EU expresses concern over police crackdown on demonstration in Minsk
The Swedish presidency of the European Union has expressed concern about the police crackdown on a peaceful demonstration staged in downtown Minsk on September 16 to mark a decade since the disappearance of opposition politician Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasowski.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the presidency urges the Belarusian authorities to "refrain from the use of force in dealing with peaceful demonstrations and to ensure that representatives of independent media are able to perform their tasks without interference."
The presidency calls on Belarus to "make further progress regarding democracy and human rights."
About 35 people were arrested during the Wednesday demonstration in Minsk’s Kastrychnitskaya Square.
The demonstration began at 6 p.m., when a few dozen people formed a line along Independence Avenue, displaying images of the missing men and a sign that read, "We Remember."
Almost immediately, several dozen riot police officers ranged themselves between the demonstrators and the roadway. A police official began warning the crowd through a megaphone that the demonstration was unauthorized. A few minutes later, several police buses arrived at the scene and almost all the demonstrators were bundled into them and driven to the Tsentralny district police department.
Among those arrested were prominent opposition activists Mikalay Statkevich, Syarhey Skrabets and Yawhen Afnahel.
Police used force against journalists who were taking pictures and video footage of the violent scenes.
All detained demonstrators were released without charges about three hours later.
"As soon as the demonstration began, I felt that I was receiving special attention," Mr. Statkevich said in an interview given to the website of an opposition group called Charter `97. "A plainclothesman pointed at me and told uniformed riot police officers to grab me before anyone else. An order to arrest us was given and I found myself in the air being carried by men for the first time [in my life]. They were kicking me in the kidneys when they were carrying me."
"What happened at the district police department was unlike anything I had ever experienced in my long history of criminal and administrative prosecution," Mr. Statkevich said. "All the 35 detained people were lined up along a wall. Then, a group of men in black uniform appeared and I heard them beating people for the next several hours."
As Mr. Statkevich said, two riot policemen and a plainclothesman, who apparently was their superior, tried to force him to spread his legs as wide apart as possible. "I resisted and they kept kicking me on the legs for quite a long time," he said. "They finally knocked me to the ground."
According to Mr. Statkevich, the beating left his left leg severely swollen.
"Those who refused to be fingerprinted were taken to a neighboring room, turned to face a wall and beaten up," said opposition activist Maksim Vinyarski, one of the arrested. "I saw this out of the corner of my eye and heard riot policemen`s orders and people`s screams. Of course, I couldn`t see who was being beaten, but they did it to five or six people. When I screamed, "Stop this lawlessness!" I was told not to move. After a while, riot policemen turned their attention to me and kicked me in the back several times. They openly threatened to rape one girl. Mikola Dzemidzenka of Malady Front tried to say something to the policemen while we were standing near the district police station after being released. In response, riot policemen knocked him down, dragged him along the ground and beat him up."