Reports of police brutality against Belarus election protesters
By YURAS KARMANAU, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 22, 6:12 PM ET
MINSK, Belarus - Inga made a stack of pancakes, packed them carefully in her bag and sped to a small tent camp in the center of Minsk, eager to provide homemade food to opposition activists.
But her plans were cut short by beefy police officers who intercepted the 19-year-old student, locked her in a detention cell and force-fed her all the food she had prepared.
"I was crying already after the third pancake, but they laughed and said, 'Keep going!'" Inga, who declined to give her last name out for fear of being expelled from her university, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Despite widespread fears, Belarusian law enforcers so far have not taken any direct action to disperse demonstrators camped out in one of the capital's central squares since Sunday, when authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko overwhelmingly won a third term in a vote the opposition and the West dismissed as rigged.
Instead, activists say, authorities have resorted to detaining, harassing and otherwise intimidating scores of protesters on the sidelines of the square — including support people like Inga who keep the demonstration going by providing food, clothing and other necessities.
Irina Dorofeichuk, a 36-year-old management teacher, was sentenced to seven days on charges of hooliganism after police officers accused her of cursing. The real reason, she says, is that she was carrying food and warm clothing to the protesters.
"I didn't believe that something like that could happen to me in the 21st century in Europe," Dorofeichuk told AP. "All the authorities want is to humiliate your human dignity."
Residents of the tiny tent camp are feeling the authorities' pressure in other ways. Lights on the usually festive square were turned off, prompting protesters to light their tent city with candles.
On Wednesday, city workers welded shut a sewage hatch that protesters had been using as a toilet. Many fear this will make them more vulnerable to detention by policemen when the activists leave the camp.
Activist Mikhail Avdeyev experienced that firsthand. He said he was going to buy a pack of cigarettes when three riot policemen beat him up. He showed an AP reporter multiple bruises on his face and chest. "They beat and treat you like dogs," he said bitterly.
Police declined to comment on whether they would resort to force to disperse the protesters. But riot police regiment commander Yury Podobed told reporters that the rally would not be suppressed, the Interfax news agency reported.
At any rate, the number of protesters seemed insufficient to push the government for political change. Alexander Milinkevich, the main opposition candidate who challenged Lukashenko, has told activists they had already scored a huge victory by speaking out against the authorities.
Many activists intended to keep up their protest.
"They beat me up, but I am still standing here for Belarus," Avdeyev said. "No matter how many blues, bruises, cuts and shots on my body I will stay here till the end with everybody, with my brothers and sisters who want freedom for our Belarus."
After the results of Sunday's election were announced, thousands of protesters thronged the square calling for a new vote — an unprecedented act in Belarus, which has a history of imprisoning opposition figures and violently breaking up rallies.
Even though the number of protesters is much smaller than the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who ushered opposition leaders to power in Georgia and Ukraine, authorities are still intent on curbing the protest, which they see as embarrassing.