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‘My conscience is clear’ Belarusian police officers start publicly resigning in protest against violent crackdown on opposition

Source: Meduza
Yegor Emelyanov’s Instagram page

A court in Navapolatsk has acquitted former police captain Yegor Emelyanov of violating Belarusian laws on organizing demonstrations. The ex-cop was arrested earlier this week for publicly announcing his resignation from law enforcement in protest against the authorities’ violent suppression of opposition assemblies across the country, following Sunday’s presidential election, when long-time incumbent Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory despite a strong opposition challenger and evidence of widespread election fraud. In four days of unrest, police have arrested roughly 7,000 people and more than 250 demonstrators have been hospitalized. Two protesters have been killed, as well. “Seventeen years of service are done. My conscience is clear. The police are with the people,” wrote Emelyanov on Instagram. His post now has nearly 400,000 likes, and he’s not Belarus’s only cop who says he’s had enough.

Yegor Emelyanov ended his 17 years of service with the protest slogan “the police are with the people”

On August 11, two days after the start of mass demonstrations across Belarus, Navapolatsk police captain Yegor Emelyanov shared a photo on Instagram showing his police badge and shoulder straps, announcing that he was leaving the force to preserve his conscience. “The police are with the people,” he wrote, borrowing a slogan chanted by many now demonstrating in Minsk and other cities.

“I can’t participate in this lawlessness any longer. I can’t even look at how they’re killing, beating, and insulting my people. I swore an oath to defend them and until now I’ve done it honestly and sincerely, and not for the sake of the authorities or for money,” Emelyanov later explained to the radio station Govorit Mosvka

After publishing his resignation announcement, the authorities arrested Emelyanov for violating Belarusian laws on staging public assemblies

On August 13, Emelyanov’s wife, Marina, told the news outlets Nasha Niva and Tut.by that her husband was arrested the same day he quit the police force. He apparently submitted his resignation paperwork and then came home, where he made the announcement online. Hours later, the office telephoned and asked him to come back to finalize his resignation that day. That evening, he called his wife to say he’d been arrested and charged with violating statutes on organizing mass demonstrations.

Marina Emelyanova says her husband gave up his job because he refused to take part in the violent dispersal of demonstrations. It wasn’t an easy decision for him, she says. In fact, it forced him to return a nearly $2,000-bonus he received in a contract extension signed in 2016. “We have two children and our apartment was built on loans. That’s big money for us, but now we’ve decided that it isn’t worth it,” Emelyanova told Tut.by.

Police officials say Emelyanov was fired for failing to report to work, but a court rejected that claim

Elena Bilaya, the spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry department that employed Emelyanov, confirmed to Meduza that he was in fact a police officer. She denies, however, that he resigned and says instead that he was fired for failing to report for duty. 

Emelyanov’s court hearing took place on August 13. According to his wife, the judge acquitted him and ordered his release. “The children and I are waiting,” she told the BBC.

Emelyanov isn’t the only Belarusian police officer to express his objections to the violent crackdown on protesters and at least one officer has disappeared

On August 11, a police dog handler named Viktor Sharkovich also announced his resignation on Instagram. In an interview with Radio Svoboda, he said he’s been harassed for quitting the force so publicly. 

According to Tut.by, another four police officers in a single district tendered their resignations after mass arrests and beatings of protesters in Brest. 

On August 13, opposition Telegram channels in Belarus started sharing videos of former special forces officers throwing their uniforms and insignia into trash cans in protest against the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. Also on August 13, the opposition channel NEXTA Live published a video from a man who identified himself as police inspector Ivan Kolos. In the footage, he calls on colleagues not to use violence against the protesters and vows not to follow “criminal orders.” After posting the video, Kolos told Tut.by that he was visited by law enforcement “under the pretext of collecting [his] papers and badge,” which he threw from his balcony. Afterward, Kolos stopped responding to messages, says Tut.by.

We won’t give up Because you’re with us

Text by Olga Korelina

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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