"I was threatened with violence, I was kept in solitary confinement many days"
Dmitry Karankevich / Vitold Jancis
The story of a Belarusian who protested against Lukashenka's regime, was arrested and eventually managed to flee Belarus.
Nine hours of continuous interrogation, eight days in solitary confinement, constant threats of physical violence, threats to the family and psychological pressure from the police and special services – all this had to be endured by Dmitry Karankevich, who supported the protests against the Lukashenko regime.
Today Dmitry and his wife are safe in Lithuania, trying to find themselves in Lithuanian society and build a new life. He and she both hope that their homeland will someday become free again, people will have the right to choose a president, the right to choose what to listen to, what to do, the right to work for a decent salary, not peanuts, the right to happiness. This article was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Why did you join the protesters against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko?
Last May, I joined the headquarters of the presidential candidate of the Republic of Belarus, Viktor Babariko, and began collecting signatures in support of him. I also signed up as an independent observer at my polling station and from that moment on I could no longer stop and continued on my way in the protest movement. I created a Telegram channel in which I talked about what was happening in our city, called on people to continue to resist the regime, talked about the ongoing resistance, talked about the crimes of the security forces.
Did you and other Belarusians have a dream that Lukashenka would leave?
We didn't dream, we had hope.
That the government will change, and we will choose the person we want.
What did the elections look like?
Independent observers were not allowed to enter the polling stations, they were not given the chance to even observe the course of the election campaign from a side. The maximum that I managed to do, was to observe how the elections were held for three hours - the booths were not curtained. Moreover, it was not even possible to pull the curtain, because the curtains were fixed, people tried to close them, but could not do it. The secrecy of the vote was completely violated.
When did you get the attention of the regime's power structures?
On November 10, they came to my private house, the traffic police began knocking on the fence and reported that a complaint had allegedly been made about the cars parked near my house, I came closer to the exit from my site, at that moment two people jumped me, without uniforms, in civilian clothes. Without introducing themselves, they twisted my arms and took me out of the yard and handcuffed me, although I did not show any resistance.
Immediately after my arrest, they took me into the house and began a search, at some point they began to intimidate me while my pregnant wife was present. One of the men said that he was an employee of the GUBOPiK (Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs – ed.), But he did not show any documents, this man told me “now we will take you to the forest”. Such words imply that anything can be done with a person in the forest or wherever he is brought, and no one will know anything about it. Roughly speaking, they threatened me with violence.
How did your wife react to this?
She was scared and shocked.
What happened after the arrest and search?
They put me in a car and took me to the Solegorsk District Department of Internal Affairs, where I was interrogated for eight or nine hours without any breaks. I was not given the chance to rest, or drink water, or go to the toilet, questions were constantly replaced by threats, and so it went on hour after hour. During the interrogation, they threatened my wife and daughter to force me to tell everything I know, for me to actively cooperate with police and betray people. The interrogation ended with me being thrown into a solitary confinement cell measuring meter twenty centimetres by meter fifty for two hours, the so-called glass. The room is made of concrete, with a concrete bench, on which it was impossible to sit because of the cold.
What happened next?
I was transferred to a cell of a temporary detention facility, although the cell was designed for eight people, I was there alone. It was cold in the room, because the window was open, which was impossible to close from the cell - because of the bars. On the other hand, to some extent it played into my hands, because the cell was treated with bleach to such an extent that it was impossible to breathe in it. Chlorine was eating away at eyes and lungs! Due to the fact that the window was open, I spent almost the whole night next to it. So that’s how night passed. At 6.00 in the morning, they turned on the anthem of Belarus to the fullest, then they just turned on the music. The radio worked at full volume until the evening.
On the second day, I was again summoned for interrogation, which lasted two hours, during the interrogation they again tried to force me to cooperate, and I decided to go for a trick - to pretend to agree to them - while I did not betray anyone, but I promised that I would cooperate if I am free. To my luck, my trick was a success - the special services believed that I was ready to cooperate with them. I was forced to record a video in which I told that I was running the Telegram channel and asked people not to engage in such activities. I think that the majority of Belarusians understand that this was done under duress due to certain circumstances.
After the interrogation, I was sent to another cell, a double cell, but I was also in it alone. They threw items into my cell, on which lice were crawling, when I asked to remove these items, in response I heard “let them lie there”. To prevent the lice from spreading around the cell, I threw all these rags into the sink and gradually washed out the parasites. I spent eight days in solitary confinement, but not in a row, since different people were periodically "hooked up" thrown in cell. For twelve days I was forbidden from 6.00 in the morning and until 22.00 in the evening to be on the bed or lie down. That is, I could either sit on a chair or walk around the cell. All in all, I spent eighteen days in prison.
Did you face any sanctions for violating the ban on lying on bunks during the daytime?
Personally, I did not violate this prohibition, but later I found out what happened to those who did. People in light clothes were driven out to the prison yard for several hours, and as I recall it was in the fall, in November, after such a walk serious health problem began.
How did your family react to your return?
With joy because they did not expect that I’d be released.
Why did you decide to leave Belarus?
I was temporarily free, sooner or later they would have come for me again, besides, I did not want to work for the regime, reporting people to the security forces. I also decided to leave because the authorities began to psychologically pressure my wife and daughter, they threatened my wife that they would take away the child, and later they could take away the child she intended to give birth to. We made a decision: as soon as my wife leaves the territory of Belarus, I also go after her. And here I am here in Lithuania.
What feelings do your Motherland, Belarus, evoke in you now?
A sense of danger, anxiety for those close people who, due to certain circumstances, continue to remain there. Would I like to go back? As long as Lukashenko remains in power, it is dangerous for me, but yes ... Of course, I would like to.
What would you like to tell Lukashenko?
Lukashenko, it's time for you to leave.