order you to place your arms up, and earlier than you even managed to lift your arms that they had smashed you within the kidneys with a fist or a baton.”
The opposition sees these techniques as an effort by Lukashenko to make use of any means doable to hold on to energy.
“Among the many folks finishing up the beatings, there’s a part of sadists who genuinely achieve pleasure from humiliating folks and inflicting them to undergo. There are some who’re ideological proponents of Lukashenko, who’re brainwashed,” stated Alexander Dobrovolsky, a senior adviser to Tikhanovskaya.
“However the majority is made up of people who find themselves afraid of the results in the event that they don’t perform the orders. They concern being subjected to the identical sort of violence that they themselves are actually inflicting,” stated Dobrovolsky, who, like Tikhanovskaya, is now dwelling in exile in Lithuania.
On Tuesday, Lukashenko signed a decree stripping over 80 army and regulation enforcement officers of their ranks for supporting the protesters.
“Prison instances have been opened and are being investigated towards various them, together with on prices of terrorism,” stated the decree.