22 April 2024, Monday, 18:49
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How They Torture Women In Belarusian Prisons

How They Torture Women In Belarusian Prisons

The Editor-in-Chief of the website Charter97.org calls on the EU to strengthen sanctions against the Lukashenka regime.

Editor-in-Chief of the website Charter97.org Natallia Radzina spoke at a meeting of the European Parliament Committee on Women's Rights and the Delegation for Relations of the European Parliament with Belarus. The journalist told how women political prisoners are tortured in Belarusian prisons. Here is the transcript of her speech:

“I went through torture in a Belarusian KGB prison after the 2010 presidential elections. Then their results were also falsified, and massive repressions fell on the opposition. But the scale of lawlessness occurring in Belarus after the 2020 presidential elections is incomparable. The crimes committed by the Lukashenka regime against political prisoners today are monstrous.

There are thousands of political prisoners in prisons, we don’t even know how many exactly. According to various estimates, from 8 to 10 thousand. For more than three years, arrests have been carried out almost every day; people are afraid to contact human rights activists and journalists, whose work within the country is impossible. Over the past year, we have become aware that seven people died in custody: due to failure to provide medical care, torture and suicide.

It is actually difficult to say how many of the political prisoners there are women. The names of about 200 people are known.

I speak from my experience: a woman is always more vulnerable in prison. Both for natural physiological reasons and psychologically. Knowing this, they torture women in prisons in a particularly sophisticated manner. The goal is to humiliate, trample dignity, and break will.

Judge for yourself. In the KGB prison, I was deprived of hygiene items, the ability to go to the toilet, forced to sleep on the floor in the cold, kept in complete isolation, and they also threatened to create conditions so that I would never be able to have children.

In the Akrestsin street prison in 2020, conditions for women were even worse: they were kept in stuffy and overcrowded cells without a toilet, soap, sanitary pads, toilet paper, food or even water. Here is the testimony of one of the former political prisoners: “There were 36 women with me in a four-person cell without a toilet or water. The guards forced us to strip naked just for fun.”

The report, prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), confirms detainee rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence against both men and women.

What are women going through in Belarusian prisons now? We only know part of the information, since prisoners of conscience are often kept in complete isolation. Scarce information can be obtained from rare letters or meetings with lawyers. But lawyers, it must be said, today are intimidated by repression and either do not have access to their clients or hide real information about their situation.

On October 9, 2023, activist of the European Belarus civil campaign Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk was convicted and sentenced to prison for the third time. Today in Belarus this is the practice: in order not to release a political prisoner when their term ends, they go under trial again on trumped-up charges.

Palina was held in the colony #24 for female repeat offenders in Zarechcha known for the most difficult confinement conditions. In less than a year, Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk spent more than 200 days in a punishment cell, and she was also sent to the cell-type premises for another six months.

What is a punishment cell? I have to explain this to you. A punishment cell is a stone bag without a window or fresh air, where all the belongings of a political prisoner are taken away. A person remains in a robe made of thin fabric. The only things they are allowed to take into the punishment cell are a toothbrush, soap, and a towel.

You even have to brush your teeth with soap. There is no sink with water, no toilet, inmates are taken out 1-2 times a day for hygiene procedures. Women are not given any necessary hygiene items. Books, paper, and pens are prohibited.

We know that some prisoners there are simply going insane. Even men often cannot stand in a punishment cell for more than 10 days. They say this is an unbearably difficult ordeal. Palina spent 200 days there! With a height of 170 cm, the woman weighed 47 kilograms.

During a provocation staged by the colony administration, Palina was beaten by her cellmates. She has liver pathology; due to hypothermia, she has pain in her back and spine, and her vision is blurred. But she is not provided with medical assistance, and the transfer of medications is also prohibited.

Viktoryja Kulsha, administrator of the “Drivers-97” Telegram channel. Sentenced to 4 years and 6 months in prison. She is also held in the Zarechcha colony #24 for female repeat offenders.

According to human rights activists, colony staff used psychological and physical pressure against Viktoryja. One of the guards strangled Viktoryja with his elbow, standing behind her, and also dragged her around the cell. In addition, she was often insulted and humiliated.

The woman went on hunger strikes several times to protest against the terrible conditions. Because of this, she had a heart attack twice.

Over the course of six months in the Rechytsa colony, Viktoryja served at least 92 days in a punishment cell, and then she was placed in the cell-type premises for six months. Viktoryja’s health has deteriorated greatly: she has lost weight to 57 kilograms, has low hemoglobin and tachycardia.

62-year-old pensioner Halina Dzerbysh was sentenced to 20 years in prison on false charges of “terrorism.” She has a second degree disability, cancer and heart problems. Her children are afraid that this is a life sentence for her and that she will never leave prison alive...

Journalist Ksenia Lutskina, sentenced to 8 years. Ksenia has brain cancer. Her health has deteriorated significantly: her brain tumor is increasing, for which she regularly takes strong medications. The woman’s bronchial asthma also worsened.

Maryja Kalesnikava, head of Viktar Babaryka’s election headquarters. Sentenced to 11 years in prison. On November 28, 2022, Maryja was taken to the surgical department of the Homel emergency hospital with a diagnosis of a perforated ulcer and peritonitis and had a surgery. A few days later, the political prisoner was transferred back to the colony, to a hospital wing. It is known that hospitalization was preceded by disproportionate ill-treatment in the punishment cell. In February 2023, contact with her was lost. Nothing has been known about the fate of the political prisoner for eight months.

Alena Lazarchyk, a European Belarus activist, was sentenced to 8 years in prison. She was repeatedly placed in a punishment cell, despite health problems. In October it became known that she was deprived of food parcels. She is prohibited from meeting with her lawyer and does not receive letters. What is happening to Alena now, what condition she is in, is unknown.

66-year-old pensioner Alena Hnauk was sentenced to 4 years and 6 months in prison. Her sentence was also unlawfully extended by a year. The woman was also held in harsh conditions in the cell-type premises and deprived of almost all parcels, calls and visits. It is known that the woman’s health has deteriorated: her hands are shaking, she has lost a lot of weight. She went on a hunger strike as a sign of protest.

Aksana Zaretskaya, a member of the Opposition Coordination Council, was sentenced to 1.5 years in prison. According to human rights activists, Aksana felt unwell after the verdict was announced and was hospitalized. The woman spent at least three days in a coma, and after some time she was returned to the pre-trial detention center. The detention center doctors did not provide proper medical care to Zaretskaya, and did not even take valerian drops for her in the packages from her relatives.

Volha Mayorava, a political activist, 57 years old, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. She was repeatedly kept in torture conditions in a punishment cell and suffered from diabetes mellitus.

Iryna Melkher, a pensioner, 68 years old. Sentenced to 17 years in a general regime penal colony. While still in the KGB pre-trial detention center, the woman suffered a hypertensive crisis.

Natallia Taran, 75 years old. Sentenced to 3.5 years for “insulting” Lukashenka. It is known that the woman suffers from a number of chronic diseases.

Volha Zalatar, mother of five children. Sentenced to 4 years in prison.

She was deprived of parcels and long-term visits, and the number of calls to her family was reduced.

Alina Zabashtanskaya received 2 years in prison for comments on TikTok, which were regarded as an “insult to Lukashenka.” The KGB added the political prisoner to the “terrorist list.” It is known that Alina has epilepsy.

Antanina Kanavalava, sentenced to 5 years and 6 months for participating in protests. The husband of the political prisoner, Siarhei Yarashevich, was also convicted. Two children and their grandmother were forced to leave for Poland. She is losing her sight and has received the third degree of disability.

Journalist Iryna Leushyna, director of the BelaPAN news agency, was sentenced to 4 years in prison for allegedly “creating an extremist group or participating in it.” Iryna is 58 years old, there is almost no information about her.

Journalist Katsiaryna Andreyeva, sentenced to 8 years and 3 months in prison for “treason to the state.” The woman’s vision and hearing deteriorated, and she also has constant allergy attacks.

Political scientist Valeryja Kasciuhova was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “conspiracy to seize power.” She works in a sewing factory. The woman is deprived of calls and meetings as she is included in the list of “terrorists”.

Maryna Zolatava, the editor-in-chief of the portal tut.by, was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Simply because she worked as a journalist.

Journalist Larysa Shchyrakova was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison. After her arrest, her son was taken straight from school to an orphanage. Six months later, the political prisoner journalist’s mother died. Larysa was not allowed to go to the funeral.

Darya Losik, the wife of convicted blogger Ihar Losik. She was sentenced to two years in prison just for fighting for her husband and giving an interview to independent media. A two-year-old child was left without parents.

Human rights activist Nasta Loika was sentenced to 7 years in prison for “inciting hostility or discord,” although she simply monitored human rights violations. After the arrest, she was beaten with a stun gun and kept in the cold without clothes.

Human rights activist Marfa Rabkova was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment. In prison, Marfa suffered from COVID several times, which also caused inflammatory processes. The girl is experiencing problems with the lymph nodes and thyroid gland.

21-year-old student Danuta Piarednya was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison just because on February 27, 2022, she reposted a text in one of the chats criticizing Putin and Lukashenka for starting a war in Ukraine.

I am limited in time and therefore could tell only a small part of the horror that Belarusian political prisoners experience every day, both women and men.

Many of them convey the same words at every opportunity: “Fight for us. Save us.”

And we must fight. We must save them. The illegitimate criminal regime of Lukashenka must be held accountable for these crimes against humanity. I call for increased sanctions pressure on the dictatorship. The restrictions imposed against the regime are ineffective and insufficient.

If each of us does everything we can to help these people, we will save them. Maybe our every action is a drop in the ocean, but the ocean is made up of drops.

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