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Belarus: Detained protesters 'repeatedly beaten' and abused in post-election crackdown

Belarus: Detained protesters 'repeatedly beaten' and abused in post-election crackdown
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Friday, 14 August, 2020, 16:15

Human rights groups have denounced inhumane conditions in which thousands of people in Belarus have been detained, amid the state's violent response to protests over the controversial re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

They accuse police of beating demonstrators before, during and after their arrest. At least 6,700 people have been held since last Sunday's vote, according to official tallies.

In front of a detention centre in the capital, Minsk, the names of those gone missing in Belarus' crackdown are read out loud as dozens of people gather. Families have been waiting for news of their loved ones.

One woman, whose son disappeared on Monday, told Euronews she had been told he was being held there. "I learned about it yesterday and I brought him some things, but they won't let me give them to him," she said.

Conditions for those stuck in Belarus' detention centres are reportedly appalling. One video verified by Euronews' social media newsdesk The Cube shows protesters held in a Minsk detention centre. Security guards can be seen roughly treating and occasionally beating prisoners.

Reports and pictures of physical abuse against those taking to the streets have inundated social media. In recent days police have used tear gas, stun grenades, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse protesters, severely beating them with truncheons.

Human rights organisations are racing to keep track of violations.

"In a cell where normally five to seven people are detained, there are 50 or 70 people. They are standing, they can't sit," said Ales Belyatski of the rights group Viasna.

"There isn't enough water. They suffer physical violence. They are beaten when they're detained, they're beaten again when they're brought to the local station. Then, they're beaten in detention, and now they're beaten when they're released," he added.

Inna Dobrotvor witnessed the abuse. The English teacher was rounded up on the day of the vote, when attempting to file a complaint at a regional electoral commission office, demanding a recount.

She spent two days in detention and says protesters were brought in, in droves.

"The male detainees are stripped naked in the check room, they can't even keep their shoes. Then they're forced to walk down the corridor carrying their clothes and to kneel, facing the wall. If they complain, they're beaten," she said.

President Lukashenko has claimed those demonstrating against him have "long criminal records". But it was pictures of the tactics used by police to disperse protesters that caused alarm across the world.

Belarusian authorities released 1,000 people arrested during the demonstrations, the Senate Speaker announced Thursday evening.

"More than 1,000 people have been released on condition that they do not take part in unauthorised demonstrations," Natalia Kochanova told state television.

Interior Minister Yuri Karaev apologised for the police violence committed against "passers-by" not involved in the protests.

The UN's human rights chief has said Belarusian authorities should use force as a measure of last resort. The EU has condemned what it described as "disproportionate and unacceptable" state violence against peaceful protesters.

Lukashenko has been accused of rigging last Sunday's ballot after official results gave the long-standing authoritarian leader a sixth term with a landslide 80% of the vote.