Belarus opposition claims ill-treatment

Ales Mikhalevich says he was arrested, imprisoned and forced to sign a confession

* Piotr Smolar

* Guardian Weekly

Ales Mikhalevich, an opposition candidate in last year's presidential election in Belarus, has told Le Monde of his subsequent ill-treatment. He spoke by phone from the capital, Minsk, which he is not allowed to leave.

He was arrested on 20 December by members of the KGB (Belarus secret police) and released on 19 February. He was forced to sign a document: "I agreed to become a KGB informer," he said, "because I was determined to bear witness and put an end to the human rights violations."

He was one of seven opposition candidates arrested after a demonstration on 19 December and charged with inciting riots, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. Nearly 40,000 demonstrators marched through Minsk to protest against the re-election of Aleksandr Lukashenko with almost 80% of the vote. More than 600 were taken into custody.

According to the NGO Human Rights Watch 148 out of 205 people it interviewed alleged that they had been hit by the police when they were arrested or while in custody. About a third had been beaten with batons. Mikhalevich was imprisoned in a building next to KGB headquarters. "They wanted me to read a statement on a live television broadcast condemning the actions of the other candidates," he said. He refused. Several times a day he was subjected to a full body search; naked in a room where the temperature barely reached 10C, he had to put his hands against the wall and spread his legs. Sometimes prisoners were obliged to sit down, then stand up again and again until they were on the verge of passing out.

Between 5 and 10 January, Mikhalevich was held at the interior ministry, then taken back to the KGB, where masked men dragged him out of his cell. With his hands cuffed behind his back, he was taken down to the basement and his arms pulled up as far as they would go. "We were only allowed to see a doctor once a week, which is a denial of a prisoner's rights."

For several nights, lights stayed on in his cell. "They forced us to lie looking up at the lamps. It was forbidden to cover our eyes with a handkerchief." The floor had been coated with acetone-based paint so the air was foul. He was never allowed to speak to his lawyer: "They told us there were no premises available."

On 19 January, after being returned to the KGB, he was interrogated again. His wife was arrested on the way to a conference in Poland and has been forbidden to leave Belarus.

This story was originally published in Le Monde


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