For the first time, the authorities gave in and released hundreds of people. Many report severe abuse.
After thousands of arrests during the protests against President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, the authorities released a surprising number of prisoners on Thursday night. In front of the Okrestina prison in the capital Minsk, families and friends welcomed their relatives with deep relief, there were great joy and tears, as could be seen in opposition channels of the Telegram intelligence service on Friday night.
Many reported severe abuse in prison. In videos, women and men described that they were barely fed and crammed into the tightest of cells. Many citizens showed their bodies covered with lacerations and large bruises from being beaten, dressed only in underwear. Several discharge had to be immediately taken to hospital, as the media reported in the Belarusian capital Minsk.
There was talk of more than 1,000 prisoners. It was about people who were arrested on the edge of unauthorized protests for no reason, it said. The total number was around 7,000. It was the first time in days that the power apparatus under Lukashenko, who is considered the last “dictator of Europe”, gave in. Thousands also called for his resignation on Thursday.
Foreign ministers of the European Union want to discuss the situation in Belarus this Friday. Possible sanctions against the authoritarian leadership in Minsk are in the room.
State media reported that Lukashenko himself instructed on Thursday evening to take care of the prisoners’ situation. He was reacting to the protests of work collectives in the state-owned companies of the ex-Soviet republic, it was said. Interior Minister Yuri Karayev apologized to the citizens on state television for the arrest of many innocent people. Police operations against mass protests also lead to accidental arrests, he said.
“As the commander, I want to take responsibility and apologize honestly in a human way to these people,” he said. Previously, many Belarusians had demonstratively thrown their uniforms in the trash or burned them and surrendered their badges. Hundreds of people were injured. A mother from Gomel had accused the authorities that her son was caught on Sunday on the way to his girlfriend. He did not take part in protests. The 25-year-old died a little later under unexplained circumstances in custody.
State media journalists called for an end to the lying propaganda in an open letter on Thursday and criticized the denigration of peaceful citizens on their stations. Many of her colleagues had previously resigned. This Friday there is to be a meeting with the government because of the public criticism of the state-paid journalists.
Belarus saw a country in turmoil on Thursday. It was the largest protests nationwide since the presidential election on Sunday, which was overshadowed by fraud allegations. Lukashenko had declared himself the winner for the sixth time in a row. There is plenty of evidence of counterfeiting. The demands of Lukashenko’s opponents range from the recounting of votes and recognition of the election victory of his opponent Svetlana Tichanovskaya to the resignation of the president and new elections.
People posted many videos of works meetings showing that the vast majority of citizens had voted in favor of 37-year-old Tichanovskaya. Under pressure from the authorities, she left for the EU’s neighboring country, Lithuania – to her children, whom she had previously exiled for fear for their safety. The factories went on strike in protest against Lukashenko.
Observers believe it is possible that the head of state will no longer be able to stay in office after 26 years because of electoral fraud and unprecedented violence against citizens. He had recently described the demonstrators as unemployed ex-criminals – and thus triggered even more anger. The state media have been reporting for days that the protests were controlled from abroad and that the people were manipulated. The 65-year-old Lukashenko had also declared that he would fight for his sixth term in office until the end – if necessary with the use of the army.