Yauhen Afnagel: “Process was expedited by clubs and kicks”

Participants of the rally on March 25 are started to be released. The demonstrators told the Chareter’97 press center what expected them after detention, told the activist of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Yauhen Afnagel.

– How the crackdown on the demonstration on March 25 took place?

– Near the editorial office of “Vyacherniy Minsk” riot policemen managed to stop the head of the column. We were encircled closely. Actions of police looked completely uncoordinated. We were pushed from the sidewalk towards the traffic area, and those who were pushed to the traffic area were beaten by clubs, in attempt to drive them back to the sidewalk. Flagpoles and flags were snatched from people’s arms. Later those flagpoles were used to beat protesters. When cars of internal troops arrived and lined along the roadside, encircling the territory where the events took place, it was clear arrests are to start. Riot policemen formed a corridor, and people were dragged to the bus one by one. That process was expedited by club and kicks.

– Why the regime acted so roughly during the protest, to your mind?

– During the rally there was an impression we returned to the end of the 1990ies, when rallies in support of independence were cracked down on with particular brutality. But it was understandable then. The regime tried to put themselves in a favourable light to Russia. And now such actions cause perplexity. In one moment all gains of the regime on forming positive image of the country were crossed out. Even a month before Western media wrote that political prisoners were released in Belarus, rallies were not disbanded any more, and relations with the European Union are mended. And now they write only about the events on March 25.

– To your mind, how many people were beaten up during the rally?

– Almost all detainees had bruises and scratch marks. Some of them has blood on their clothes. Some of them could hardly come the way from the bus to the police department where we were taken. Most of people were injured during detention, and not during the march.

– Were riot policemen beating people on the way to the police department?

– They tried to pack as many people as possible into the bus. Participants of the rally were ‘trampled down’ with the help of kicks. Phones were seized from the arrested, and they were even prohibited to talk to each other. To the question of the driver: “Where should I take them?” the answer of a policeman was: “To Kurapaty [mass execution site of Stalin era] as usual”.

As it turned out, most of the policemen who disbanded the rally were from Homel. As one of the riot policemen joked, the authorities do not trust Minsk riot policemen any more.

Only at 3 a.m. drawing up reports in Savetski district police department was finished. All detainees were videotaped. Those who refused (filming is illegal) were made to stand before the camera by force. About 90 persons were taken to the detention center. People were taken to the building one by one, and all the others were standing outside waiting in freezing temperatures. Almost all had wet clothes, as people were pushed into the snow and dragged through the dirt. The last person entered the prison at 5 a.m.

– How the court was taking place?

– We were taken to the court at about 10 a.m. As usual, policemen didn’t allow us to receive food parcels. People were taken out one at a time.

As usual, everyone was amused by evidence of riot policemen. The EU flag was called a flag of the CIS in all reports. They also testified that one of the protesters was holding a banner, a flag, and simultaneously was waving hands. The surnames of riot policemen who witnessed started with one and the same letter of the alphabet, or with the next one. Testifying of riot policemen made even judges laugh. However it hadn’t prevented them from sentencing most active protesters to arrests.

Time spent by two young guys in prison before trial was not included into the time of arrest. Thus they spent 11 days in prison except 10.

– What were the conditions in the detention center in Akrestsin Street?

– The administration of the prison placed “political” prisoners into different cells. I spent the largest part of the arrest in the littlest of them, which was 3 to 4 metres wide. Plank beds take the largest part of the cell. One square meter was left for walking. The first two days there were 6 of us there, after two arrested were released, it became easier. One of hooligans told that after March 25 some people were earlier released from the detention center in order to clear a space for “political” arrestees. However, all cells were filled to capacity.

In other respects, the conditions in the detention center hadn’t changed much. One a week we had a shower. Walks were not granted. There was no normal ventilation and normal light. As before, it is prohibited to bring food parcels to prisoners in Akrestsin Street.

Naturally, in this situation solidarity and support of friends and family is extremely important. That is why I would like to express gratitude to the people who brought newspapers and books daily, to those who were taking to the streets with a demand to release arrested participants of the rally. We can be left without normal detention conditions, but they cannot destroy our solidarity.