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”
Viasna
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

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