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‘They beat me up, because I pleaded not guilty’ In his own words, Russian national Yegor Dudnikov recounts his arrest in Belarus

On May 5, Russian national Yegor Dudnikov was arrested in Minsk. The 20-year-old is suspected of organizing actions that grossly violated public order and is facing up to three years in prison. According to Dudnikov’s lawyer, Anton Gashinsky, his client became a suspect in the case because he did voice-over work for videos produced by the Belarusian opposition following last year’s protests against dictator Alexander Lukashenko. That said, Dudnikov’s family insists that he didn’t actually take part in the demonstrations. During a meeting in pre-trial detention, Yegor Dudnikov told his lawyer about what had happened to him since his arrest — and Anton Gashinsky passed his statements to the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. With Novaya Gazeta’s permission, Meduza shares a full translation of Dudnikov’s story (you can also read it in Russian here). 

I was detained on May 4, 2021, harshly. I didn’t have the strength to run away. There were many of them and I was alone. I immediately understood “what’s what” — the GUBOP was working, sparing no hands — they kicked and punched me during the arrest. They shouted, “Got you, scumbag!” [and] everything went dark… There were also KGB officers. They behaved properly, unlike the officers from GUBOP — they talked and recorded a video. They said, that I’m [the Telegram user] “Zloybat.” The consequences of my arrest were bruises and a cracked tooth. They told me that I incited people to violence against law enforcement officers. And also that I voiced-over videos that were subsequently posted on the YouTube channel Botogsb/partizanskybot. 

After my arrest they took me home and there was a search. They brought me to my rental apartment; the grandpa I rented it from was asleep. They kicked me in the chest area twice and after that they brought in witnesses [for the search]. The raid began. They seized my devices, two telephones, three personal journals, documents, my card, and 60 Belarusian rubles. Then they put a bag over my head and took me away. I was in a panic, I felt nauseated, but I wasn’t hysterical. When they “shook me down” they put me on my knees and told me to be quiet. But once and a while I spoke to grandpa and glanced at my cat, Aelita. I understood that I might never see her again and I said goodbye to her. After the search, they put a bag over my head again and took me to a car.

In the car, they threw me into the back seat, my hands were in handcuffs the entire time. They said they were going to bury me. “To plant potatoes,” as one of them joked. They told me to say what they needed on camera and then, perhaps, they would deport me home [to Russia]. They beat me up, because I pleaded not guilty. They beat me hard. Though after almost a month there aren’t any bruises left at all. 

The bag was thin and I saw that they were taking me to the KGB building in Minsk. They took me into an office on the third floor and sat me in a chair. They cuffed my hands tighter, which made me cry out. They took the bag off [my head] and said that if I was going to act out they would take me to the OMON [riot police] department and then they would remind me of all my words (in the dubbed videos). I was very scared, because I know what the OMON did in August 2020.

After that, at one o’clock in the morning, a video interrogation began without a lawyer, where they gave me a text that I read out. There were two men in balaclavas, one “Chekist” [a KGB officer] and one man who looked like a piglet (it seemed like this was an FSB agent). On camera, they asked me about my activities; I was afraid and said what they needed. They brought a 32-kilogram [70-pound] weight and put it next to me. After that, they began to ask about my relationship to [Belarusian opposition figures] Olga Karach and Igor Makar. I was extremely scared and did everything unquestioningly. After the interrogation with the video camera, they removed the handcuffs, gave me a drink, and brought me a bag of food (they detained me as I was walking from the store with the bag).

After that, we sat and talked until morning — [I had] a “heart to heart” with the Chekists. My head was spinning from fear. I had already started seeing them as comrades, because they began to sympathize with me, offering to [let me] smoke or drink tea with chocolate. They demanded that I give them access to my phone, and to my social media and Telegram accounts. I obeyed, remembering the heavy kicks to the chest for refusing. Then I was allowed to sleep on the chair. I leaned against a cold safe and dozed off. While I slept, the guards were changing constantly. Apparently, they needed to rest in more comfortable conditions. Around 11:00 a.m. they brought me sheets of paper and a pen, and told me to write a full confession. The Chekists actually forced me to write the report.

They told me that if I didn’t write it, then I would be declared a terrorist and rot in prison, that I wouldn’t see my mother or my girlfriend. And if I did write it, then I would be deported to Russia, and I could forget it all like a bad dream. They asked if I had seen Denis Hofman, Olga Karach, Igor Makar, and the other administrators of the [Belarusian opposition] Telegram channel OGSB, in order to implicate me. When they found out that I hadn’t seen them, they were upset. In the confession, I wrote that I allegedly called for violent actions and making direct physical contact with law enforcement officials. I also wrote about my involvement with the Telegram channel OGSB’s bots (I communicated with people, answered questions). I stated that I was in contact with Karach once, but was never in contact with Makar. After that I asked for access to a telephone to call my mother and girlfriend.

They said that if I didn’t make contact, they would go to my girlfriend’s [house] and it wouldn’t be pretty for her.

Then they told me that I was going to an apartment with two officers. If I was well behaved, then the conversation would continue. The two officers came for me, they put a bag over my head, threw me in a car, and off we went. We got there pretty quickly and, as I later saw, I was placed in a two-room apartment overlooking the monument to [Belarusian writer] Yakub Kolas. There, I was settled in one room and the officers were in the other room. They took the handcuffs off me and I was able to eat. At 11:00 p.m. they told me “lights out.” When I lay down, I heard the sound of the pull and release of a pistol slide. I was extremely scared and pressed myself into the couch. But nobody came for me. After a while I tried to go to the bathroom, but the door was locked from the outside. After that I passed out.

In the morning they woke me up and told me to get ready. They put a bag over my head again and took me, as it later turned out, to the KGB building. They took me into an office, sat me in a chair, and told me to rewrite my confession. Apparently, they studied my cell phone during this time and they had additional questions. After that, they said they would have to put me in the “American” [the KGB pre-trial detention center], because I “turned in” Denis Hofman (they found his personal details in my phone). 

After that, they put a bag over my head again and took me to an investigator, who said I was suspected of organizing group actions that grossly violated public order in the city of Minsk, and that I also violated the conditions of my stay in the country. After that, soldiers came and took me to the KGB pre-trial detention center. There, I was taken for interrogations repeatedly, where various lawyers were present. The interrogations were filmed on video, where I repeated a memorized text. Two weeks later, the first letters from my girlfriend, and one from my mother, started to arrive.

On May 25, they came to my cell and told me to leave it with the papers. They took me to an office, where they gave previously prepared answers to questions from TV reporters [from the Belarusian state television channel] ONT. They gave me time to learn the answers — and on May 28, people from the television channel ONT arrived and did a recording. They asked me to say: “I am Yegor Dudnikov, [also] known as ‘Zloybat.’ I’m disappointed in you losers and loudmouths and I’m cooperating with the investigation.”

After that I was taken to a cell and on Monday, May 31, I was transferred to the pre-trial detention center on Volodarsky [Street]. In the KGB pre-trial detention center I was in the same cell as [opposition leaders and former presidential candidates] Viktor Babariko and Grigory Kostusev. There was also a businessman, Razmus. Although he was later taken away. My relationship with my cellmates was good, they became almost like grandfathers to me, they taught me Belarusian.

I only voiced-over the videos, the texts were given to me by Diz — the administrator of the Telegram channel. I did this for a fee. I voiced-over audio messages on the Telegram channel OGSB from mid-November 2020 to May 2021. The videos and messages included calls to take to the streets and make direct physical contact with law enforcement officials. 

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Translated by Eilish Hart

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