Month: November 2020
Mikola Dziadok: A Tortured Political Prisoner in Belarus
Lawyer on Dziadok’s Condition: “Injuries from Handcuffs on the Hands, Huge Bruises on the Thighs and Back”
November 19, 2020
Novy Chas journalist and blogger Mikola Dziadok was detained on November 12 in the village of Sosnovy in the Asipovichi District. In a video that was circulated by the Belarusian Interior Ministry, it is clear that Dziadok had been beaten. His lawyer, Natalya Matskevich, has announced that she has filed a motion to order a forensic medical examination in respect of Dziadok. Novy Chas contacted Matskevich to find out more about what is happening with Dziadok.
Mikola Dziadok, as seen in the notorious Belarusian Interior Ministry video published after his arrest
Where is Mikola now? What is his condition?
On November 17, Mikola was transferred from the temporary detention center on Okrestin Street to Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 1 on Volodarsky Street in Minsk. For the time being he is in quarantine. His physical condition can now be called normal, and emotionally he is also holding up well: he is cheerful. He says that he remains true to his beliefs and principles.
Did he tell you how he was detained?
Before his arrest, Mikola had rented an apartment in the village of Sosnovy for several months. He was not hiding from anyone, but he understood that in the current circumstances it was better for him not to be in Minsk, since for the past several years he had been closely watched by GUBOPiK [the Department for Organized Crime and Corruption Prevention], solely in connection with his [political] views and stance, which he expressed publicly. According to Mikola, on November 11, at about eleven in the evening, seven masked law enforcement officers broke into his second-floor apartment by breaking a window. After capturing him, they used physical violence and special equipment until they got him to “confess” on camera. Then they took him to Minsk, where they worked him over for several hours, demanding access to a computer disk and [his] Telegram channels. It was only after five in the morning that they took him to the temporary detention center.
What methods were used to make him talk? How forceful were they?
I will not go into details: I will be filing an appropriate procedural motion to this effect. I can say that I have had several clients who fled Chechnya after being tortured and were detained in Belarus for deportation. But I never thought that I would hear stories about such things happening in our own country.
As Mikola told me, a few hours after his arrest, when he was lying on the floor in one of the [law enforcement] departments, he was made to swear that he would not speak about GUBOPiK. Let’s say that happened. Moreover, we do not know yet the names of those who made the arrest. But on November 12, it was this department that reported on its actions in detaining Dziadok and [published] videos showing Mikola’s state after he was detained. Even a slightly experienced person will immediately notice traces of tear gas use at close range in the first video, and the second video clearly shows a hematoma around [Mikola’s] left eye. What else did I see in the temporary detention center? Injuries from handcuffs on his hands, and huge bruises on his thighs and back.
I think that, taking into account the fact that several law enforcement officers detained the unarmed Dziadok unexpectedly, the question of the proportionate use of force for the purpose of detention should not be considered at all. Rather, there should be a legal assessment of whether there was an abuse of power and legal authority.
All [of Mikola’s] visible injuries were documented, at least, when he entered the pre-trial detention center. Investigators have sufficient grounds for conducting an inquiry and deciding whether to initiate a criminal case [against the officers who detained Dziadok].
Do you expect such an investigation, given that there were thousands of allegations of violence against people by law enforcement officers in August of this year, but not a single criminal case was opened?
It’s hard to be sure of the results. Even in 2017, when after Mikola was detained on his way to a Freedom Day rally, he was taken to the emergency hospital with a concussion, which was absolute proof of the use of violence by the police, no criminal case was initiated. Then, after an official inquiry, the authorities issued an opinion that Mikola already had these injuries when he was detained. We appealed this decision both through the prosecutor’s office and in the courts, but to no avail. The case is currently under review by the UN Human Rights Committee.
As far as the current situation is concerned, the investigators are obliged to respond in an appropriate procedural manner. The international standard for investigating torture is a prompt, independent, objective and effective investigation, provided that the victim is protected from possible threats in connection with the investigation. The Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Belarus also contains these principles. So let’s see how principled the Investigative Committee will be in its actions.
What can you say about the “Molotov cocktails” and “cold weapons” that GUBOPiK allegedly found in Mikola’s apartment?
Are you referring to the bottles shown in the Interior Ministry’s video? How do they know what was in them? Who performed the expert analysis on the “cold weapons”? If you recall the notorious case of the White Legion, state TV channels then showed viewers a whole trunkload of bottles filled with liquids, and some knives, too. And where are they now? Mikola told me that he did not have these bottles. We should ask simple logical questions, taking into account that Dedok has not recently been involved in any marches and rallies, and has not called for violent actions. Why would he have needed “Molotov cocktails” in the village of Sosnovy? Would he have taken them by bus to Minsk?
Can you tell us what the charges against Dziadok are?
As of today, we only know what the Interior Ministry said in its communique. As long as there is no specific description of the criminal acts alleged to have been committed by Dziadok, there is no way I can comment on anything. From what was said in the Interior Ministry’s communique—”[he] actively administered a radical Telegram channel, where he publicly called for participation in mass riots”—we can conclude that he is being criminally prosecuted for making certain statements, for expressing a certain opinion. But I don’t think that any of Dziadok’s publications can be objectively assessed as calls for violent action.
You can write letters to Mikola Dziadok at SIZO-1, ul. Volodarskgo, 2, Minsk, 220030, Belarus.
Thanks to Comrade NN for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
Zoom vs. Zoom (Rospotrebnadzor vs. Side by Side)
November 16, 2020
In a nutshell.
Zoom Cafe has been shut down because the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival announced an online event on Zoom. And it is so easy to confuse us with an online platform.
Fake diners without [anti-covid] masks hired for 500 rubles, a deliberately false statement from the well-known [anti-gay] activist Timur Bulatov, ten police officers blocking the entrance, violations like “Where is the germicidal lamp? Here it is! And where does it say that it is a germicidal lamp?”, a plainclothes officer who refused to introduce himself, a printer that they brought with them to quickly print out the order and seal the front door. That’s all.
We look forward to the court hearing.
Screenshot of Zoom Cafe’s page on restoclub.ru
Rospotrebnadzor Closes Zoom Cafe After Receiving Complaint That Side by Side LGBT Festival Was Taking Place There. But It Was Taking Place on Zoom
November 16, 2020
Rospotrebnadzor has temporarily closed Zoom Cafe on Gorokhovaya Street in Petersburg due to non-compliance with social distance and other violations of the coronavirus regime, as reported by Fontanka.ru, citing the agency’s closure order.
The cafe was inspected by authorities following a complaint by anti-gay activist Timur Bulatov, cafe owner Pavel Shteynlukht told Bumaga. In his complaint, Bulatov wrote that Zoom Cafe was hosting the LGBT film festival, which minors could allegedly attend. (Bumaga has a copy of the complaint.)
Side by Side’s press service told Bumaga that they had discussed an information partnership with Zoom Cafe, but they had not been able to come to an agreement. The cafe was not a venue for the festival, which was moved online after its opening event was disrupted by police officers.
“Unfortunately, Zoom Cafe has suffered simply because the people who make complaints about us cannot tell the difference between discussions on the platform Zoom and the Zoom Cafe,” the festival’s press service said.
Earlier this month, Bumaga spoke with Side by Side founders Manny de Guerre and Gulya Sultanova, who talked about how the LGBT film festival came into being, how the law on so-called gay propaganda has affected it, and why the project had to be closed in Russia’s regions.
Translated by the Russian Reader
Before the opening of the 13th Side by Side LGBT Film Festival, Rospotrebnadzor officers accompanied by police came to the building where the event was to be held. They demanded that everyone leave the premises so they could “check for possible violations of the law.” The organizers claim that they had met all the sanitary and epidemiological requirements imposed by the authorities. A few days before the start of the festival, the police had already inspected the venue following a complaint by Russian MP Vitaly Milonov.
New Wave of Police Terror in Minsk
November 16, 2020
Following a major crackdown on civilians on Sunday afternoon, terrorist units of the Belarus “interior ministry” have been kidnapping civilians from residential housing in Minsk for 12+ hours in a row.
Masked interior ministry officers led by the so-called interior minister Ivan Kubrakov have been breaking into private apartments across Minsk since early afternoon with no search warrants, no explanations of their activity, and without identifying themselves or presenting their IDs.
Civilians are being kidnapped on no valid grounds from streets, stores, residential yards, building lobbies, and private apartments.
A de facto curfew with [riot police] checkpoints and passport control has been established across numerous residential areas in the Belarusian capital.
Over 1,100 civilians have been kidnapped or faced arbitrary arrests across Belarus in the last 24 hours, with hundreds subjected to torture in detention centers. Prisons in Minsk are overloaded: numerous convoys of riot police vans transported detainees from Minsk to smaller regional towns this weekend.
Over 100 days, Belarus has turned into a failed state of unprecedented human rights atrocities with no comparable precedents in the last 40 years of European history.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 25,000 people were detained in Belarus over the first 95 days of protests.
The situation in Belarus is turning into a real humanitarian catastrophe as doctors are being arrested on a large scale, with up to 1,900,000 cases of Covid-19 officially acknowledged by the acting authorities since March 2020 in a country of 9.5 million people.
Lukashenko’s regime has to be eliminated. All members of the Belarus interior ministry, military, and acting civil administration involved in the crackdowns must face justice at an International Criminal Tribunal for Belarus.
Thanks to Sasha Razor for the heads-up. Image courtesy of the author. The text has been edited lightly to make it more readable. || TRR
Dmitry Strotsev: 13.11.2020
November 13, 2020
bees are certain
that they are gathering honey for themselves
but in fact
they are pollinating the garden
that they are rallying their land
but in fact
they are healing the world
“Let’s call it what it is: Roman Bondarenko was murdered.” Photo courtesy of BelarusFeed and TUT.BY
November 13, 2020
leaving the house
for any necessity
pack as if
you might be gone for ten,
you never know
where terror’s claw
will grab you
the ever-watchful eye
can see you
Translated by the Russian Reader
The Murder of Roman Bondarenko
November 12, 2020
The Chorus of My People
it is not a public event
supplications and groans of those tortured
by nkvd hoodlums
by kgb and mvd scum
in the torture chambers of police stations and prisons
it is not a public event
the death rattles
of those hanged in forest parks
by the riffraff from the riot police
it is not a public event
it is my country’s ruptured womb
the chorus of my people’s birth trauma
September 10–18, 2020
Roman Bondarenko, who was beaten by men in plainclothes in Minsk, has died in intensive care
November 12, 2020
On the evening of November 11, Bondarenko was seized by persons unknown dressed in plainclothes and masks in the courtyard of his house on so-called Change Square and taken away. Neighbors who got through to the Minsk central police department were told that Bondarenko had taken ill and was in hospital. At midnight, Bondarenko was taken to the emergency hospital in serious condition: he was in a coma.
TUT.BY reports that the doctors operated on Bondarenko for several hours: his chances of survival were estimated as one in a thousand. He was unconscious the entire time. He needed another operation, but it was impossible to perform it given his condition.
Bondarenko’s sister Olga Kucherenko told TUT.BY that someone came to the hospital and took all of her brother’s belongings. The family does not know who it was.
In the evening, Bondarenko’s condition deteriorated. He died soon after.
Kucherenko also told Radio Liberty’s Belarusian bureau that she doubted that her brother could have provoked someone into a fight.
“Roma did not provoke anyone: I know this for sure from the the witnesses, and not just one of them. Everything that happened to him happened after Change Square, I know that. I am recording this video so that a large number of people will know what is happening in this country, that people are absolutely defenseless. I very much hope that the law enforcement agencies will open a criminal case. Roma is a very calm person, he never got into any conflicts, even in family relationships. He was very calm and always saw the positive, humorous side of things. I very much hope that justice will prevail and those who did this to him will be punished by real law.”
After the news of Bondarenko’s death, concerned citizens gathered at Change Square. They brought flowers and candles.
Late in the evening on November 11 in the Minsk courtyard known as Change Square, persons unknown tried to remove white-red-and-white ribbons. Bondarenko went out to find out what was going on. People in plainclothes and balaclavas attacked him. A fight broke out. Bondarenko was captured and taken to the central police department. Two hours later, he was in a coma in the intensive care unit of the emergency hospital
The Interior Ministry called the incident a “neighborhood conflict” and a “conflict of opinion.” According to the ministry, “concerned citizens have been trying to restore order and prevent violations of municipal beautification rules.”
The Mingorispolkom police department reported that the security forces arrived on the scene after the brawl: allegedly, the police had received a report about persons unknown fighting in the courtyard on Chervyakov Street.
“Police officers found a 31-year-old citizen with injuries. Subsequently, law enforcement officers called him an ambulance. The man has been hospitalized,” they said.
However, the surveillance video clearly shows persons unknown dragging Bondarenko into a minibus and driving away.
Who Was Roman Bondarenko?
Roman Bondarenko lived on Chervyakov Street near Change Square. Periodically, he spent time with neighbors in the yard. He was an artist by education and had graduated from the Belarusian State Academy of Arts. Recently, he had been working as manager of a store in the Island of Cleanliness chain. He was married. He had served in special forces unit 3214 of the Interior Ministry troops, Belsat reports.
According to relatives, Bondarenko never had any problems with the police, and he did not attend protests or opposition marches.
“He told me that he knows what they can do to him if they detain him, because he served in the special forces,” Bondarenko’s sister told Nasha Niva.
Change Square in Minsk is the name for the courtyard formed by Smorgovsky Tract and Chervyakov Streets. Residents of the nearby residential buildings have created a very close-knit community: in the evenings, tea parties, concerts, and performances are held in the courtyard. For a long time, there was a mural entitled DJs of Change on the transformer vault, and white-red-and-white ribbons constantly hang on the fence. In September, local resident Stepan Latypov was detained there. He demanded that persons unknown who were erasing the mural identify themselves and show their documents. Since September 15, Latypov has been behind bars, accused of “organizing mass riots” and “intending to poison the security forces.”
Thanks to Sasha Razor for the heads-up and other assistance. Photo courtesy of RFE/RL. Translated by the Russian Reader
The Arrest and Framing of Mikola Dziadok
November 12, 2020
My good friend and former student, the very honest person and true patriot Mikola Dziadok has been detained and beaten in Belarus. The video shows that he was severely beaten. There is no point in commenting on the fact that bundles of money were found in Mikola’s flat. Anyone who knows him at all understands what nonsense this is. And I’m even afraid to imagine what these inhumans did to make Mikola talk about “love for the Motherland” in such interiors. We can only hope that we will see Mikola released very soon.🤍❤️🤍
Belarusian Interior Ministry, “A Leader of the Country’s Anarchist Movement Has Been Detained”
Belarus on the Brain
November 12, 2020
Reports of Blogger Mikola Dziadok’s Arrest Confirmed
Dziadok ran the increasingly popular Telegram channel Mikola, where he published political analyses of the situation in Belarus and gave his opinion on what should be done to security victory for the peaceful revolution. Now his channel has obviously been hacked and is in the hands of the security forces.
The purge of the Belarusian political blogosphere began in the summer with the arrest of bloggers Sergei Tikhanovsky (A Country for Living), Vladimir Tsyganovich (MozgON), Igor Losik (Belarus on the Brain), Brest blogger Alexander Kabanov, and others.
Dziadok was one of the few Belarusian political bloggers who did not leave the country. Now he is suspect of violating Article 342* of the criminal code of the Republic of Belarus.
* “The organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them, is punishable by a fine, or arrest, or restriction of liberty for up to three years, or imprisonment for the same term.”
Thanks to Tatsiana Chulitskaya for permission to translate and post her message here, and to Sasha Razor for the heads-up and introductions. As soon as I have information about how you can show your support to Mikola Dziadok, I will publish it here. Translated by the Russian Reader
Mikola Dziadok in happier times. Courtesy of his Facebook page
People and Nature: Labour Protests in Belarus (Rage Against the Machines)
Belarus: labour protest as part of political revolt
People and Nature
November 12, 2020
The popular revolt against the autocratic regime in Belarus and its thuggish security forces is now going into its fourth month. On Sunday, mass anti-government demonstrations were staged for the 13th week in a row – and more than 1000 people were arrested.
A first-class analysis of the relationship between the street demonstrations and the Belarusian workers’ movement was published last week in English, on the Rosa Luxemburg foundation site.
The article, by two researchers of labour movements, Volodymyr Artiukh and Denys Gorbach, compares the labour protests against the Belarussian regime, which they call “state capitalist”, with those in Ukraine, where private capital dominates.
In Belarus, the falsification of results in the presidential election in August first gave rise
to monster street demonstrations, and then to a wave of strikes, mass meetings and other workplace actions. (I published what information I could find here, here and here.)
This was not only “the most numerous, geographically diverse, and most sustained labour unrest” since 1991, Artiukh and Gorbach write, but also “the first large-scale labour protest to happen within the context of a broader political mobilisation”.
Three months on, the unrest has “gained a more individualised, sporadic and invisible form”, they argue. The workers’ acts of defiance “have been effective, but more on the symbolic level than in material terms”.
Workers “became an inspiration for the broader protesting masses” and were greeted on the streets with banners and chants – “a significant exception in the region, for in no other Eastern European country including Ukraine, have workers gained such symbolic prestige among society at large”.
Workers, Artiukh and Gorbach argue, derive their confidence from the streets, not from their workplaces where they suffer atomisation and strict management control.
Belarusian workers protest as citizens rather than workers. This is, however, an ambivalent process: the very experience of uniting and standing up to the bosses is vital for workers to overcome atomisation and gain organisational experience, but at the same time they have not yet learned to articulate politically their demands within a broader social agenda.
In fact work-related demands have been “only sporadically articulated”. Artiukh and Gorbach see a parallel with Poland and the Soviet Union in the 1980s: “political demands take precedence over bread-and-butter grievances”.
They discuss at length the post-Soviet history of “bureaucratic despotism in the workplace” that is now being challenged. Official unions act as an arm of state control; free and independent unions are small and weak.
In the near future, they expect that the opening-up of Belarus to Russian capital will impact workers.
On the one hand, it will increase the precariousness of workers’ living conditions: wages will not rise, enterprises will slowly be sold off to Russian capitalists, ‘optimised’ or closed. On the other hand, bureaucratic control over workplaces will also increase, while the state-affiliated trade unions will prove incapable of channelling workers’ discontent. This combination of workers’ newly gained politicisation and organisational experience, combined with a deteriorating economic situation, may spark new waves of labour unrest, perhaps more autonomous from larger political protests.
I hope readers will look at the whole article.
Now that Belarus has gone out of mainstream media headlines, it is hard to find insightful reports from the protest movement.
Judging by the Belarussian news site TUT.By, the focus of much anger this week are the Minsk police officers who on Sunday forced detainees to stand for several hours facing a wall in a police station courtyard.
Residents in flats overlooking the courtyard filmed the detainees in the afternoon, and again several hours later as night fell. The videos circulated on line, provoking outrage.
The police tactic of mass arrests and detention has led to a procession of court appearances against demonstrators. One that hit the news this week was Polina
Nitchenko, who participated in a picket of the state medical university at Vitebsk singing protest songs. She was found guilty of participation in an unsanctioned demonstration and fined; she intends to appeal.
Medical staff and students played a prominent role in the early weeks of the movement by speaking out against the savage injuries inflicted by police thugs on demonstrators. And they have not gone quiet.
The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Natalya Kochanova, said last week that there would be “no dialogue on the streets” with protesting medical staff.
Nikita Solovei, a doctor and adviser to the Minsk health authorities, shot back in a facebook post that health workers had finished with being treated like “slaves” by officials. He denounced the “unlimited violence of the security forces against peaceful citizens”, the “imitation elections”, official “lying” about the coronavirus epidemic and repressive measures against medical staff and students alike.
As for there being no dialogue on the streets, he concluded, the dialogue “would be where the people of Belarus want it to be”.
The political strike at the Belaruskalii potash fertiliser plant, which People & Nature reported in August, led to the detention of strike committee members.
Anatoly Bokun, the committee chairman, was released last month after 55 days’ imprisonment. Sergei Cherkasov, a strike committee member and vice president of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union, was released last week along with Yuri Korzun and Pavel Puchenya: they all served 45 days. The union reported that they are all at home and in good spirits.
The federation is hoping to expand its international contacts: if you are in a union, please get in touch. Another support network, Bysol, set up by Belarusians working outside the country, conveys financial support to victims of repression. GL, 12 November 2020.
The English term “grassroots” is often used around the world to denote local civic activism.
The documentary film Grassroots explores three landmark environmental struggle—the fight to save the Suna Forest in Karelia, the ongoing work of EcoWatch in Krasnodar Territory, and the fight to save the Khopyor River in Voronezh Region—using them as a springboard for trying to answer the main questions facing environmental activists in our country today.
In the film, we hear the voices of many environmental activists and listen to the opinions of the most experienced of them, including Yevgeny Vitishko, Andrei Rudomakha, Konstantin Rubakhin, Suren Gazaryan, Yevgeniya Chirikova, Tatyana Chestina, and Grigory Kuksin.
Some of these extraordinary activists have been forced into exile, while others have done serious prison time.
What does it cost to defend our forests, parks, and cities? Who is up to the task?
Director: Konstantin Davydkin
Producer: Maria Muskevich
2018, 58 min., Russia; in Russian with no subtitles
Production: Regista Studio / Make a Movie Production Center
Annotation translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for encouraging me to watch the movie.
The Belomor Canal Administrative building in Medvezhyegorsk, Russia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Medvezhyegorsk Resident Suspected of “Condoning Terrorism” over Posts on VK Group Page
October 31, 2020
Yevgeny Gavrilov, a resident of Medvezhyegorsk and the admin of the public page Cocktail on the social network VK, is suspected of “condoning terrorism” (punishable under Part 2 of Article 205.2 of the criminal code) over posts about the bombing at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices [on October 31, 2018]. Gavrilov informed OVD Info about the case himself.
The criminal case was launched due to two posts about Mikhail Zhlobitsky’s suicide bombing of the Arkhangelsk offices of FSB, as published on the group page Cocktail (Kokteil’). In the first post, dated November 2, 2018, the author, identified as Yarey Tengri, argues that “Russia can look forward to People’s Will-style underground terrorism.” The second post is an attempt by the Telegram channel Awakening (Probuzhdenie) to analyze Zhlobitsky’s actions.
Gavrilov has no idea why these posts were classified as “condoning terrorism.”
“I’m not an expert. Apparently, they didn’t like something about them. They could have asked VK to delete them, and then launched criminal cases,” he said.
According to Gavrilov, the security forces searched his home, seizing all his computer equipment and devices. He is free on his own recognizance. He is a suspect in the criminal investigation.
“At first, in 2017, Cocktail was conceived as a humor project,” says Gavrilov about his group page. “Then, a year later, as there was nothing for people to eat, [contributors] started writing to me: ‘Let’s slowly switch [the page’s agenda] more to politics. Living on an empty stomach is not funny.’ We shifted to politics and the economy, and then to a focus on the news. Now, probably, we will refrain from all this, but we are not closing the group yet.”
Yevgeny Gavrilov is the seventeenth person in Russia who has been investigated or prosecuted for, allegedly, “exonerating” or “condoning” the apparent suicide bombing by Mikhail Zhlobitsky on October 31, 2018. The others are Sergei Arbuzov, Alexander Merkulov, Alexei Shibanov, Svetlana Prokopyeva, Nadezhda Belova, Lyudmila Stech, Oleg Nemtsev, Ivan Lyubshin, Anton Ammosov, Pavel Zlomnov, Nadezhda Romasenko, Alexander Dovydenko, Galina Gorina, Alexander Sokolov, Yekaterina Muranova, 15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader