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″The goal is to intimidate the population″: how the security forces are ″nightmares″ the southern regions of Belarus | Belarus: view from Europe – DW special project | DW

Three residents of Zhlobin, a city in the Gomel region of Belarus, were detained on July 31 for participating in the 2020 protests. According to human rights activists, one of the men was released after recording the so-called “repentant” video. The week before, three people had been detained in Khoiniki and two more in Narovlya. During interrogations, they “confessed” that they were subscribed to “extremist” Telegram channels. Earlier, human rights activists reported on a “cleansing operation” in Mozyr – at least seven people were detained there, including a minor. The police call them “extremistsNazis, near-football fans and other unpleasant elements.”

In the middle of July wave of repression swept through the Brest region. More than 20 people were detained in Drogichin, eight in Ivaniv, where armed security forces broke into houses with searches as part of a criminal case under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting representatives of the authorities). Human rights activists reported about beatings, torture, threats, pogroms of houses of detainees.

The apartment after a police search.  Photo from the archive

The apartment after a police search. Photo from the archive

“Power structures have been ‘nightmare’ the Gomel region for a long time, periodically there are bursts of detentions, as recently in Mozyr, Khoiniki, Narovlya. These areas are closest to the border with Ukraine. The Belarusian authorities are trying to restore “order” there, intimidating the population,” they note representatives of the human rights center “Vesna” in the Gomel region. They also state that there is little information about the detainees – their families rarely turn to human rights organizations, fearing to harm their relatives.

The phone is a “crime tool”

I was just walking around the city in the evening, when a tinted minibus drove up to me, the security forces jumped out, surrounded me, began to threaten and demand access to the phone, which I, of course, provided. In one of the social networks, they found a repost of news from an “extremist” resource for 2020. Their eyes immediately lit up when they saw the “wrong” person, – one of the residents of the Gomel region, who recently served an administrative arrest, tells DW on condition of anonymity.

The security forces took him first to the police department, then to the temporary detention facility. According to him, the people who were there said that the police were “rolling around the city and gathering people.”

Relatives did not know anything about his whereabouts for more than a day. Later, they were told by phone that he was not allowed to hand over the transfer – the state provides everything necessary. At the same time, the man says that apart from the clothes in which he was during the detention, he did not have any things in the cell.

“I went through the “extremist article” (Article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses “Distribution of information products containing calls for extremist activity or promoting such activity” – Ed.), therefore, while I was in the temporary detention center, my apartment was searched. They didn’t find anything, but they confiscated the phone as a tool for committing a crime,” says the interlocutor of DW.

Arrest at gunpoint

33-year-old Maria Kievets from Ivanovo, Brest region, was also tried under the same article. Despite the fact that there were two minor children in the house, the woman was detained by riot police with weapons, the website says. human rights center “Spring”. “Maria was immediately handcuffed, not even allowed to sit down, held at gunpoint. The house was destroyed during a search and they threatened to put the woman’s children on the register as being “in a socially dangerous situation.”

In the social networks of Kievets, the security forces found several reposts from “extremist pages”, in connection with which three administrative protocols were drawn up against the woman. After the search, she was taken to the police department, where she was interrogated for four hours, demanding to give the password from Telegram, threatening with “days” and that they would “put her on a bottle.” Then Kievets was placed in a temporary detention center, where she was stripped naked and searched in front of video cameras. In total Maria Kievets spent six days in the TDF. Then a trial took place that sentenced her to a fine of 2,368 rubles (about 920 euros).

“Not to punish the guilty, but to intimidate society”

Human rights activist from Brest Vladimir Velichkin admits that the latest detentions in the Brest region are connected with “planned”, according to the authorities, movements of military equipment in the Drogichin and Ivanovo districts. I can say one thing: the population of the regions has a negative attitude towards this (the complicity of Belarus in the war of the Russian Federation in Ukraine – Red.). Here the Belarusian-Polish and Belarusian-Ukrainian borderlands, people are closer to Europe, state propaganda does not work in these regions,” Velichkin notes in an interview with DW.

According to the human rights activist, among the detainees there are people who have never been involved in politics, but simply subscribed to resources that the authorities consider extremist, or had the imprudence to “wrongly” speak out on social networks. “When they are punished, for example, their neighbors see it, and they also become scared. The goal of the authorities is not to punish the guilty, but to intimidate the society,” Vladimir Velichkin is convinced.

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