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'They were beating people severely': Teenager relives detention in Belarus

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Police run to block demonstrators during a rally after the Belarusian presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, late Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020.
Police run to block demonstrators during a rally after the Belarusian presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, late Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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A Belarusian teenager was walking down a street at the start of protests when a minibus pulled him over and a special police squad detained him.

"A minibus without any signs just drove to us and a police special squad jumped out of there, and they caught me. I was sent to some police station. I was in a gym with my face to the floor," the teenager whose name we are withholding for his security, told Euronews.

The incident occurred on Monday around 8 p.m. local time as Belarus was in the throes of its second day of protests after Alexander Lukashenko won 80% of the votes in an election many, including European leaders and local NGOs, believe to be fraudulent.

The 16-year-old was on the street in Minsk like many others when he was detained.

Since he didn't have access to his phone, his parents became worried and went to look for him.

They were then detained as well.

“I am terrified because of everything that is happening", he told Euronews.

"I was aware of police brutality in Belarus, I didn’t have any illusions. I am afraid for my parents: I don’t know where they are, and that scares me".

A further source of concern is his diabetic mother's health: denying her the medicine she needs, he worries, could put her into a coma.

The young man heard nothing from them for days and not even a lawyer could get in contact with them. But on Friday morning they were released from their detainment.

Escalating violence

From the beginning of the protest movement, witnesses have described incidents of police violence, from beatings to the use of rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

And reports about what is occurring once a protester is detained began to surface on Friday, and our source is another example.

"They were beating people severely. I have been beaten myself," he said. "When we were put in this gym - because they did not have enough space for us, I guess - people there were searched and beaten. I was beaten in the police car, when I was transferred between trucks and at the gym, but not that much."

He remembers being hit with truncheons, mostly on the back. Days later, he still feels sore.

The teenagers' case seems to be far from isolated.

In an interview with Radio Svaboda, Belarusian human rights NGO Viasna founder, Ales Bialiatski, said: "there are unprecedented reports of torture, especially in the two detention centres on Akrescin Street in Minsk. People are being beaten and held in overcrowded cells."

"Upon admission or now, when they are gradually beginning to release the detainees, they are beaten to unconsciousness. This is done by special forces, riot police and internal troops. They were given a direct order to torture," Bialiatski asserted.

For many experts, it is difficult to predict whether the protest movement will fade or whether it will keep going until there is political change.

Lukashenko, who has been ruling the country since 1994, has stated that he will not allow a revolution - or a “new Maidan,” referring to the revolution that ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych six years ago - to happen.

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
Police detain a protester during a mass protest following presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020.AP Photo/Sergei Grits

Holding on to hope

The teenager still believes that the future is bright for Belarus.

"I think the protests will continue in some form. Right now, the level of trust to the authorities is below zero. People all over the country know about the brutality of the police and the army who are suppressing the protests," he said.

"I think that even if we will not succeed now, we might have success in the future because I think Lukashenko’s regime does not have the trust of his own people and the international community,” he added.

At just 16, he did not have the right to vote, but he says he would have cast his ballot for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the 37-year-old former English teacher who opposed the incumbent president in the national election.

“I want the world to know the truth about what is happening in Belarus. It’s not some small groups of people who are repressed. The movement of people who are tired of living under this dictatorship is brutally suppressed", he states. "You know, they were shooting at them yesterday."