Belarus: freed protesters recount torture in prison

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MINSK | Hundreds of protesters, released after being detained in Belarus during protests against the controversial re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, recounted scenes of torture suffered in prison on Friday.

Deprived of water, food and sleep in detention, tortured with electricity and burned with cigarettes, they were detained by the dozen in cells intended for four or six people, testified several protesters released to AFP.

“I was hit very hard on the head (…), my back is covered with bruises after being beaten with a truncheon,” Maxim Dovjenko, 25, told AFP, assuring that he had not even participated in the protests, but was at the scene at the time of the police crackdown.

43-year-old entrepreneur Mikhail Tchernenkov shows off his completely blue buttocks, telling AFP that he was tortured with electrics and beaten with batons.

In a statement, the NGO Amnesty International reported, Thursday, cases of demonstrators “stripped naked, beaten and threatened with rape” during their detention in the jails of the regime.

On Thursday evening, the authorities announced that they had released more than 1,000 demonstrators in total, the President of the Senate, Natalia Kotchanova, having affirmed on public television that these protesters had been released with the obligation not to participate in unauthorized rallies.

For his part, the Minister of the Interior, Yuri Karaev, apologized on Thursday for the violence committed against “passers-by” who were not involved in the protests.

Since Sunday evening, Belarus has been the scene of protest demonstrations against the re-election of Mr. Lukashenko, in power for 26 years in this former Soviet republic.

Protests against his victory – officially with 80% of the vote – deemed fraudulent by protesters were violently suppressed by riot forces, killing two, injuring dozens and leading to at least 6,700 arrests.

“Need a new president”

On Thursday evening, tens of thousands of people gathered again in several places in Minsk to denounce the violent repression of the protest movement.

Similar gatherings were also reported in at least six other towns, without police intervention.

“We need a new president!” signs in Minsk were carried by protesters, many of whom made the “V” for victory, according to an AFP photographer.

The releases of the demonstrators, in particular from the Okrestina prison, in Minsk, gave rise, Thursday evening, to poignant scenes of reunion. Many ex-prisoners had their faces downcast and refused to speak.

More than 1,000 Belarusian researchers signed a letter “against violence”, while caregivers gathered in front of their establishments. Performers from the Minsk Philharmonic also sang patriotic songs in front of the building.

According to opposition media, similar actions took place in important factories, such as BelAZ (trucks), Maz (car), Grodno Azot (chemicals) and Grodnozhilstroy (BTP).

For the demonstrators, it was Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a political novice, who won, after a campaign that aroused unprecedented fervor in this former Soviet republic. The opponent had replaced her husband, an imprisoned video blogger.

Extraordinary meeting of the EU

Peaceful rallies spread as police felt the protest was weakening, while denouncing a high level of “aggression”.

Around 100 police officers were injured, including 28 hospitalized. No detailed report was provided concerning the demonstrators, against whom rubber bullets, batons and stun grenades were used without restraint.

Belarusian authorities have confirmed the death of a man in custody and that of a protester in Minsk. They also recognized the use, Tuesday in Brest, of real bullets, which left one injured.

The United States and the European Union (EU) denounced electoral fraud and repression, with Europeans threatening Minsk with sanctions.

An extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers is due to take place on Friday regarding the situation in that country.

Opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 37, has not spoken since Tuesday, after her hasty departure for Lithuania. According to her supporters, she suffered threats from the security forces.

Alexander Lukashenko, 65, has never let any opposition take hold. The previous wave of protests, in 2010, had been severely repressed.

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