5 April 2020, Sunday, 19:01
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‘The Riot Policemen Beat Us Hard’

‘The Riot Policemen Beat Us Hard’
Photo: Radio Svaboda

Mahiliou gypsies tell about interrogations after the murder of a policeman.

On May 16, representatives of the Roma minority were released in Mahiliou, Radio Svaboda reports. According to the released, they are charged with petty hooliganism, but the investigation of the case of kidnapping and murder of Mahiliou traffic police officer Jauhen Potapovich was the reason for their detention. Each detainee was interrogated.

The exact number of Roma detained for three days remains unknown. Those at large believe that at least 100 people were through the detention centre.

The son of the baron: "Employees were tolerant in the detention centre. We were beaten while detention and at the police department"

Only Roma men were held in the isolation ward, but on 16 May women were also detained. They were released at 5 a.m. on 17 May. They spent about seven hours there.

All the detainees were residents of Mahiliou villages of Chapaevka and Hebenevo, where the Roma live.

On 19 May, women met their men with tears in their eyes. Few people dared to talk to journalists. Those who refused believed that the interview would be a reason for re-arrest. All those who were released were charged with petty hooliganism: "eased oneself in a public place". It is unknown whether they are tried for this "offence". No one was given a copy of the protocol.

"Employees were tolerant in the detention centre. We were beaten by the riot police. They hit me with the gunstock, twisted my hands. They beat my sons", the resident of Chapaevka recalls the events of May 16. He is the son of a local baron.

According to the interlocutor, before the invasion of the riot police, the traffic police and drug control officers arrived. They wondered if he had seen a black car in Chapaevka. After the detention, the Roma from Chapaevka were taken to the Leninski police department and were interrogated. They spent time in the gym.

"This is genocide"

Two sons, Ivan and Roma, were also held in the detention centre. The eldest son says he was beaten during interrogation. They wanted him to incriminate himself. According to the guy, investigators first wondered why he was detained, and when he answered that he did not know, they said: "the traffic policeman was killed by people of your nationality and you're a suspect".

An ambulance was called for the guy in the isolation ward; he had high blood pressure. They gave him a pill and took him to solitary confinement. Now his father is going to verify battery-induced injuries. He also wants to find out who stole his phone in the police.

"I can understand if a person has committed a crime, he is punished. But what have we done? This is genocide," Roman Sr says.

According to his calculations, about 40 Roma from Chapaevka were detained. Together with Hrebeneva gypsies their number reaches 100. Investigators checked phones of all the detainees. Everyone was subject to a personal search. The release was unexpected. The detainees were told to leave and take their belongings.

Hrebeneva Roma: "They did not dare to beat me because I am a first-degree disabled person"

Hrebeneva gypsies are also at large. Local resident Piotr Leanidovich was "lucky" not to go to the isolation ward. He is the first-degree disabled person, and he was not treated as harshly as others. He spent seven hours behind bars. According to him, the police "besieged the village at 11 pm on May 16 and began to grab everyone". Women, men, disabled people and children were detained.

"They wanted to beat me, but my wife managed to tell a riot policeman that I was a disabled person. Then I was ordered to get in the car. Someone was going to beat me, but finally didn't dare," the other person recalls.

According to him, other gypsies faced problems. Those who were indoors were put on the floor together with minors. He claims that a policeman stepped on his sister's granddaughter. His great-granddaughter is hiding when she hears a rattling door. His son spent three days in the isolation ward.

"Does anyone mock at the national minority in a European country?"

According to the interlocutor, the Roma detained were taken to the assembly hall of Mahiliou Kastrychnitski police department. When he was taken there, there were already 50 detainees. There were a 12-year-old child and a sick woman among them.

Piotr Leanidovich managed to convince investigators to let his wife give him insulin, as he suffers from diabetes mellitus.

He claims that they were told that "Roma are accused of the murder of a traffic policeman". Having confiscated all the phones, they started the interrogation. The interlocutor says he did not see anyone being beaten, but investigators ignored prisoners' protests.

"The police said that no gypsy would be left in peace in Belarus," he insists.

He compares the situation to the one he saw in war films. Piotr Leanidovich believes that evidence-free accusations of Roma lead to ethnic tension.

"I have concerns about children now. The authorities should not have behaved this way, as they had to foresee consequences. We are treated like enemies and people will be angry with us. More hostility will arise. Is any European state treat minorities this way?", he sums up.

Roma of Chapaevka informed about forced detentions on May 17. According to them, investigators demanded them to "turn over those involved in the kidnapping of the policeman". They demanded us to inform Roma from other cities. Allegedly, the car of kidnappers appeared on the streets of Chapaevka, which caused violence.

Investigative Committee: "Witnesses are being interrogated"

There was no official information about the involvement of Roma in the murder of the traffic policeman. A similar version appeared in the report of NEXTA TV channel.

The Investigative Committee does not comment on the information about mass detention of Roma in Mahiliou. According to the IC, "the case is being investigated".

"The investigation is carried out, witnesses are interrogated. The planned work is carried out within the framework of the criminal case, no extreme actions against local residents were taken," the representative of the IC, Yulia Hancharova, stated on May 17.

The criminal investigation police officer says: "No comments are available, the investigation is ongoing".

The "black car" version is not of priority

On May 18, Mahiliou traffic police officer Jauhen Potapovich was buried in Mahiliou region. As reported by the IC the day before, the death of the policeman occurred as a result of a gunshot wound to the head. His body was found in Mahiliou district.

There are several versions of the incident, including the kidnapping by the unknown in a black car. But, according to the recent data, it is "not of priority".