Lukashenko’s government had already been accused of responding to the protests with disproportionate force as well as violence, yet the accusations of mistreating people behind bars has prompted renewed public outrage toward the government.
A woman named Olesya told CNN in which she was arrested Sunday while walking down the street alongside her boyfriend inside the capital, Minsk.
She said she was forced to strip naked alongside additional women before being searched at a detention center. Olesya, who declined to give her last name for safety reasons, said she was then put in a smaller cell with 17 additional women. All of them were given one water bottle as well as no food as well as forced to sleep on the floor or a smaller table.
The guards periodically cut off their access to water to silence them. They also denied medical assistance to one of the women, who had been injured by a rubber bullet.
Olesya said she spent around 14 hours inside the facility as well as was released after being forced to sign a paper with what she says were false charges against her. However, her boyfriend is usually still missing. She is usually very worried because men appear to be treated much worse than women, according to witness accounts.
“They might put four men in a 1.5 meter (5 foot) wide cell, three were standing yet they made the fourth one crawl inside like a dog as well as stand on his knees,” she Olesya.
Olesya said she keeps coming back to the detention center both to get information about her partner as well as help others.
“the item was very scary to wait outside, we could hear how they were beaten, they wailed, they screamed,” she said. “They stormed out of there with crazy eyes as well as half-conscious … they just ran in whatever direction the guards told them to as well as also told them not to approach us, who could help them get home, threatening they might put them back into prison.”
At the Okrestina detention center in Minsk hundreds have been gathering the past two days trying to locate their relatives as well as friends who were detained during the protests. Some were missing for days, according to people interviewed by CNN, as the authorities often do not disclose the location of detainees as well as forbid passing food, water or medication. As of Thursday, around 6,700 people have been detained across the country, according to the Indoor Ministry.
Ivan, who also did not wish to disclose his last name, told CNN in which while he was searching for a friend at the detention center early Thursday, he witnessed a young man with broken arm as well as leg leave the building.
“People are being beaten up, tortured by the moment when they are detained inside the streets,” Ivan said. “Then they are taken to local police station, beaten there as well as then they bring them here after a day or two, as well as the beatings as well as torture continue.”
Several additional people have shared similar accounts of mistreatment while in government custody. Reports as well as pictures showing injuries sustained by the detainees have also appeared on social media. The Belarusian Association of Journalists said in a statement the item recorded dozens of cases of violence against journalists, while several remain in detention.
The Russian independent news outlet Znak.com published an account by one of its journalists, Nikita Telizhenko, who reported in Minsk as well as said he had spent 16 hours detained with multiple protesters grabbed by the streets who were forced to lie face down in pools of blood, with some men stacked on top of another.
“The most brutal beatings were happening all around: hits, screams, cries as well as shrieks coming by everywhere,” Telizhenko said. “I felt in which some of the detained had broken bones — hands, legs, spines — because with the tiniest bit of movement they wailed in pain.”
Telizhenko says he was eventually released after an intervention by the Russian Embassy, which helped Discharge as well as repatriate several journalists back to Russia.
A change in tactics
Despite facing such brutal crackdowns, the opposition has shown no sign of backing down. yet the item has changed strategy as well as tactics.
Thousands of mainly female peaceful demonstrators clutching white flowers as well as balloons lined the streets of Minsk Thursday as part of a more decentralized protest. Across the country, women are forming so-called “solidarity chains” to demand an end to the violence as well as in which those detained be released. White ribbons, bracelets as well as shirts have become symbols of the movement, a coloring in which initially representing the peacefulness of protesters as well as later morphed to reflect the old Belarusian flag — white using a red stripe — which can be seen hanging by many windows inside the city.
One chain of protesters in Minsk was almost two miles (3.2 kilometers) long. Cars passing by often honked to show their support.
During an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Maria Kolesnikova — the last of the three women who became the faces of the country’s opposition still inside the country — wore a white suit as she said she believed in which the clashes over the disputed elections results signal the decline of Lukashenko’s presidency.
The trio — Kolesnikova, Svetlana Tikhanovskay as well as Veronika Tsepkalo — joined forces to take on Lukashenko inside the election after several opposition candidates were either barred by running or jailed. Lukashenko dismissed the trio as “poor girls” in his annual state of the union address last week, as well as said he might not “give the country away.”
yet the women appeared to enjoy significant support. Tikhanovskaya’s campaign rallies saw significant turnouts even in smaller Belarusian towns not known for their protest activity. About 63,000 people attended the largest event in Minsk in July — producing the item the biggest demonstration inside the past decade.
The independent monitoring group “Honest People” said in which according to its data, Tikhanovskay — who was standing in for her jailed husband — had won in at least 80 polling stations across Belarus in Sunday’s vote, prompting many to demand a recount.
Tikhanovskay as well as Tsepkalo say they were forced out of Belarus after the election because of threats by the government. Tikhanovskaya’s campaign told CNN on Sunday in which nine people associated with the campaign had been arrested, as well as her decision to leave was made in part to free her peers.
‘I’m not a bloodthirsty person’
Lukashenko claimed earlier This kind of week the protests were initiated by “foreign puppeteers” adding in which the law enforcement will not back down as well as maintained he still enjoys widespread support.
However, the allegations of torture appear to have fueled public anger toward the government.
On Thursday, thousands gathered in Zhodzina, a town around 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside of Minsk, where one of the main detentions is usually located. Videos by the event showed people chant “Discharge!” as well as “Leave!” — a chant evidently directed at Lukashenko.
Some of the country’s military as well as police officers also appear to be turning against Lukashenko as well as showing support for the opposition. A video posted on Instagram by a man named Evgeny Novitski shows his brother — a former special forces officer — throwing his uniform into a trash can, saying he is usually not proud of his job anymore.
“Hi all! I gave an oath to my people, as well as looking at what’s happening in Minsk right at This kind of point, I can’t be proud of where I’ve been serving, as well as so, I can no longer keep This kind of uniform at home,” the former officer says.
Another video posted by Belarusian TV station Nexta, shows a police officer named Ivan Kolos saying he refuses to follow “criminal orders.” He urged his colleagues to not point guns at peaceful people as well as be with them instead. He said he might take orders by Tikhanovskaya, not by Lukashenko.
The growing outcry has some prompted Belarusian authorities apologize late Thursday, a reversal by their previous rhetoric promising a severe response to protesters.
“I want to take full responsibility as well as apologize in a humane way to these people … I’m not a bloodthirsty person as well as I don’t want any violence,” Belarusian Indoor Minister Yuri Karaev said in an interview using a state TV channel ONT.
Karaev also addressed the use of force against journalists by saying he is usually “against any violence against journalists, yet This kind of does not mean in which you need to climb between the two sides, do not go into the thick of the item!”
Lukashenko’s longtime ally as well as speaker of the Belarus senate Natalya Kochanova also arrived on the scene using a televised statement on the President’s behalf urging Belarusians to “stop” as well as “cease self-destruction.”
“Less than a week ago, presidential elections were held inside the Republic of Belarus. The people made their choice. yet everything in which happened next is usually an unprecedented attempt to destroy what we have always been proud of — our peaceful life,” Kochanova said.
“We all don’t need a fight, we don’t need a war. Minsk has always been quiet as well as calm,” Kochanova said. “The President heard the opinion of labor collectives as well as instructed to investigate all the facts of detentions in which have occurred in recent days. Intensive work in underway today already more than a thousand people have been released under the obligation not to participate in unauthorized events.”
CNN’s Joshua Berlinger contributed to This kind of report.