NewsBelarusian's secret toilet paper messages expose prison horrors

Belarusian's secret toilet paper messages expose prison horrors

A political prisoner in Belarus described what her situation behind bars looks like.
A political prisoner in Belarus described what her situation behind bars looks like.
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1:08 PM EDT, April 16, 2024

Belarusian political prisoner Katsiaryna Novikava has revealed the harrowing conditions of the nation's prison system by conveying her story through messages written on toilet paper. The AP Agency made these revelations public through reports.

Katsiaryna Novikava has recounted being subjected to repeated beatings by the Belarusian security services following her detainment in June 2023 while she was in her nightgown. She is among the hundreds of political detainees in the country, which boasts a population of 9.5 million and is under the autocratic rule of Alexander Lukashenko.

"Everyone at the police station beat me. I was also hit on the head," Novikava penned, detailing the abuse she endured during interrogations by Lukashenko's regime services. Independent Belarusian media outlets published her testimony.

The political climate in Belarus took a tumultuous turn in August 2020 after Lukashenko's declaration of victory for a sixth term—a result unanimously opposed by the opposition and Western countries, branding the election as fraudulent. This led to widespread protests across the country. Since the onset of these protests, the Belarusian Human Rights Center Viasna reports that over 35,000 individuals have been detained, many experiencing torture. Several have been forced into exile and labeled as "extremists" by the government.
Novikava, who was active in the opposition protests, received a prison sentence of six and a half years for allegations of inciting hatred, organizing, and participating in actions that severely disrupted public order, and for impeding the work of an Interior Ministry official.
Her health significantly declined after the beatings, yet she was deprived of necessary medical care. "I fell from the top bunk of the bed and hit my head on a wooden shelf," Novikava shared, noting that though her injuries were documented, no medical treatment was provided.
Contrary to the common practice of holding most political prisoners in solitary confinement, Novikava was kept in the same cell as Marina Zolotava, the editor-in-chief of Tut.by, Belarus's largest independent online news service, who has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.
"Letters almost never get through. They've even banned drawings," Novikava disclosed.
The UN Committee Against Torture is expected to investigate Novikava's accounts as urged by Viasna.
"Novikava's letter illuminates the dire plight of political prisoners in Belarusian jails," stated Pavel Sapelka from Viasna to The Associated Press, emphasizing the Belarusian government's reliance on "systematic intimidation, beatings, denial of medical care, and information isolation as forms of torture against political detainees."

Prominent Belarusian figures, including Viktar Babaryka, Maria Kolesnikova, Mikalay Statkevich, and Maksim Znak, have been enduring similar conditions, and there has been no news of them for more than a year.

Belarus houses 1,385 political prisoners, among them Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski. Viasna has reported that at least six of these political prisoners have died in custody.

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