“Welcome to Gestapo”: How political prisoners were tortured in Belarus in 2022

Torture and detention in inhumane conditions have been an integral part of the political persecution in Belarus since August 2020. So far, not a single criminal case has been launched against the security forces. Instead, courts impose lengthy prison sentences on those tortured and beaten. The Viasna human rights defenders continue documenting all cases of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment believing that the perpetrators will eventually be brought to justice, and look back at the most notorious torture cases that leaked in 2022.

Detained dissidents usually get beaten with truncheons on their legs, thighs, and buttocks; tasers and bag suffocation are also used, and threats of more violence are made.

“There were people with legs and thighs covered in bruises. That’s the most common case. But I was beaten in the head, so I had black eyes as well. I have very poor eyesight, but when I was admitted to the temporary detention center, a staff officer refused to give me glasses, saying that my vision would improve in 15 days,” former political prisoner Aliaksandr Andrushkevich told the Viasna Human Rights Center.

“They beat my mother in the corridor” 

Pavel Rezanovich was sentenced to 19 years of imprisonment in the high-profile “Autukhovich case“. In his testimony at a court hearing, Pavel said that physical and psychological torture had been used against him to extort a confession:

“KGB officers were threatening to arrest my wife, and at the same time, I could hear my mother being beaten and screaming in the corridor. Under such conditions, one would confess to everything and then some.”

His mother Liubou Rezanovich was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment in the same “Autukhovich case”.

An interrogation at gunpoint in the woods

Aliaksei Kavaleuski, a programmer from Minsk, was sentenced to two years in an open prison and released before the transfer to an open-type correctional facility. Aliaksei decided to move to Lithuania but immediately became the target of a special KGB operation:

 “As soon as we left Hrodna, we were brutally detained by the KGB. The traffic police stopped our car: the driver hardly had time to put on the parking brake when they jerked the door open from the outside. They hit me in the jaw, and people pointing guns at us surrounded the car. The blows were countless. They put the driver and me in the trunk and brought us to a forest, where they proceeded to beat and tase us. They interrogated us at gunpoint in the woods. The officers were in plain clothes.

As it turned out, some ‘rail guerrillas‘ from Babruisk were supposed to cross the border with us. They had been detained long ago, and our arrest was staged.  <…> Then they roleplayed shooting someone in their knees. They shouted that we were going to get shot too. I almost fainted during those beatings. This whole special operation was designed to catch the man who helped us cross the border.”

“I thought I wouldn’t make it” 

In February, Aliaksei Bychkouski and Artsiom Parkhamovich were sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment each for “leaking information” to the Black Book of Belarus Telegram channel. Tatsiana Bychkouskaya, Aliaksei’s wife, told Nasha Niva that her husband had been severely beaten after his arrest:

“I don’t even want to say what they did to him – it was so humiliating. I was told he had been tased unconscious…

My husband wrote about what happened to him on his way to the Investigative Committee in a letter: ‘I thought I wouldn’t make it.'”

“Welcome to the Gestapo”

In March, a street artist and IT professional Dzmitry Padrez was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment. His former cellmate told Viasna details of Dzmitry’s arrest:

“They ran into the bathroom, grabbed Dzmitry, and threw him on the floor in the living room. He was handcuffed. Officer Vysotski took a hand plaster cast from a shelf, put a condom on it, and said, ‘Let’s put it in his anus.’ But then he placed the plaster hand next to Dzmitry’s head. A SWAT officer kicked Dzmitry in the thighs, and another one hit him in the face with his glove. 

They found a Russian-Polish phrasebook in the home library. Officer Astashka hit Dzmitry in the face with the phrasebook and commented, ‘Aren’t you a f*cking patriot?’

They took him to the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption. When they arrived there, Vysotski said: ‘Welcome to the Gestapo.’

“He was covered in bruises from buttocks to heels” 

In December, former investigation officer Mikita Starazhenka was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment. He was convicted of “leaking” security officers’ personal information to “protest social media”. His cellmate confirmed to Viasna that Mikita had been beaten upon his arrest:

“He was blue all the way from buttocks to heels. His legs were dark purple. There were abrasions on his face and head and handcuff marks on the wrists. Mikita said that they kicked and beat him with truncheons, wrapped a rag around his head, stuffed a trash can over his head, and hit him through the can so that no marks would be left. But he still had a cut on his nose and a large abrasion next to his ear. He got hit on the nose all right because it was red. He had swollen lips and an abrasion on his chin.”

A bag on the head and 50 blows

In September, political prisoner Anatol Latushka, a cousin of the opposition politician Pavel Latushka, was sentenced to six years in prison and a fine of $3,560 USD. During the trial, the cases of the use of physical force against Anatol were brought to light. In one of the pre-trial interrogations, he said:

An officer put a plastic bag on my head twice, and they said that they wanted to get some information from me that I didn’t even know. One of the officers took a truncheon and started threatening to…,” [the judge left out a portion of the text].

“Something about beatings, at least 50 blows…,” the judge continued.

“They wanted to get information about some Telegram channels. I agreed to give the testimony they demanded because of physical abuse. However, I did not commit the above-mentioned crimes. When I agreed to testify, the police officers stopped using physical force against me.”  

At the trial, Anatol Latushka confirmed these facts.

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