Thousands of people who participated in mass protests in Belarus this week allege that the country’s security forces beat, tortured and humiliated them while in government custody.
At least 6,7000 protesters were arrested in the sometimes violent unrest that has rocked the former Soviet republic since its presidential election on Sunday, which many believe was rigged.
President Alexander Lukashenko’s government had already been accused of responding to the protests with disproportionate force and violence, but the accusations of mistreating people behind bars has prompted renewed public outrage toward the government.
With the EU mulling new sanctions, Belarus promised to free all detainees. More than 2,000 were released on Friday, a statement from its interior ministry said.
Russian independent news outlet Znak.com published an account by one of its journalists, Nikita Telizhenko, who reported in Minsk and said he had spent 16 hours detained with multiple protesters grabbed from the streets who were forced to lie face down in pools of blood, with some men stacked on top of another.
“The most brutal beatings were happening all around: hits, screams, cries and shrieks coming from everywhere,” Telizhenko said. “I felt that some of the detained had broken bones — hands, legs, spines — because with the tiniest bit of movement they wailed in pain.”
Telizhenko says he was eventually released after an intervention from the Russian Embassy, which helped release and repatriate several journalists back to Russia.
Hundreds of people are gathering at the Okrestina detention center in Minsk, trying to locate their relatives and friends who were detained during the protests.
Meanwhile, the Belarusian Central Elections Committee (CEC) on Friday announced its final results, giving embattled President Alexander Lukashenko 80.1% of the vote and opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya 10.1%.
Opposition groups claim the election was marred by fraud to keep Lukashenko in power.
Opposition candidate Tikhanovskaya on Friday called for city mayors to organize peaceful protests this weekend, and asked her supporters to sign an online petition demanding a vote recount, with the presence of independent observers.
Belarus is seeing a sixth day of protests since the presidential vote, rejected by the EU and US as neither free nor fair.