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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-about to be fraudulent — anybody seen to be disloyal is in danger.
“Essentially the most grievous factor is how simply folks will be arbitrarily detained, and the way simply the courts imprison them,” mentioned 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 circumstances.
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.
“Right this moment, the workers there aren’t holding it a secret that they’ve orders to create insufferable circumstances for everybody arrested on political causes,” mentioned Kozlov, a former envoy of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Lukashenko’s most important rival throughout final yr’s election.
Kozlov was held in a small cell designed for solitary confinement along with six different folks.
“There was no approach to open a window to ventilate the cell. The following morning, I mentioned to the guards that these circumstances had been near torture, that they had been committing crimes for which they must reply in the end,” Kozlov mentioned. “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 mentioned. “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 completed. I nonetheless have issues with my eyesight. So far as I do know, one other prisoner’s lungs nonetheless haven’t recovered.”
Circumstances like his aren’t uncommon. Viasna, a Belarusian human rights group, mentioned that as of final month there have been 360 political prisoners within the nation, with one other 304 detained in April. It known as the “inhuman circumstances 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 saved 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. The vast majority of prisoners slept on the ground,” he mentioned.
“The aim, so far as I perceive, is just to humiliate folks. To humiliate the medical doctors, scientists and IT specialists who’ve been arrested,” Kozlov mentioned. “The state needs to indicate these those that their place is on the ground, below a bunk.”
The shortage of air flow in cells led to virtually insufferable circumstances. “There was not sufficient oxygen,” he mentioned, including that the one approach to get some air was by way of the small hatches used for delivering meals to prisoners. “But when the guards had been upset about one thing, they might shut these holes. Folks began to suffocate then.”
Belarusian authorities deny opposition activists are tortured and saved in inhumane circumstances. Inside ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova mentioned reviews of ill-treatment and abuse with bleach had been “an enormous farce,” in accordance to the official Belta information company. Nonetheless, different former prisoners echo Kozlov’s story.
Ihar Barysau, the chief of the opposition Belarusian Social Democratic Celebration (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 automotive,” he mentioned 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. The vast majority of them slept on the ground with out mattresses. The circumstances there have been very troublesome,” he recalled.
“On the very starting, the guards got here in and scattered all our belongings. They weren’t in search of something, they only wished to do one thing nasty,” he mentioned. “After which they poured a bucket of bleach resolution on the ground.”
The bleach was not as concentrated as in Kozlov’s case, nevertheless it was sufficient for the prisoners to develop complications inside a number of hours, one thing that “causes you bodily and emotional struggling,” Barysau mentioned.
He was transferred to a jail in Zhodino, virtually 60 kilometers from Minsk, the place circumstances had been initially higher. However the state of affairs 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 dropped at 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.
“Nearly all of us received crushed on the legs. Some folks received crushed on the arms,” he recalled. “Typically they might order you to place your fingers up, and earlier than you even managed to lift your arms they’d smashed you within the kidneys with a fist or a baton.”
The opposition sees these ways as an effort by Lukashenko to make use of any means attainable to hold on to energy.
“Among the many folks finishing up the beatings, there’s a part of sadists who genuinely acquire pleasure from humiliating folks and inflicting them to undergo. There are some who’re ideological proponents of Lukashenko, who’re brainwashed,” mentioned Alexander Dobrovolsky, a senior adviser to Tikhanovskaya.
“However the majority is made up of people who find themselves afraid of the implications in the event that they don’t perform the orders. They worry being subjected to the identical type of violence that they themselves at the moment are inflicting,” mentioned 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.
“Felony instances have been opened and are being investigated towards quite a lot of them, together with on costs of terrorism,” mentioned the decree.