Politician claims he was tortured into 'collaboration'

By Reuters

MINSK - A Belarussian politician who challenged President Alexander Lukashenko in his election last December said on Monday the KGB state security service had used torture to coerce him into “collaboration”.

Ales Mikhalevich, 35, was held by police along with three other opposition candidates and hundreds of supporters in a crackdown on Dec. 19 on a Minsk rally against Lukashenko, the day he was re-elected for a fourth term in power.

Mikhalevich, who was released from a detention centre on Feb. 19 and ordered not to leave Belarus, appeared visibly shaken as he told the press about the pressure which in the end forced him to sign a document saying he would do what was asked of him.

“On January 10 ... people wearing black masks ... dragged me out of the cell, handcuffed me and lifted my arms up by handcuffs so as to lower me to face down to the concrete floor,” he said.

“After twisting my arms behind my back as far upwards as the would go, until my joints started cracking, they told me I needed to do everything requested of me. They kept my arms in this position for a long time and pushed them higher and higher until I said I would comply with all requests.”

Mikhalevich said he had endured other types of physical assault as well as sleep deprivation and extremely stressful detention conditions such as low temperatures.

“The condition of my release ... was formulated as signing an agreement of ‘collaboration’,” Mikhalevich said.

He said that in the end he signed an agreement of “collaboration””so as to be able to make public what was being done to prisoners at the detention centre.

“I realise that even before the day is out I could find myself back in the KGB detention centre and that this time I will be treated in a far harsher manner.”

The KGB could not be reached for comment.

The police crackdown on Dec. 19 triggered fresh Western sanctions against Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet republic for 16 years and whose re-election was denounced as fraudulent by the opposition and international monitors.

Trials have already begun in Minsk of more than 30 people arrested on Dec. 19 or soon after and who are being held either in prison or under house arrest.

They face a charge of involvement in mass disturbances or the more serious charge of organising unrest.

The United States and the European Union, who have called for protesters to be freed, have imposed restrictions on Lukashenko including a travel ban on him and 150 officials.

Unfazed, Belarus pressed on with trials of opposition supporters and sentenced one of them to four years in prison this month.


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