Artem Beliay, 33, is one of thousands of Belarusians who were detained and tortured in Minsk for participating in mass peaceful demonstrations following the presidential election of August 2020, widely perceived as rigged. After the company director who doubles as a rights activist filed a complaint against his treatment, he received further threats from State bodies. Artem was forced to leave Belarus with his wife and small daughter and has now refugee status in a European country.
- What strikes you most when you look back on the past year?
What impresses me most is that so many Belarusians stood up and made an honest choice. They came together and united in an incredible manner, especially in all types of volunteer activities.
- One year ago, what were you hoping for Belarus?
First of all, we hoped for victory. My family and I also hoped that we could change our country and get rid of the corruption of State officials.
- How has the repression affected you personally?
In the evening of August 9, 2020, my wife and I, as many other people, went to the office of the electoral commission, demanding a fair result. On that same day, law enforcement agents, including OMON (“Special Purpose Police Detachment”, the riot police) started to attack peaceful people.
During the next days, we were among the crowds who took to the streets to demand a fair result to the election and an end to State violence. On August 11, we participated in the peaceful demonstration near the Kamennaya Gorka metro station in Minsk and we saw firsthand a repetition of the events from the previous days: officers without insignia throwing tear gas canisters, stun and smoke grenades, shooting, beating and abducting demonstrators.
I was detained that evening and I spent the next days at the Okrestina detention centre in Minsk. The conditions were appalling, with cruel beatings, insults, humiliation, lack of food and drinking water. We were not even allowed to go to the toilet. I was finally released among of group of other detainees on August 14.
I then appealed the decision, taken during my detention, according to which I had committed an administrative offence. In September, the Minsk City Court changed my sentence from 15 days detention to the three that I had already served. My lawyer also sent a written complaint about the illegal use of force against me at Okrestina. As we received no reaction whatsoever, we looked for help from human rights organisations.
In October, I started receiving anonymous calls requesting me to withdraw my complaint. I refused, saying that I would go till the end to punish those guilty of torture and inhuman treatment. Later I learned that all my complaints, as well as the medical documents from the clinic where I had been treated, had been taken by the Central Department of the State Investigative Committee. I received many more calls asking me to come to the Central Department, but I refused to go without an official summon.
In mid-October, the kindergarten visited our house to check the living conditions for our three-year-old daughter, alleging they had information that we were not “reliable” parents. The visit didn’t corroborate the accusations. The next day though, a new phone call came, asking me to come to the KGB building to “sign some documents”. We understood that I would be arrested. This is when we decided to leave Belarus.
- How has your determination to change things evolved?
We still hope for change, and we try our best to do everything we can to bring about that change, despite being forced to live abroad.
- What do you wish for the future?
I wish a future under the white-red-white flag (the historic Belarus flag adopted by the protesters). I wish for justice to be done and for the initiation of criminal cases against law enforcement agents who torture people. I wish for the rule of decency, honesty, justice, security, and that in the New Belarus the main priority of all State officials is respect for the law and the lives of individuals.