Jewish man detained, severely beaten in Minsk after Belarusian election

Artem Pronin, who has Israeli citizenship, was arbitrarily arrested and severely beaten in detention following the disputed elections in Belarus last week

Police clash with opposition supporters after polls closed at presidential election in Minsk, Belarus (photo credit: REUTERS/VASILY FEDOSENKO)
Police clash with opposition supporters after polls closed at presidential election in Minsk, Belarus
“Some unidentified police officers are violently beating a man in the street,” goes a joke doing the rounds in Minsk, Belarus, right now.
The man being beaten cries out, “Stop! I voted for [incumbent President Alexander] Lukashenko,” to which the police reply, “Don’t lie, everyone voted against him.”
Artem Pronin, 39, is one of many thousands of Belarusians who, in the aftermath of a presidential election that suffered from severe irregularities, have been arbitrarily arrested by state police forces, brutally beaten, held in inhumane conditions and forced to sign confessions of acts they did not commit.
Pronin, a well-known artist, is Jewish and has Israeli citizenship. His Israeli passport was confiscated by the Belarusian police after his arrest.
Lukashenko and his authoritarian government have engaged in a massive campaign of political repression since tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against what they allege was a rigged election. Election observers were arrested or prevented from carrying out their mission, and numerous other forms of disruption were employed by the state.
Lukashenko claimed more than 80% of the vote, but his main opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, strongly contests the results, although she has now fled the country.
Last Tuesday, Pronin was riding his bike in Minsk on his way to meet some friends, and possibly attend a rally, when he was suddenly approached by what appeared to be police personnel – but who were wearing masks, had no identifying badges and offered no form of identification.
The police grabbed him off his bicycle, shouted something about him being a danger to the state, bundled him into a police van already containing several other prisoners and whisked him away.
These arbitrary arrests apparently have become standard procedure in Belarus, with many people reporting such detentions, and they appear to be an attempt to intimidate and cow the population.
Because so many thousands of people have been arrested since the election, state prisons are overflowing with prisoners, so Pronin was taken to what turned out to be a police parking lot where they spent the night.
Pronin and approximately 30 other prisoners were beaten by the police with batons as they were herded into the parking lot and forced to stand up against a wall for several hours before ultimately being allowed to lie down on the concrete.

Bruises and wounds sustained by Artem Pronin during his detention in Okrestina prison in Minsk, Belarus
One prisoner who told the police he had come to Minsk to fight the regime was so severely beaten that Pronin says he thinks he must have died.
From there, he was taken to the infamous Okrestina Prison in Minsk, where he was placed in a five-by-five-meter cell with 120 other prisoners.
They were held for 12 hours without water. When they were eventually provided with water, it came in one five-liter bottle that they needed to share.
The prisoners did not receive any food for the 48 hours spent in the cell until two hours before their release. They were not given an opportunity to go to the bathroom for the first 12 hours, during which the only recourse was to urinate into some empty bottles in the cell.
Pronin was never brought before a court. But before being released last Thursday, he and several other prisoners were taken into a prison courtyard and forced to sign declarations that they had participated in illegal demonstrations.
They were reprimanded by the police for having participated in such rallies, even though they had been forced into false confessions, and then severely beaten with batons by the prison officers on their backs and legs.
Pronin said his group was part of a “conveyor belt” of such groups that were taken one after the other into the courtyard to sign the confessions and then get beaten, with those in the signing stage able to hear or see those getting beaten.
He said he had both his Belarusian and Israeli passports on him when he was arrested and made it known to his captors that he had Israeli citizenship in the hope it would assist him. Ultimately, it did not make any difference in his treatment, he said.
The beatings were meant to serve as a form of deterrence, since the usual deterrence, detention for a week or two, is not currently possible due to overcrowding in the country’s prisons because of the mass arrests, Pronin told The Jerusalem Post.
“The worst torture was that they treated us worse than animals,” he said. “They humiliated us. When we asked for water, they refused, saying we would pee all over the cell. They wanted to dehumanize us. This is how they acted towards us the entire time we were in prison.”
“The worst part was that you didn’t know how it would end,” he added. “Would they just kill us? Would they starve us or not give us water until we died? They have been brainwashed into thinking we are the biggest enemy of the regime. They have huge hatred towards people.”
Pronin said he was an opponent of Lukashenko’s rule even before the election and voted against him in the recent ballot, but he had never thought the regime would brutalize its people the way it has in recent days.
However, the fraudulent election had galvanized national identity, with strangers passing each other in the street flashing V signs and smiling at each other because of a common opposition to the government, Pronin said.
“I never liked the regime, but I didn’t think it was fascist until this summer,” he said.
“People want normal elections, a normal constitution,” Pronin said. “They are against dictatorship. This is what the majority wanted all the time.”
The political realm is essentially a restricted zone for regime allies, he said, adding: “People won’t live under this regime. I think it has a month, perhaps less. The Belarusian people can get used to many things, but this is over the top.”
The Foreign Ministry said the Israeli ambassador to Belarus had been in touch with Pronin and provided as much assistance as possible until he was released.
Pronin said the ambassador had been in touch with his mother while he was in detention.
As of Monday, there were no Israelis in detention in the Belarus, the Foreign Ministry said. It said it was aware that Pronin’s Israeli passport had been confiscated, and diplomatic officials were deliberating the issue with Belarusian officials.