Belarus: Opposition Leader Speaks About Detention Experiences

By Valentinas Mite

Belarusian Popular Front head Vintsuk Vyachorka was the deputy head of opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich's campaign during the March presidential election. During the course of his political career, Vyachorka has been detained several times by the authorities. He spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Valentinas Mite about his time spent in detention centers as a political prisoner.

RFE/RL: How do the authorities go about detaining people? And who is it that does this?

Vintsuk Vyachorka: As a rule, they come from a special department of police, the so-called OMON, which has now been renamed 'Spetsnaz' [special operations police unit]. Very often they are dressed in plain clothes. They do not produce any documents and perform their duties in a very rough way. They twisted my hands and though they did not throw me face down to the ground or on the floor of a bus, they often treat other people this way.

RFE/RL: Tell us more about your detention during the presidential campaign last March.

Vyachorka: I was detained in a rough way on March 8 after I organized Milinkevich's campaign rally, by the way a completely legal one, aimed at meeting with voters. People in plain clothes seized the bus where we were transporting our [sound] equipment. The head of Minsk's police unit [in charge] of public security, in person ordered me to spread my legs and to put my hands on the wall [while he conducted a search.] He was very happy that I was caught on that bus and told me he wanted to get me for a long time.

RFE/RL: What usually happens after being detained?

Vyachorka: The police take away everything from you, everything you have in your pockets, as their instructions say that all items, with which you can hang yourself, have to be taken away. After a detention, a person is transported to a detention center. Here a person, if he is detained on Friday, spends a night or two before a trial. He is kept until Monday [for a trial.]

RFE/RL: What are the conditions like in Belarusian detention centers?

Vyachorka: After a trial, when you are given a sentence, you become a full-fledged detainee. The state takes care of your expenses. It means that twice a day you get food. In the morning you get porridge and tea. You get soup, porridge, a cutlet and also tea in the evening. And also bread. They give enough bread and there are no problems with the quantity of food, but there is nothing positive to say about the variety and vitamins in the food.

Vyachorka after being sentenced to 15 days imprisonment in March Vyachorka after being sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment in March RFE/RL: What was it like in the detention centers after the postelection protests were dispersed in March?

Vyachorka: Many people were arrested in March. All in all, some 1,000-1,300 people were detained in Belarus. All the prisons were overcrowded. In the cell, where I was put, there were around 14 people and some were sleeping on the floor.

RFE/RL: What was the attitude of the institution's administration toward political detainees?

Vyachorka: I would not say that the bosses of the detention center, the personnel of the center, were in some way rough toward political detainees. On the contrary, they treated them rather softly. If it is possible to say, speaking about a jail, they treated us normally. However, just before the elections and during the elections some special measures were introduced from above. For instance, it was not allowed to get anything from the outside -- no provisions, no newspapers, no nothing, and it was called a quarantine."

RFE/RL: How did ordinary detainees treat political prisoners?

Vyachorka: When I was detained in April, after the Chornobyl March, I was housed together with the center's usual inhabitants -- hooligans and so on. I have never experienced these people -- if not given special orders -- treating political detainees in a bad way.