Zero per mill Belarusian doctors spark solidarity demonstrations following arrests over article on protester’s death
A new type of solidarity protest has sprung up in Belarus, in support of a journalist and a doctor who were arrested on charges of divulging confidential medical information about Raman Bandarenka — an opposition protester who died after being hospitalized on November 12. The solidarity action, called “Nol promille” (Zero per mill), was initiated by doctors at the Minsk Emergency Hospital and has quickly been picked up by other opposition protesters, including journalists and students.
On November 19, law enforcement officers in Minsk arrested Artem Sorokin, an anesthesiologist at the Minsk Emergency Hospital, and Katerina Borisevich, a journalist for the Belarus news outlet Tut.by.
The arrests came after Tut.by published an article about the death of protester Raman Bandarenka — who was hospitalized with severe injuries on November 12, after being beaten during an altercation over opposition symbols. The article maintained that when he was in the hospital, Raman Bandarenka’s blood alcohol level was zero. This contradicted allegations from both the Belarusian Investigative Committee and subsequently, Alexander Lukashenko, that Bandarenka was drunk.
Raman Bandarenka was a 31-year-old artist who lived in an apartment complex in Minsk located on what locals have dubbed “Changes Square.”On the night of November 11, a group of masked strangers came to the square and began removing red-and-white ribbons (opposition symbols) from a nearby fence. Bandarenka approached them and an altercation ensued, after which the masked men carried Bandarenka to a mini-bus and drove away. He was later taken to the Minsk Central Police Department and from there to the Minsk Emergency Hospital. Bandarenka died in the hospital on November 12. Thousands of people flocked to “Changes Square” to attend a memorial gathering in his honor. Opposition protesters in Minsk also dedicated a Sunday demonstration (a tradition during the protest wave in Belarus) to Bandarenka. More than 1,000 people were arrested during the rally.
Law enforcement haven’t made any arrests in connection with the assault on Bandarenka. Lukashenko said that he came into conflict with members of one of the volunteer guards that the authorities created to counter opposition protesters. Tut.by and Tribuna.com reported that the group included a man who resembled Dmitry Baskov, the head of the Belarusian Hockey Federation and the coach of Lukashenko’s hockey team. Another member of the group resembled Muay Thai kickboxing world champion Dmitry Shakuta — apparently, he was the one who started the scuffle with Bandarenka. Later, a recording leaked online of a telephone conversation between two men, whose voices are similar to those of Baskov and Shakuta. In what appears to be a discussion about the attack on Bandarenka, one of them said: “That is, I ran up, I knocked him over. I didn’t knock him out.”
Borisevich authored the article in question. In the report, she quoted an anonymous doctor and included a photo of Bandarenka’s medical records. According to the Belarusian Attorney General’s Office, Sorokin “succumbed to [her] persuasion” and gave Borisevich this information.
The Attorney General’s Office added that the doctor not only violated doctor-patient confidentiality but also provided incomplete information. “In particular, everyone should pay attention to the fact that one of the published documents did not contain the results of testing other biological mediums for ethanol content, including urine,” said the Deputy Attorney General of Belarus, Gennady Dysko.
In addition, the Attorney General’s Office said that Borisevich and Sorokin’s actions led to serious consequences, such as “increasing tensions in society [and] creating an atmosphere of distrust in the competency of government bodies.” The department also posted a video message from Sorokin, in which he calls the incident “his mistake” and urges people “not to politicize the situation.”
The ‘0 per mill’ protests
On Tuesday, November 24, medical workers at the Minsk Emergency Hospital conducted a protest in solidarity with their colleague, Artem Sorokin. They turned their faces to a wall, put their hands above their heads (in the position that opposition protesters have been forced to stand in while under arrest), and held up pieces of paper that read “0 ‰”
That same day, journalists from the Belarusian news outlet Tut.by followed suit and organized their own “0 per mill” protest.
Other people soon joined in, including residents from the Grushevka, Kunetsevshchina, and Uruchcha micro-districts in Minsk, as well as residents from the Kaskad, Mayak Minska, and Megapolis residential complexes.
Students from several universities in Minsk also joined the protests.
Employees from the Minsk Motor Plant and the Republican Scientific and Practical Center “Cardiology” also expressed solidarity with the detainees.
Outside of Minsk, the solidarity action was picked up by opposition protesters in the Belarusian town of Karelichy.
Translation by Eilish Hart