Persecution over ethnicity has started in Belarus.
Head of the public association “Belarusian Roma Diaspora” Aleh Kazlouski says that the verbal orders for the detention of the Roma have been coming from the MIA bosses for the last five or six years.
They put all MIA forces on the alert
About 100 Roma were detained in Mahiliou in the evening of May 16. They were held in custody till the afternoon of May 19. As they told Svaboda , the policemen demanded they should tell who is related to the abduction of police officer Yauhen Patapovich, whose suicide the Investigatory Committee reported today.
“They said our men would stay jailed until they find the criminals. They ordered we should look for these people through our Roma mail,” the wife of one of the detained residents of the Roma micro-district Chapayeuka said.
However, detentions happened not only in Mahiliou. According to Aleh Kazlouski, police came to the Roma in all the regions of Belarus.
“They put the entire MIA on the alert,” Kazlouski said. “In Kalodzishchy, there was a special police bus. They detained the Roma throughout the country – in Vitsebsk, in Homel...”
The diaspora leader was visited by the police twice in connection with the murder of Yauhen Patapovich.
“It’s in our interests that they find the murderers as soon as possible. But this is not a cause for the detention. We are the citizens of Belarus in the first place. We deserve the same attitude as everybody else,” Kazlouski says.
Everything changed when Shunevich came
Kazlouski says that such raids are held regularly in the Roma neighborhoods in Belarus. At least once a year mass checks are carried out in all regions. Also, the police come to the Roma after high-profile crimes have been committed. The pressure on the representatives of the Roma ethnicity, according to his observations, has increased in the last 5-6 years.
“It reminds what was happening in Germany in the 1930s, when Jews and the Roma were persecuted. I am the head of the Roma diaspora and I am saying this at the highest level,” Kazlouski said.
He believes that the police’s attitude to the Roma changed after the new bosses of the Ministry of the Interior had been appointed.
“Nothing of the kind happened under the previous Minister of the Interior,” he says. “Or, rather, it did, but not to such an extent, milder. Everything changed when Minister Shunevich came to the post.”
The head of the diaspora says that all the orders on the persecution of the Roma are verbal.
“They went through the MIA as verbal orders. The citizens of the Roma nationality should be detained, examined, searched – whatever. Without any grounds. What can I do if the police issue no documents?” Kazlouski says.
District police officers poison the locals’ minds against the Roma
Aleh Kazlouski tells that in the last years, the Roma get detained without any grounds, for checks.
“Detentions are carried out without grounds. You could be driving a vehicle, when a traffic policeman would stop you and detain on the spot. This is illegal,” he says.
The police also often come to the places where the Roma live. Most often, they look for drugs or hootch stills.
“They think all the Roma deal with drugs. You know what – those who did have long been jailed!”
According to him, many Roma appeared below the poverty line, as it is a rare occasion that someone hires them. Many leave Belarus because of that.
“District police officers poison the locals’ minds against the Roma. They say, call us as soon as you see the Roma. And they do. As soon as someone comes to a village, the police arrive at once, and the people get detained for a check,” Kazlouski says.
The head of the diaspora does not know how to change the situation. According to him, the Commissioner for Religious and National Affairs Leanid Huliaka, in response to all the appeals, requests to show him the documented cases.
“Now nobody reacts to our appeals: neither the Prosecutor’s Office nor the Ministry of Internal Affairs. As I understand it, the president is not aware of this situation,” said Kazlouski.
The press-center of the Department of Internal Affairs of the Mahiliou Regional Executive Committee refused to comment on the situation for Radio Svaboda.
“If such information is available, it will be officially published,” said Dzmitry Ihnatovich from the information and public relations group.
The press-center of the police of the Vitsebsk region said that the information about the detention of the Roma in the Vitsebsk region is not true.
An attempt to contact the press-center of the central apparatus of the Ministry of Internal Affairs has failed.
“Masked special policemen beat us severely”
On the eve, representatives of the Roma minority who were detained in the evening of May 16 were released in Mahiliou. According to the released, they were charged with petty hooliganism, but the reason for the arrest was the investigation into the case of the abduction and murder of the Mahiliou traffic police officer Yauhen Patapovich. Every detainee was questioned in this case.
The exact number of the Roma who spent three days in the local detention facility remains unknown. Those who were released, believe that at least 100 people could have passed through the detention facility.
The Rom Baro’s son: the attitude of the detention facility staff was bearable. They beat us during detention and in the police
Only the male Roma were held in the detention facility, but on May 16, women were detained along with them. They were released at 5 a.m. on May 17. They stayed for about seven hours in custody.
All the detainees are the residents of the Mahiliou settlements Chapayeuka and Hrabianiova, in which the Roma live compactly.
According to Svaboda, on May 19, women met their men with tears. Few dared to speak with journalists. Those who refused, believed that an interview would be a reason for re-arrest. Anyone who was released was charged with petty hooliganism: “Urinated in the wrong place.”
It remains unknown whether they will be tried for this “offense”. No copies of the protocols were given to anyone.
“The attitude of the detention facility staff was bearable, but when the masked riot policemen broke into my house, they beat us badly. They beat me with the machine gun butt, twisted my arms. They beat my sons,” Raman, the resident of Chapayeuka, recalls the events of the evening of May 16. He is the son of a local Rom baro.
The interlocutor said that before the invasion of the riot police, traffic police officers and drug police came to him. They wondered if he had seen a black car in Chapayeuka. After being detained by the riot police, the Roma were taken to the Leninski district police department, where they were interrogated. Thy were held in the gym.
“This is genocide”
Raman’s two sons, Ivan and Raman, were also held in the detention facility. The eldest son Raman says that he was beaten during interrogation. They wanted the detainees to slander themselves. According to the guy, the investigators first asked him why he was detained when he replied that he did not know, they said: “The traffic policeman was killed by the people of your nationality, and the suspicion is on you”.
An ambulance was called to the guy in the detention facility, as the blood pressure went up. They gave him the pill and transferred to solitary confinement. Now his father is going to take his son to record bodily injuries. And also to find out who stole his phone in the police.
“I understand that if a person has committed a crime, they treat him cruelly, but what have we done? This is genocide,” says Raman Senior.
According to his calculations, about 40 Roma people were detained in Chapayeuka. Together with the Hrabianiova residents, the number reaches 100. The investigators reviewed the contents of the phones of all the detainees. Everyone underwent a personal inspection with strip dressing up to nudity. They were released from the detention facility unexpectedly. The detainees were told: “Take your things and leave”.
Roma from Hrabianiova: They didn’t dare beat me as I have a 1st degree disability
The Hrabianiova Roma are also free. Local resident Piotr Leanidavich was “lucky” and did not get into the detention facility. He has a disability of the first degree, and in the Kastrychnitski district police department he was not treated as harshly as others. He spent seven hours in custody. According to him, the police “surrounded the village at 23 o'clock on May 16 and began to grab everyone.” Under the raid fell women, men, the disabled, children.
“They wanted to beat me, but my wife managed to say that I was disabled. Then they ordered me to go to the car. They also intended to beat me in the car, but did not dare,” the interlocutor recalls.
According to him, they did mistreat other Roma. The riot policemen brought those who were in the houses on the floor, including minors. He claims that a policeman stepped on his sister's granddaughter. His great-granddaughter is hiding right away when someone knocks on the door. They detained his son, he spent three days in custody.
“Are national minorities bullied like this in a European state?”
According to the interlocutor, they took the detained Hrabianiova Roma to the assembly hall of the Kastrychnitski district police department of Mahiliou. When he was brought there, there were already about 50 detainees.
Piotr Leanidavich managed to convince the investigators to allow his wife to give him insulin, since he has diabetes.
He claims that in the district police department, the detainees were told that “The Roma are accused of killing a traffic police officer”. The police took all the phones and started the interrogation. The interlocutor said that he had not seen anyone beaten, but the investigators did not perceive the detainees' protests.
“The police said that now there will be no life in Belarus for the Roma,” he insists.
He compares the situation with what he saw in the war films. Piotr Leanidavich is convinced that the baseless accusations of the Roma in the murder of a policeman lead to interethnic tension.
“Now we are worried for the children. The government should not have done so, since it must foresee the consequences. Now we are enemies. There will be even more hostility. Are minorities bullied like this in a European state? ” he sums up.
HR defender: it’s possible to provoke the Roma bashing this way
Why did the law enforcement agencies man-hunt the representatives of this particular nationality? How do such actions comply with the norms of law and morality? The Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich commented on the situation for “Tomorrow of your country”.
“According to the information that appeared in the media, the murdered policeman allegedly wrote a message in Viber about a black Volga with tinted windows and three Roma in it,” reminds the lawyer. “It is not clear why the investigating authorities decided that this applies specifically to those who committed the crime.”
According to the human rights activist, a traffic policeman could write such a message for some other reason that was not related to the murder (if you believe in the version of suicide, then this is how it happened – edit.)
Nevertheless, the law enforcement authorities came up with the first version that the killers were the Roma.
- The simplest solution for them was to come to the villages, where representatives of this nationality live compactly, and to detain everyone: women, men, teenagers, old people. We know that men are still isolated (as of the morning of May 20, everyone has already been released - edit.), - notes Valiantsin Stefanovich.
The lawyer emphasizes that the Criminal Procedural Code (CPC) provides a clear list of reasons for detention in such cases: if the witnesses directly point to the person involved in the crime, if there are traces of the crime found on clothes, in a home or somewhere else, or they tried to escape from the investigation or the police and so on.
And in this case, as the human rights activist stresses, dozens of people were sent to jail just because they belong to the Roma nationality.
In addition, it later became known that all these persons were detained, allegedly on suspicion of committing petty hooliganism. Protocols were drawn up with regard to them, which gives the law enforcement agencies the right to hold citizens in custody for three days before the trial.
– Do you believe that the mass detentions took place because the Roma fell under suspicion?
– The people of this nationality are constantly subjected to increased attention from the law-enforcement agencies. Generally, profiling based on nationality, unfortunately, happens quite often here. These people are fingerprinted for no reason, the police stop their vehicles to check for theft.
The reports constantly indicate only this nationality, it is never said that a crime was committed by a Russian, Belarusian, or someone else. Such facts indicate a bias towards Roma.
And now there is a massive violation of the rights, by the way, of the citizens of Belarus. I am surprised at the lack of reaction of the Prosecutor's Office - the supervisory authority, including the actions of the bodies of inquiry. Why doesn’t the prosecutor of the Mahiliou region check the legality of the detention of these citizens, and take appropriate response measures?
– How acceptable it is to indicate the nationality of suspected offenders or criminals?
– This may be acceptable as a description of the appearance of the criminal. Just in our society, where there is a rather negative attitude towards the representatives of the Roma nationality and a rather high level of xenophobia in relation to them, this is very dangerous. The Roma bashing can be provoked this way. Especially when the law enforcement officers themselves arrange mass detentions only on a national basis.
– Can the mass detentions of the Roma negatively affect the image of Belarus?
– Of course, this will not add to the positive attitude towards Belarus. As far as I know, our colleagues have already informed the UN Special Rapporteur on Racial Discrimination about the events. In our reports we have previously noted the facts of the prejudice of law enforcement officers towards the representatives of this nationality.