‘This case is real’ Belarusian riot police are using sexual violence against protesters
Warning. This text describes scenes of violence.
On September 14, the international rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on the “systematic beatings and torture” of demonstrators arrested during the protests in Belarus. The report included a collection of first-hand accounts from victims of police brutality. Among them, is the story of a 30-year-old IT worker named Ales, who recounts how a senior riot police (OMON) officer raped him with a truncheon in a police van after his arrest in Minsk on August 11.
“[Riot police] demanded that I unlock my phone. I refused. They called a senior officer. He threatened that unless I cooperate, he’d stick his truncheon up my [ass]. He then cut my shorts and my underwear on the back, crosswise, and called out to his officers asking whether anyone had a condom. I was on the floor, face down, but I could see him pull the condom on the truncheon – and then he just pushed the stick into my anus…. Then, he pulled it out and demanded the password again. He kicked and punched me on my ribs, on my face, on my teeth – my two front teeth cracked a bit,” Ales told HRW.
Ales was taken to the Zavodsky District Police Department in Minsk. There, police officers ignored his requests to see a doctor and refused to put him in an ambulance, which had been called for another detainee who had diabetes. “When I was allowed to go to the toilet [several hours later] I saw the [scope of the] bruising and swelling [in the perianal area] and again, asked to see a doctor. They refused again,” Ales said.
An ambulance was called for Ales only after he was taken to the detention center on Okrestina Street. He was then taken to an emergency hospital — more than 30 hours after he received bodily injuries during his arrest.
Ales shared medical documents and photographs with Human Rights Watch, confirming hematomas to his scrotum, perianal area, and left eye, as well as the fact that he suffered a concussion. According to HRW, at the time of his interview, 17 days after his release, Ales still had a “large fading hematoma under his eye” and visible damage to his teeth.
After Human Rights Watch published its report, Andrej Stryzhak, one of the organizers collecting funds for victims of political repression in Belarus, wrote about Ales’s story on Facebook:
“This case is real. I can finally say this after the person received aid from BY_help [an initiative collecting money for those arrested and injured during the protests] and is safe. His medical documents and testimony have been verified and there are no doubts about their authenticity,” Stryzhak said.
Evidence pointing to the fact that people arrested during the protests in Belarus were subject to this kind of abuse have appeared in the media before. Reports about cases of rape with objects, rubber truncheons in particular, have been made by Valentin Stefanovich, a representative of the Belarusian Human Rights Center “Viasna” (Spring), as well as a by number of medical specialists from Minsk and Grodno (the article containing accounts from doctors in Grodno is on longer available, but can be accessed via a web archive). Some of the detainees described being threatened with rape, while a young man named Denis, who was admitted to hospital after being arrested, told BBC News that police officers had tried to shove a truncheon into his anus.
That said, in all likelihood, none of the rape victims have spoken about their experiences publicly before — not even anonymously. Law enforcement agencies in Belarus maintain that there have been no cases of sexual violence at the hands of law enforcement officers. On August 20, the Belarusian Investigative Committee said that they hadn’t received any such complaints. And on August 24, it uploaded a video of a 17-year-old boy, who was hospitalized after being arrested and was allegedly asked by journalists to record an interview claiming that he had been raped by riot police. “I refused. This is a provocation, it’s not true, it’s a lie. That is, why spread it?” the teenager said in the recording. The Russian news outlet Mediazona, which now has a service reporting on Belarus, counted five instances in the video where the footage was spliced together.
Police officials in Belarus also claim that there have been no reports about rape. “I can declare with full accountability that there hasn’t been a single fact established about rapes by police officers,” said the Interior Ministry’s First Deputy Minister — Criminal Police Chief Gennady Kazakevich, on September 16. According to Kazakevich, more than 2,000 complaints were filed to the Investigative Committee about the use of violence by the police during the protests, but there isn’t a single complaint about rape. Kazakevich added that “you can’t rape in a police van.”
Translation by Eilish Hart