Cameraman Uladzimir Luniou: ‘I didn’t belive we would get out of there alive’

04.09.2020 Source: BAJ Monitoring Service

A cameraman Uladzimir Luniou was filming peaceful protest actions in Minsk. On August 10, he was besieged by police near the ‘Pushkinskaya’ metro station. He was detained at about 11.30 pm, despite wearing a vest with the word “Press” and trying to explain that he was an independent journalist.

According to the reporter, he was kept 'in inhumane conditions' in custody for 34 hours.  He was released later, but his personal belongings were not returned to him. Moreover, he had to visit the detention center again, in order to get his passport back. The court ruling of August 21 has not been sent to him yet.

'Did you want a revolution? Now we will arrange it for you!'

Uladzimir Luniou dwelt upon his detention by riot police:

'When the detentions started, I was standing near the 'Sport-Tourism' store in Prytytski Street. I was wearing a vest, and riot policemen saw the “Press” inscription. I notified five riot police officers in helmets and with batons that I was a journalist. However, they knocked me off my feet and started beating me and shouting: 'Did you want a revolution? Now we will arrange it for you!' They were convinced that I was a 'revolutionary' hired for money, and they beat me on my legs, arms, back, and on my head… Then the five of them ran on, but three other riot policemen approached me. Then four more riot policemen came to me. The beatings and insults continued, but I could no longer object or even move. One of the riot policemen started shouting at me, forcing me to turn on my stomach, the second policeman ordered me to turn on my back, the third policeman forced me me to get up, the fourth policeman told me to get on my knees… I didn't know what order to obey, and I was dragged into a police van...'

A backpack and a mobile phone were seized from the journalist near the police wagon. He recalls that there were already a lot of people inside, but the policemen shoved more and more people into the car. An electric shocker was used against one person, who could not fit and he was pushed to the police van with the use of brutal force.

'You were sent to us to arrange the Maidan. We will kill you!'

According to Uladzimir Luniou, the ride in the police van took 30-40 minutes. The car stopped in a prison yard, where the detainees were beaten again. According to the reporter, the riot police was beating everyone, even the citizens of other countries.

‘A guy in a red T-shirt was interrogated next to me. Two female policemen, two plainclothes officers and an armed soldier with a machine gun were standing nearby. The guy said that he was a citizen of Ukraine and had a residence permit in Belarus. He was immediately clobbered with the curses: ‘You were sent to us to arrange the Maidan. We’ll kill you now!’ The guy was beaten so hard that he could not get up.

Then they took me. They clobbered and asked me who I worked for and how much I was paid. When led back, I could no longer step on one foot. One arm was also swollen, as the hands were tightly tied during the interrogation. They guided me to a room, took all my things from my pockets, my belt and laces. Then, I was brought into a cell, about 20 sq.m. A lot of men, 20-40 y.o., were already there. Some older people were there, too. All of them had been detained in different parts of Minsk. And all of them had been beaten to varying degrees. Meanwhile, new detainees were brought up. Screams and bangs were heard in the corridor. Quite a few people asked for water, but it was brought very rarely. The cell was overcrowded.

Only those people who found themselves near the wall could sit down, the others were staying.   We were taken out into the yard and interrogated again at about 3 a.m. Among other, we were asked about the reasons of our participation in the rally. Also, they wanted to know who paid us. Then we were taken back to the cell. Those who were outraged or simply begged for water were taken out and beaten. The staff screamed for a doctor from time to time, when they saw that someone felt really bad.’

The journalist says that he heard about the detention of his colleagues. "We were filming a story from the polling station", he heard them saying in the corridor. The colleagues were also beaten black and blue. Also, he heard human voices from somewhere asking to release them from custody.  After that, some of the people were pulled out of the cells and beaten again.

A lot of people covered their ears with their hands not to hear the screams

Uladzimir Luniou recalls that all people around complained of pain in their legs, as everyone was beaten with batons at the moment of detention. Somebody suffered from an epileptic seizure in the next cell. Some people fainted. There were patients with diabetes and hypertension among the detainees, too. However, medical care was provided at random with delays. It became cold in the cell in the evening. The people stood back to back in order to survive. Some detainees suffered from tantrums and even hallucinations, caused by hunger and lack of sleep.

The detained people were transferred to smaller cells on the following day only. There were 16 people in the cell where Uladzimir Luniou was taken to. One could at least sit down or even lie down there. It was heard that new prisoners were brought in every half an hour. They were beaten, tortured, and humiliated.

'A lot of people covered their ears with their hands not to hear the screams. All that continued till early in the morning. Then we were ordered to go to the corridor, and some people’s surnames were pronounced. These people were taken out. They weren’t notified where they were taken to. The remaining detainees were brought back to the cells. After a while they started shouting names again and I heard mine. We were gathered in the corridor, it was already light, and traces of blood were clearly seen on the walls.’

We were warned that they would destroy us if they caught us again

According to Uladzimir Luniou, the detained people were taken to some premises, where a policeman was sitting at the table and police reports were piled on the desk. The police reports were filled in the similar way – article 23.34, part 1, ‘...participated in the unauthorized rally, shouted ‘Long Live Belarus!’, ‘Shame on you!’, and ‘Stop the Cockroach!’.

‘I wrote that I objected to the statement. I didn’t shout any slogans. I didn’t participate in the rally. Before releasing us from custody somebody from police authorities told us that they would destroy us if they caught us again or if there would be threats to the police or their families. He asked us if we got it. Few people replied that they did.

Generally, all these events reminded me of documentary chronicles about Nazi tortures during World War II. Everything was so severe and inhumane that I didn’t believe that we would get out of there alive. Also, I thought that they’d better bury us there alive, since we wouldn’t be silent. And the whole world would learn about the crimes against civilians in Belarus, who defended their legal right to have a choice’, - the journalist said.

Neither personal belongings nor documents were given to Uladzimir Luniou at once. He was released in his prison clothing. The passport was returned to the journalist a week later. He had to go to Minsk again to get it.


Medical examination, Legal Investigative Committee, and the broken key in the keyhole

On return to Vitsiebsk, Uladzimir Luniou went to the emergency room of the ambulance hospital. Doctors testified numerous soft tissue hematomas and reported the fact of treatment to the Investigative Committee.

The journalist was summoned for interrogation, his testimony was recorded and he was sent for forensic examination. A more detailed description of the injuries was done there. Uladzimir Luniou does not know the results of these investigative actions. Also, he doesn’t know the court decision, which was to be pronounced during a trial session in Minsk on August 21, as it was stated in the police report. The journalist decided to ignore the trial, since he did not consider himself guilty.

Uladzimir Luniou told about another unpleasant incident that happened on August 29. He noticed that the lock on the door of his apartment was not working in the morning. Somebody inserted the wrong key into the hole and broke it, blocking the journalist’s family inside. The journalist can't say for sure whether this incident is connected with his complaint to the Investigative Committee against the police.