Thousands of people have been arbitrarily detained in Belarus and hundreds have been subjected to torture during a brutal crackdown on critics of the state’s flawed democratic elections.
Belarusians have taken to the streets in mass rallies and protests in the wake of the 9 August vote, which officials said returned a new mandate for the nation’s autocratic president Alexander Lukashenka to perpetuate 26 years in power.
However amid anger on the streets and claims the vote was rigged, security forces have begun to brutally suppress peaceful protesters, NGO Human Rights Watch has reported.
Victims of alleged state brutality interviewed by the agency described beatings, prolonged stress positions, electric shocks, and rape in at least one instance.
They also described being able to see others suffer the same or worse treatment, while presenting injuries including broken bones, cracked teeth, skin wounds, electrical burns, and mild traumatic brain injuries.
“The sweeping brutality of the crackdown shows the lengths to which the Belarusian authorities will go to silence people, but tens of thousands of peaceful protesters continue to demand fair elections and justice for abuses,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
He added: “The United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) should urgently set in motion inquiries to ensure that evidence is collected that could contribute to accountability for grave human rights violations.”
The organisation interviewed 27 former detainees — 21 men and six women — who said they were arrested in the four days after election day.
Dan Peleschuk, 34, a freelance journalist and US national, said his transfer from the Pevomaisky Police Station to the Zhodino detention centre on 11 August saw him subjected to pressure positions while kicked and punched.
“Riot police piled us into what looked like a military truck with benches on the sides, and made us kneel on the metal floor, foreheads under the bench, hands behind the back,” he said.
“The drive probably took 90 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Soon, I couldn’t feel my legs and was crying out in pain. Those who asked to be allowed to get up were kicked and punched.
“When we arrived … there must have been other vehicles in front of us. We would move, then stop, then move again, and the whole time the police were saying, ‘You wanted a revolution, now you’ll see what it’s like! Welcome to the worst place on earth.’”
Meanwhile Dmitry Lukowski, who was arrested on the street and taken to a detention facility, described a corridor full of ‘OMON’ riot officers waiting to beat him and the other detainees.
“At first I kept silent, but then I started screaming,” he said. “I fainted, but they splashed water into my face and continued to beat me. There was blood everywhere and I saw a few teeth on the floor.”
During the ordeal he added that an officer grabbed him by the hair, saying, “So, Lukowski, you want a lawyer?” When he answered, “Yes,” the officer continued to beat him, adding, “So, Lukowski, you still want a lawyer?”
Protests in the country have continued to boil over in the country, with widespread rallies accompanied by more subtle shows of defiance — including the wearing of red and white by mixed groups in the colours of the nation’s pre-soviet flag.
Video footage has show violent response from police and defiance from activists — including groups of older women shielding younger protestors from the riot officers attempting to arrest them
Mr Lukashenka meanwhile has denied anything untoward in his victory with 80 per cent of the nation’s vote, while accusing dissenters of being “western puppets”.
It comes as the EU, which has called the election result “fraudulent”, calls for close monitoring of the human rights situation in the country.
A resolution is set to be brought before the UN’s human rights council in Geneva on behalf of the European bloc by Germany, stating that the council “expresses deep concern about the overall human rights situation in Belarus, and its deterioration in the run-up and particularly in the aftermath of the fraudulent presidential election on 9 August 2020”
It is expected to be accepted by council members, with the wording stopping short of calling for an inquiry, a provision which tends to be applied to the most severe breaches of human rights.
Instead it seeks two formal updates from the UN’s top rights official, Michelle Bachelet, and for the Special Rapporteur to have “free, full and unhindered access” to the country.
Additional reporting by agencies