Student activists were sentenced to administrative arrests for organizing a coffin performance to protest against communism in Belarus
On May 11th, the Sovetsky district court in Minsk ruled on the case of activists that marched with a coffin during a military parade rehearsal on the occasion of their Victory Day celebration.
Two activists were sentenced to 5 and 13 days of administrative arrest. Police also detained Piotr Markielau, who did not participate in the coffin performance. He was lying on a bench in the courtyard, waiting for a decision to be made in the case of other activists. In the courtyard, he filmed KGB agents who were surveilling people that were entering the court. Meanwhile, Piotr got detained and taken to the Center for the Offenders Isolation. He was accused of hooliganism and disobedience, according to a police officer, and sentenced to 10 days of administrative arrest.
While commemorating the end of World War II by the USSR on May 9, 1945, “Youth Block” activists wanted to draw attention to the threat associated with conducting mass events during the pandemic.
After 10 days of administrative arrest, Piotr Markielau was released on May 21st. Shortly after, Belorusian police detained him again without any explanation, took him back to the police station, and then released him after a few hours.
During their arrest, all detainees received brutal and inhumane treatment from the prison guards. They weren’t allowed to sleep at night, or wear warm clothes, and were forced to spend days standing in the cell.
Here is how one of the activists describes his experience:
“They never turned on the night lamp in the cell instead of the bright daytime lamps. I was bitten and my clothes were infected by body lice. 3 out of the 10 nights they woke me up and forced me to get out of bed every 1.5 – 2 hours. During the day, they took away the mattresses and prohibited us to lay or sometimes even sit on the bed (which was basically a metal grid without a mattress). They didn’t allow books, newspapers, pencils, or paper inside the cell and refused to pass letters and postcards. Once they pushed me in a “walking yard” (a 5×5 meter in size roofless cell covered with concrete) in a single T-shirt during a cold night. Another day after a “walk,” I found puddles of bleach in my cell — my eyes were watering and I kept sneezing. Many times they threatened to bind me, put me in solitary confinement, or beat me up. During the 10 days, I lived with 3 homeless people with alcohol-addiction and criminal charges.”
It is with deep concern that the international community of Students For Liberty follows the recent events in Minsk. The government of Belarus has been repeatedly caught abusing authority, and while repressing and intimidating peaceful protesters.
With this statement, we express our voice in support for all people to exercise freedom of expression and call on the Belarusian government to refrain from harassing peaceful activists, advocates, and demonstrators.
Piotr Markielau is a Students For Liberty leader in Belarus and a well-known opposition youth activist. Last year he was detained during parliamentary elections in Belarus. After calling attention to what appeared to be a dishonest counting of votes, he was charged with disobedience and hooliganism by the state police in December 2019.