People attend an opposition rally to protest against police brutality and to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus September 6, 2020. (Reuters)
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MOSCOW – Artur Khomenko, an entrepreneur from Minsk, said police officers began beating him with their fists and truncheons after they detained him on the fourth night of huge protests that have weakened Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko’s grip on power.
Then they pulled down his underwear and threatened to rape him with a truncheon, before beating him and making him kneel handcuffed on the floor.
Khomenko spent most of the next week in the Emergency Hospital in Minsk with searing head pain and partial hearing loss in one ear. The hospital declined to comment.
Doctors diagnosed him with a traumatic brain injury, concussion and bruising across his head and body, medical records reviewed by Reuters show.
“I didn’t think this was possible in Europe in the 21st century. Some (countries) make driverless cars, prepare to send spaceships to Mars, but there they just maim people and kill,” the 47-year-old father of five told Reuters.
Khomenko filed a complaint to police. Reuters has seen an order from an official at the Investigative Committee, which handles investigations into major crimes.
The official instructed him to get his injuries assessed by a medical specialist. Khomenko said he did, but has not heard anything back about whether a case would be opened.
His experience is not unique. Valentin Stefanovich, deputy head of the Spring human rights group, said it had identified 500 cases of police torture across the former Soviet republic since Lukashenko won a disputed presidential election on August 9.
The Interior Ministry and the Investigative Committee did not reply to requests for comment about the specific injuries sustained by protesters who Reuters spoke to and who alleged abuses.
When asked whether cases would be opened against police, the Committee’s spokesman said it had carefully reviewed all the allegations, but had not yet identified any cases of police torture that would merit a criminal investigation.
New complaints were still being made, he added. The Committee said on August 17 that 700 people had filed complaints over physical injuries they alleged they received while being detained or in custody.
United Nations human rights investigators said on September 1 that they had received reports of hundreds of cases of torture, beatings and mistreatment of anti-government protesters by police in Belarus and urged the authorities to stop any such abuse.
Interior Minister Yuri Karayev told state television on Sunday that 30 security personnel were still in hospital with serious injuries.
“They talk about the cruelty of Belarusian police, and I would like to say this: there are no police anywhere in the world that are more humane (and) moderate.”
The protesters accuse Lukashenko of rigging his landslide election victory and demand that he step down, presenting him with the biggest crisis of his 26-year rule.
The president has praised the work of the police. On August 13, he signed an order awarding medals “for impeccable service” to some 300 law enforcement officials, including riot officers, police van drivers and prison guards. (Reuters)