#FreeIrdorath

Yulya Tsimafeyeva
Facebook
August 14, 2021

#FreeIrdorath

It’s known now that Uladzimir Kalach, Nadzeya Kalach, Anton Shnip, my brother Piatro Marchanka and his wife Yuliya Marchanka (Yunitskaya) are imprisoned in the pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Valadarskaha street [in Minsk].

You can send them telegrams, letters and postcards. Getting a letter from the outside world is one of the best things the imprisoned can have there.

Piatro has his birthday on Monday, August 16. Please send him some birthday wishes.

Some important tips. (I’m also using the information from the website politzek.me.)

1) Your letter should be in Russian or Belarusian only. At every prison or detention center there is a censor check of all the mail the prisoners get. Usually those censors do not read any other languages, so the letter can just be thrown away. I think Google Translate can help.

Please write surnames, first names, patronymics and address in Cyrillic. Like this:

Владимир Александрович Калач
Надежда Робертовна Калач
Пётр Петрович Марченко
Юлия Анатольевна Марченко
Антон Валерьевич Шнип
СИЗО-1
ул. Володарского 2,
Минск
220030
Belarus

2) Some technical tips:

a) Put blank paper and an empty reply envelope into your mail. Sometimes prisoners have difficulty obtaining paper and envelopes.

But if they do not have Belarusian international stamps it could be complicated for them to send a reply to you abroad. They need a special kind of the stamp (with the letter P). The stamps can be bought here online:

https://shop.belpost.by/Catalog/Product/959
https://shop.belpost.by/Catalog/Product/141217

But I do not know if Belarusian post sends them abroad. Maybe you can ask anyone in Belarus to send them to you? Or you can just hope that the prisoners will buy the stamps themselves. It’s a crazy system, I know. But believe me, even if you do not get any reply, your letter still could bring a lot of joy to those behind the bars.

b) Structure your mail flow. In each letter, put the date and number, so it will be immediately clear which letter did not reach its addressee.

c) It is better to photograph all the letters – answers may come in 3-4 weeks. Do you remember what you wrote to a friend the day before yesterday? Unlikely. And then weeks!

3) What to write about?

Write about yourself and your life, write about some national or international news. People in jail lack the information from the outer world. But do not put in any intimate details and exclude the political context. You shouldn’t write “Long live Belarus” or the names of officials. Don’t forget that your letter will be read by a strict and unfriendly censor first. He (or she) might just throw it away.

Some more tips about writing to political prisoners you can find here: https://www.politzek.me/help/mails

You can also write a letter online through this free service: https://vkletochku.org/en (but the musicians in Irdorath are not in their database yet)

To read about other political prisoners and find their addresses you can look here:

https://prisoners.spring96.org/en
https://dissidentby.com/en

#MusicIsNotACrime #ArtIsNotACrime

This post has been very lightly edited for the sake of clarity. ||| TRR

Why Small-Town Electrician Vladimir Yegorov Had to Flee Russia

Vladimir Yegorov is still in quarantine and lives in a tent camp for refugees in Lithuania. Photo courtesy of Vladimir Yegorov and Radio Svoboda

“I realized that the country was over”: a “terrorist” electrician from Toropets flees to Lithuania
Radio Svoboda
Elizaveta Mayetnaya
June 28, 2021

Vladimir Yegorov, 54, from Toropets, Tver Region, was an ordinary electrician, but he has now become a political refugee in Lithuania. He fled there because in Russia he was threatened with up to ten years in prison on two criminal charges: “condoning terrorism” and “calling for extremism.” “I outfoxed the FSB: I lived under their nose for four months while they were looking for me everywhere,” Yegorov tells Radio Svoboda. “They can only steal, torture and invent criminal cases. They are no match for real terrorists.”

On June 27, Vladimir Yegorov posted these photos on his Facebook page, writing, “[My] final days in Russia. It’s a pity. It could be such a [great] country. But we are the people, and we fucked it all up. And it’s our fault that Putin exists here. Now all I can do is run. I did what I could.”

Yegorov says that he was not very interested in politics until the war in Ukraine began.

“My mother was seriously ill. She was a doctor, the head of the medical clinic, a respected person in the town. And then came the war, the seizure of foreign territory by Russia, the dead, the prisoners of war: my mother read all about it and could not believe that such a thing was even possible. And before that, holding her heart, almost crying, she told me how our entire healthcare system had been ruined,” Yegorov recalls. “Before the war with Ukraine, I still somehow hoped that all was not lost, but then I finally realized that the country was over.”

Yegorov worked at a sawmill and earned money on the side as an electrician. Then he joined the opposition Yabloko party and moderated (first at the party’s request, then on his own behest) Citizens of Toropets, a social media community page that was popular in the area.

“Of course, we have mass media there, but they only write what suits the authorities, while I, though I’m a simple electrician, was like an independent journalist. I wrote on the community page about our ‘crooks and thieves.’ In our wildest fantasies, we expected that three hundred people would read it, but the page was quite popular: we had more than a thousand subscribers, nearly every resident of the district read it! Sand was being stolen from quarries there by the tons and hauled out in KAMAZ trucks, but the local police and administration covered up the whole thing. After I wrote about this in May 2017, windows were broken in my house. A stone was thrown into the room where my little daughter was sleeping, and a canister of gasoline was found lying nearby.”

Yegorov was not intimidated and sent the evidence of theft at the sand quarry to Moscow. But instead of investigating the theft and the attack on his family, the authorities opened a criminal case against Yegorov himself over an old post on the social network VKontakte. In 2016, Yegorov had bluntly commented on a statement made by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who suggested that a teacher who had complained about a low salary “earn some more” and go into business if he wanted a high income. “We need to understand that all these ‘statements’ in public by these morons with zero popularity ratings, who occupy high-ranking posts, are nothing more than part of a special operation by the KGB to whitewash the main culprit of all the troubles and his closest cronies,” Yegorov wrote. His post was accompanied by a photo of President Vladimir Putin.

Police investigators interpreted the expressions used in the post as “extremist.” One of their forensic linguistic experts deemed it a call for the physical destruction of the Russian leadership, and a witness in court said that he read the post as an appeal to overthrow the government. Consequently, Yegorov was sentenced to two years of probation and forbidden from moderating websites. Memorial recognized him as a political prisoner.

Fearing criminal prosecution, Yegorov fled to Ukraine, where he applied for political asylum. The Ukrainian authorities denied him refugee status and took him to a neutral zone near the border with Russia. Yegorov left for Belarus, but he was detained there and sent back to Russia. He spent several months in jail before getting a suspended sentence.​

“My wife left me and took my daughter with. No one anywhere would hire me because I was immediately put on Rosfinmonitoring’s list of extremists; my bank accounts were blocked, and the house was also impounded. When I would go to the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) to check in, they mocked me, telling get a job! But no one anywhere would hire me. I went all over town many times, applying for all the vacancies, even the lousiest ones, which no one at the unemployment office would apply for, but I was turned down everywhere,” he says. “I, a healthy man who can do anything with my own hands, whom the whole town used to ask to fix things, was an outcast. I ate only potatoes and noodles for four years, and lived with boarded-up windows, because I had no money to replace the windows broken by those gangster. I didn’t go anywhere much: it was almost like being in prison, only at home. And the court had ruled that I could no longer moderate the community page, either.”

The patriarchal town of Toropets is, as it were, a dead end. Moscow is 400 kilometers away, and Tver is 350 kilometers away. Yegorov’s house stands almost in the center of the town, and is perfectly visible from the highway, where hundreds of cars pass every day. In March 2019, Yegorov hung a Ukrainian flag over his house, which he had ordered for 167 rubles on AliExpress. He posted a photo of it on social networks along with a list of political demands: “Putin, liberate the occupied territory of Ukraine! Release [Oleg] Sentsov, the [imprisoned Ukrainian] sailors and all prisoners of war! Don’t meddle in the affairs of a neighboring country! Take care of your own people! I am a simple Russian man, I don’t want my country to be like this.”

“The Ukrainian flag didn’t make [the local authorities] happy, of course, but according to the law, I can do what I want on my 2,200 square meters, and you can’t touch me. Basically, I made a nuisance of myself,” says Yegorov. “During that time, I figured out computers and learned how to use a VPN. When it comes to modern technology, those [FSB] field officers are just kids compared to me.”

Nor did the law enforcement agencies leave Yegorov alone: several times his home was searched, and in December 2019 and July 2020 his computer was seized. In December 2020, Yegorov was named the defendant in two new criminal cases: he was charged with “publicly condoning terrorism on the internet” (punishable under Article 205.2.2 of the Criminal Code) and “publicly calling for extremism” (punishable under Article 280.2 of the Criminal Code). This happened after the security forces had again searched his home on December 4.

“I supported Katya Muranova from Medvezhegorsk in Karelia on social networks. She is still very young, she has a sick child on her hands, and she was also convicted, fined and put on the Rosfinmonitoring list, allegedly for condoning terrorism [Ekaterina Muranova of Medvezhegorsk was accused of “condoning terrorism” in 2019. For commenting on a social media post about the suicide bombing at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices by the 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky on November 4, 2018, she was sentenced to pay a fine of 350 thousand rubles. Several dozen people in Russia have also been convicted on the same charge for commenting on the bombing — Radio Svoboda.] I feel very sorry for Katya, who also can’t get a job anywhere because of this stigma. She and I became friends, and I wrote a post about the anarchist Zhlobitsky. According to the FSB, it contains ‘statements condoning terrorist activities and creating a positive image of terrorists,'” says Yegorov.

Ekaterina Muranova, convicted in 2019 of “condoning terrorism.” Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

Actually, it was this post that led to the charge of “condoning terrorism” against Yegorov. Law enforcement agencies detected “publicly calling for extremism” in another post, which Yegorov allegedly made on January 1, 2020, in the VK group Toropets Realities, referring to a news item published on Ura.Ru, “District head blown up near Voronezh.” There was a note under the news story: “All of them should be blown up.” The FSB believes that it was Egorov who posted this comment from someone else’s account, accessing the page from a virtual Ukrainian number.

“At first I denied everything, but then, during the search, they showed me some kind of knife. I had never had such a thing in my life, and they said that they could find something worse. Consequently, I dismissed my lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina and confessed to everything. In exchange, they promised to leave me on my own recognizance until the trial. I didn’t want to go to prison again,” says Egorov. “I was then actively corresponding on social networks with one person who promised to help me. He also had problems with his wife: it was our common ground. So I decided that I would let [the authorities] think that they had broken me, and I would hide and run away from them. On February 10, I left.”

In the evening, Yegorov lit a stove in his house and left his mobile phone there. Under cover of darkness, he got into the car of his new acquaintance, whom he had never seen before, and left with him for Moscow.

“I helped him with electrical work and did a lot of other things around the house, and then he took me to his dacha,” Yegorov recounts. “All those four months they were looking for me. They hassled my wife’s relatives: they thought that she was hiding me, but no one knew anything. And all that time we were reading everything we could about the border and the best places to cross it. We were on different online chat groups, carefully gathering information. Then we went to Belarus by car. My friend took his family along so the authorities would not suspect anything. We even went to a restaurant, like we were ordinary tourists. And then for seven thousand rubles illegal guides took us to the border. At the lake that divides the border in half, I jumped out of the car and immediately dove into the water. I was wearing swim fins, and had a hermetically sealed bag and sat nav with me. I was supposed to swim 400 meters under water, but I surface at the wrong spot: the water had risen, and there was grass and swamp all round. I ended up swimming 1,200 meters, paddling for a very long time along the Lithuanian shore. Nothing was visible, and I didn’t turn on the flashlight to avoid being detected. I got out on the shore: there was no one in sight. I quickly changed my clothes and went to the road to take a minibus to Vilnius. I came to the road and everywhere there were signs, in Russian, advertising houses for sale. I was afraid that I had come ashore in Russia.”

In Vilnius, Yegorov turned himself in to the police.

“I told them: you’d better me shoot here than hand me over to Russia! They would put me away for ten years for nothing, and then they would me kill me prison. They would hang me like Tesak, and then they say I did it myself,” Yegorov argues.

At first, Yegorov was housed in the transit zone at Vilnius Airport.

“I have never seen a Boeing, I have never flown anywhere on airplanes, only by helicopter when I was in the army. Basically, I haven’t been anywhere: I’ve been to Moscow, to Tver for interrogations, and to Velikiye Luki. I fled unsuccessfully to Ukraine, but they sent me back… So my whole life has been lived in Toropets: I have graves of relatives there that are 300 years old. I didn’t think that I would go on the run in my old age, but I didn’t have much choice, ” says Yegorov.

After several days in the transit zone, Yegorov was transferred to a quarantine camp. He now lives in a tent for twenty-two people.

“The food here is quite tasty: they give us cheese and pears. After my long life of semi-starvation in Toropets, I feel like I’m at a health spa now,” Yegorov says, smiling. “Most of the refugees here are Iraqis, Sri Lankans, and Arabs. The staff treat us well. All of them speak Russian, and I communicate with the other refugees using an online translator: somehow we understand each other. They are all in transit to Europe via Belarus, where it is now a well-established business. This, however, has turned out to be in my favor.”

On June 6, 2021, Agnė Bilotaitė, Lithuania’s interior minister, said that the situation with migrants in her country was getting worse.

“We live next door to an unpredictable terrorist regime,” she said. “After Lukashenko’s threats about unleashing an unprecedented flow of migrants, we are seeing an increase in illegal migrants. Four times a week, flights from Istanbul and Baghdad arrive Minsk, whence the migrants head for Lithuania. At least 600 people fly from these destinations every week. The price of transporting people illegally across the border is as much as 15 thousand euros per person, and 30 thousand euros per family.”

This year, over 400 illegal migrants have arrived in Lithuania from Belarus, which is five times more than during the whole of 2020.

A view of Vladimir Yegorov’s hometown of Toropets. Courtesy of Wikipedia

“The flow of refugees is huge, and they spend a lot of time vetting everyone. I was given [refugee] status five years ago after waiting a month and a half, but the folks who came after me waited for six months,” says Irina Kalmykova. Criminal charges were filed against Kalmykova in Moscow for her repeated participation in solo pickets and protest rallies, and she was fined 150 thousand rubles. Instead of waiting until she was arrested again and faced a second set of criminal charges, she and her son fled to Belarus in January 2016, and from there they went to Lithuania, where she was granted political asylum.

Kalmykova was one of the co-founders of the Russian European Movement, which was organized to bring together Russian political refugees in Lithuania.

“We have a very friendly Russian diaspora here now,” says Kalmykova. “We help each other out because, until recently, we ourselves were in the same situation: no money, no clothes, no documents, nothing at all. The guys have already found an apartment where Vladimir can stay, and they will help him find a job. Lithuania is considered one of the poorest countries in Europe, but, you know, people here are quite responsive and kind, and everyone knows Russian, so it is much easier to adapt here than in some other countries The main thing is that Vladimir already has support, because it is quite important that a person doesn’t feel unwanted in their new home. I have no doubt that Lithuania will grant him political asylum: criminal charges have been filed against him, and he has been persecuted for his political stance.”

Yegorov says that he really hopes that his life will finally get better in Lithuania.

“Maybe when I can work here, my wife and daughter will move here to join me. I would really like that,” he says.

Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. In my “real life” as a professional translator, I would have earned around 170 euros for translating a text of this length. Instead, I have provided translations of this and thousands of other compelling texts for free over the last fourteen years here and at Chtodelat News. So, please consider donating money via PayPal or Ko-Fi to help support this work and encourage me to continue it. You’ll find “Donate” and “Buy me a coffee” buttons in the sidebar on the left of this page. Click on one of them to make a donation. Thanks! ||| TRR

#StandWithBelarus

Human Rights Foundation
HRF Raises $500,000 to Support Democracy in Belarus

Since its inception, the Belarus Solidarity Fund has provided a lifeline to democracy movements in Belarus. HRF provides modest financial assistance to those Belarusians who have been fired from their jobs, injured, arbitrarily detained, or who face steep fines because of their support for freedom and democracy in Belarus. The fund also provides equipment and assistance to independent journalists who, at great personal risk, continue to cover events in Belarus even in the face of government repression.

So far, more than 1,000 individual donors have contributed to the fund, and $450,000 have already been disbursed as direct support for journalists, human rights advocates, civil society organizations, and workers on strike against the dictatorship.

Eight months ago, fraudulent elections sparked a democratic uprising in Belarus. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens all across the country took to the streets to protest the regime of Alexander Lukashenko — who first seized power in 1994 — and express their support for freedom and democracy. For months, the peaceful protesters endured the brutality of the regime, which resorted to extreme violence, including the use of live ammunition, torture, and rape in prisons, to deter the democracy movement. According to the Human Rights Centre Viasna, in 2020 more than 33,000 individuals were detained, more than 1,000 cases of torture were documented, and at least 7 people were killed since the beginning of the protests.

HRF began closely monitoring the situation in Belarus back in May 2020, when the first protests against the Lukashenko regime started. In August, HRF persuaded American rapper Tyga to cancel a concert planned as a propaganda stunt for Lukashenko, and urged members of the Belarusian state security apparatus to lay down their arms. At the end of August, HRF set up the Belarus Solidarity Fund to aid protesters adversely affected by their support for freedom and democracy. In September, HRF hosted Belarusian democratic leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya for a talk at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

In January, the Belarusian democracy movement achieved an important victory when the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) moved the Ice Hockey World Championships away from Belarus, after facing public backlash from Belarusians, as well as the international community. HRF wrote a letter to the IIHF as part of the civil society campaign, which you can read here. This month, HRF recorded a podcast with the Belarus Sports Solidarity Foundation to discuss how Belarusian athletes are defending democracy. Going forward, HRF will continue to support the Belarusian democracy movement through direct aid, legal advocacy, and public education.

To celebrate this milestone, HRF is organizing a special Clubhouse event with our Chairman Garry Kasparov, Magnitsky Act originator Bill Browder, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, and the leader of democractic Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya about what the future of the democracy movement in Belarus looks like. We will update you with details soon. The event will take place at the Oslo Freedom Forum club on Clubhouse, an audio-only social media app, where HRF holds a weekly discussion series on the most pressing human rights issues with activists from around the world.

It is more important now than ever to support the Belarusian democracy movement.

Last week, Belarusians celebrated the Day of Freedom by peacefully protesting all across the country. The demands of the protesters remain unchanged. The violence against Belarusians must be stopped, political prisoners must be released, and new, free and fair elections must be held. To further support the Belarusian democracy movement, you can help by:

Donating to the Belarus Solidarity Fund.

Writing letters to political prisoners in Belarus.

Assuming godparenthood over political prisoners.

Writing a tweet, social media post, or creating a video in support of Belarus with the hashtag #StandWithBelarus.

Source: HRF emailing. Thanks to SZ for the advice. NB. Contrary to the claim made in the text, above, Lukashenko did not “seize power” in 1994. He received over 45% of the vote in the first round and over 80% in the second round of the first post-independence presidential election in 1994, which is generally regarded as the only free and fair election held in post-Soviet Belarus. || TRR

Partyzanski Praspekt, “August”

partyzanski praspekt-logo

On Sunday, December 6, 2020, the Belarusian poet and performer Uladzimir Liankevič was detained on his way home from his band’s rehearsal. The next day, he was sentenced to 15 days in jail. 23.34 and 23.4 are the two articles of the criminal code under which he was convicted by the court or, rather, by its grotesque totalitarian parody. Belarusians know all too well what these numbers mean: “violating the procedure for organizing or holding mass events” and “disobeying a law enforcement officer.”

Liankevič was previously detained in September, spending six days in the Zhodzina Temporary Detention Facility.

Released on November 14, 2020, the recent song by Liankevič’s band Partyzanski Praspekt bears the anachronistic title “August.” Why would they sing about August in November?

This is the explanation that the band wrote on its Facebook page, alluding to the state terror that erupted in Belarus following the failed presidential election of August 9, 2020:

Everything that is happening in our midst cannot fail to move us. So we wrote a new song titled “August.” We wanted the events of that month to stay there, but they, unfortunately, have continued.

The song depicts the parallel lives of two modern Belarusian revolutionaries, whose civic awakening takes place after the government deployed tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, and stun grenades against the peaceful protesters.

The lyrics contain the following local references:

  1. Minsk toponyms that have symbolic significance in the geography of protest: the Stela or Minsk Hero City Obelisk, Nyamiha Street, and Masherau Avenue.
  2. Two of the country’s most infamous detention facilities, Okrestina and Zhodzina.
  3. The minivans used by the riot police as transportation.
  4. “Blue fingers”: a meme alluding to the dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s quip that he would not keep his grip on power until his fingers turned blue.
  5. The letter at the end of the video is addressed to “TsIP,” the “offender isolation center” (literally) or “temporary detention facility.”

Жнівень

Здымная хата
На апошняй станцыi метро
Чарговая праца
На якой ен для начальнiка нiхто
Ен цярпеў i нават не марыў
Адарваць чужыя пальцы сiнiя ад шыi
Ды спачатку голас скралi
А потым прабудзiлi
Светлашумавы

Лiчы што не жыў
Лiчы што не жыў
Да гэтага жнiўня

Калi прагучалi
Першыя стрэлы
Ты мог яго бачыць на Стэле
Калi прыпынiлiся бусы паблiзу
Ен быў разам з табой на Нямiзе
Ты дома сядзеў духам упаўшы
Ен iшоў за цябе
Па Машэрава
Маршам

Газ вадаметы на суткi за краты
Ягоныя вочы найлепшы з плакатаў
З яго галавы волас ня ўпала
Анiводзiна
Аднак ен быў сiнi весь
Як выходзiў з Жодзiна
Сцяна сцяна
Дзверы
Насупраць сцяна
Гэта сведкi таго
Што з iм было на Акрэсцiна

Яна паступiла
У сталiчны унiвер
За некалькi курсаў
Да гнiлой сiстэмы страцiла давер
Знiкла прага да жыцця
Знiклi мары
Маркота раз’ядала да той самай суботы

Яе спачатку ўразiлi людзi
А потым прабудзiлi
Газ i вадаметы

Не хацелася жыць
Не хацелася жыць
Да гэтага жнiўня

Калi прагучалi
Першыя стрэлы
Ты мог яе бачыць на Стэле
Калi прыпынiлiся бусы паблiзу
Яна была разам з табой на Нямiзе
Ты дома сядзеў духам упаушы
Яна шла за табой па Машэрава маршам

Газ вадаметы на суткi за краты
Ейныя вочы найлепшы з плакатаў
З яе галавы волас ня ўпала
Анiводзiна
Аднак яна сiняя ўся
Выходзiла з Жодзiна
Сцяна сцяна дзверы
Насупраць сцяна
Гэта сведкi таго
што з ей было на Акрэсцiнa

August

A rented apartment
At the last metro station
Another job
Where he means nothing to his boss
He put up with it and did not even dream
Of tearing someone’s blue fingers from his neck
But first his vote was stolen
And then the stun grenades awoke him

Consider that he didn’t live
Consider that he didn’t live
Until this August

But when the first shots were fired
You could see him at the Stela
When the minivans parked nearby
He was with you on Nyamiha
Crestfallen, you stayed at home
But he marched for you
Down Masherau Avenue

Tear gas and water cannons
They threw him behind bars
His eyes are the best protest art
Not a single hair fell from his head
Not a single one
However, he was all blue
That’s how he left his jail cell in Zhodzina
A wall a wall a door
And another wall opposite
These witnessed
What happened to him
On Okrestina

She enrolled in a Minsk university
During the first years
She lost her faith in a rotten system
Her desire to live was gone
And her dreams were gone
The depression held her until that Saturday

At first, she was surprised by her people
And then the tear gas and water cannons
woke her up

She didn’t want to live
She didn’t want to live
Until this August

But when the first shots were fired
You could see her at the Stela
When the minivans parked nearby
She was with you on Nyamiha
Crestfallen, you stayed at home
But she marched for you
Down Masherau Avenue

Tea gas and water cannons
They threw her behind bars
Her eyes are the best protest art
Not a single hair fell from her head
Not a single one
However, she was all blue
That’s how she left her jail cell in Zhodzina
A wall a wall a door
And another wall opposite
These witnessed
What happened to her
On Okrestina

Introduction, commentary and translation from the Belarusian by Sasha Razor

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

New Wave of Police Terror in Minsk

Serge Kharytonau
Facebook
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

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
November 13, 2020

*

bees are certain
said Tolstoy
that they are gathering honey for themselves

but in fact
they are pollinating the garden

Belarusians think
says Christ
that they are rallying their land

but in fact
they are healing the world

13.11.2020

“Let’s call it what it is: Roman Bondarenko was murdered.” Photo courtesy of BelarusFeed and TUT.BY

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
November 13, 2020

For Matches

going out
for matches

leaving the house
for any necessity

dress
carefully

pack as if
you might be gone for ten,
fifteen days

you never know
where terror’s claw
will grab you

the ever-watchful eye
can see you
everywhere

13.11.2020

Translated by the Russian Reader

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

Medical students demonstration in Vitebsk on 20 September. Polina Nitchenko is carrying the sign, which reads: “You can’t just wash away blood like that, I can tell you”. Photo: Ales Piletsky, TUT.By

to monster street demonstrations, and then to a wave of strikes, mass meetings and other workplace actions. (I published what information I could find herehere 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

Video, circulated on line, of detainees in a police station courtyard. They were forced to stand in this position for several hours

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.

Belaruskalii strike committee members Yuri Korzun, Sergei Cherkasov and Pavel Puchenya after their release. Photo: BITU

________________________________________________________________________________________

Gabriel Levy
Facebook
November 11, 2020

Rage against the machines

Plenty of lies on facebook. Donald Trump’s lying page is working fine. And Breitbart News’s. And Fox news presenter Tucker Carlson’s. And Trump’s former press secretary’s Kayleigh McEnany’s. And Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon’s (although, to be fair, facebook has stopped him adding posts, after he called for the execution of Anthony Fauci, the White House medical science adviser).

But facebook has blocked anyone from posting links to peoplenature[dot]org, my humble web site where I write about socialism, ecology, the labour movement in eastern European countries and stuff like that.

It’s certainly a computer that decided to block me (for “breaching community standards”. As if). I’ve complained to the computer. And the computer may eventually notice its mistake. Or not …

So if you usually follow peoplenature[dot]org on facebook – as many of you lovely people do – please let’s use alternatives:

■ Join the whatsapp group to get updates. https://chat.whatsapp.com/FLJtISmn1ew9Bg2ZcR5fDl

■ Follow @peoplenature on twitter. https://twitter.com/peoplenature

■ Drop an email to peoplenature[at]yahoo.com, and get updates that way.

And please circulate this message to friends. Thanks for your support.

Keep raging against the machines!

Autazak

Several years ago, the autazak—the vehicle that the police use to transport detainees—became a paradoxical symbol of Belarusian art protest culture.

Autazak, by the art collective Hutka Smachnaa, published November 17, 2016

“Autazak,” a song by the band Partyzanski Praspekt (Guerrilla Avenue) that was written in Belarusian and recorded on the eve of the August 9, 2020, presidential election, continues this trend.

Partyzanski Praspekt consists of two people: its frontman, poet Uladzimir Liankievič and guitarist Raman Zharabcou. By August 2020, both men already had firsthand experience riding inside these vehicles and being detained overnight by the police.

“I used to write more metaphorical texts that were often contemplative,” says Liankevič, “but now the time has come for straightforward and clear messages. Raman and I chose the garage-rock form and recorded the song very quickly.”

Zhabracou was arrested a few days after the song’s release. Liankevič was arrested on September 8 during a march in support of opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, who had been abducted a day earlier. Liankevič spent six days in the Zhodino Temporary Detention Facility and was released on September 14, 2020.

On September 16, Liankevič wrote the following on his Facebook page:

Basically, what happened is that I was illegally detained and convicted, not as a musician, writer, TV presenter, showman, leader,  activist, journalist, activist, philosopher, Instagram influencer, champion athlete, generalist, or something else very important, not for my activities or my inaction, but as a mere citizen. More precisely, I was detained and tried as if I were not a citizen, but as a person without status. (Although, generally speaking, I lucked out). Today, people are taking to the streets, flying flags, and singing “Kupalinka” in the name of ordinary civil rights and even universal human rights.

At such moments, I simply do not care about any of my identities, except for one—my identity as a human being.

Co-ed, programmer, resident of stairwell no. 4, chemist, surgeon, poetess, friend, enemy, female passenger, pedestrian, random drunk, Israeli national, geologist, cyclist, demobbed soldier, vocational college student, unregistered person, cap wearer, bag toter, backpack schlepper, female opera employee, flower holder, posterless, professor, minor, disabled person, birthday girl, hot-tempered lout, post-surgical recoverer, deceiver, handsome man, deadbeat, ex,  show-off, foolish woman, smart-ass, intellectual, believer, classmate, talented lady, goofball, long-haired hippie, childless man, prostitute, drug addict, and freeloader, what is it that you want?

To be called people.

Аўтазак

Па горадзе гойсаюць банды ў цывільным,
Твары схаваныя, позірк звярыны.
Пакуюць карціны, пакуюць людзей –
Няправільна стаў, не так паглядзеў.
Душаць, загадваюць, рукі ламаюць.
Час разагнаць незаконную зграю!

Краіну спакавалі ў аўтазак,
Яны за гэта мусяць адказаць.

Мы сёння разам, і нішто не спыніць гэтай хвалі.
Мы вернем тое, што ў нас забралі.
Пасля дажджу гуляюць промні па небакраі,
Мы вернем тое, што ў нас забралі.

Крадуць галасы без сораму, стабільна
Чыняць беззаконне, судзяць нявінных.
Ганяць, прыніжаюць, хлусяць кожны дзень.
З суддзямі таксама сустрэнемся ў судзе.
Святкуюць перамогу занадта рана –
Ніхто не застанецца беспакараным.

Краіну спакавалі ў аўтазак,
Яны за гэта мусяць адказаць.

Мы сёння разам, і нішто не спыніць гэтай хвалі.
Мы вернем тое, што ў нас забралі.
Пасля дажджу гуляюць промні па небакраі,
Мы вернем тое, што ў нас забралі.

Autazak

Gangs in plainclothes roam the city,
Their faces hidden, their eyes like beasts.
They pack away pictures, they pack away people:
You stood the wrong, you gave the wrong look.
They choke us, shout orders, twist our arms.
It’s time to drive away this lawless herd!

The country has been packed into an autazak.
They must answer for this.

We are together today, and nothing will stop this wave.
We will get back what was taken from us.
After the rain, rays shine across the sky
We will get back what was taken from us.

They steal our voices, our votes without shame,
They violate the laws, they persecute the innocent.
They chase us, humiliate us, and lie every day.
Our judges will also face us in court.
It is still too early to celebrate:
No one will escape unpunished.

The country has been packed into an autazak.
They must answer for this.

We are together today, and nothing will stop this wave.
We will get back what was taken from us.
After the rain, rays shine across the sky
We will get back what was taken from us.

Introduction, commentary and translation from the Belarusian by Sasha Razor

You Go, Girl! (Reading about the Belarusian Women’s Protests)

Sasha Razor
Facebook
October 10, 2020

In solidarity with the International Women’s March for Belarus, which is taking place today, I am offering this collection of texts about the Belarusian women’s protests. If I overlooked some sources, send me your suggestions.

August 31, 2020
Ousmanova, Almira. “Belarus’s quest for democracy has a female face.”

September 16, 2020
Laputska, Veranika. “From Beauty Queens to Freedom Fighters: Belarusian Women’s Political Evolution.”

September 17, 2020
Moore, Ekaterina. “Despite Women-Led Resistance, There is a Long Road to Gender Equality.”

Solomatina, Irina, and Luba Fein. “Women and Feminism in Belarus: The Truth Behind the Flower Power.” An Interview with Irina Solomatina by Luba Fein.

September 20, 2020
Shparaga, Olga, and Elena Fanailova. “‘Avtoritarizm — ne takaia prostaia shtuka’: Belarus i zhenskii protest.” An Interview with Olga Shparaga by Elena Fanailova.

September 22, 2020
Fürst, Juline, Anika Walke, and Sasha Razor. “On Free Women and Free Belarus. A Look at the Female Force Behind the Protests in Belarus.”

September 23, 2020
Tikhanovskaya, Svetlana. “I was a Stay-at-Home Mom. Now I’m Leading a Revolution.”

October 6, 2020
Solomatina, Irina and Nina Potarskaia. “U protesta ne zhenskoe litso: Interviu s Irinoi Solomatinoi.”