What should we call these violent acts committed by the riot police, policemen, interrogators, and prison guards? Excessive use of authority? Oh no, torture!
Women from cell #18 were not stretched thin on the rack, did not have to put on the Spanish boot, did not have needles inserted under their fingernails, and did not have hot lead poured down their throats. But the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment adopted on December 10, 1984 by resolution 39/46 of the United Nations General Assembly states that torture is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.”
Belarus signed this Convention.
The Convention states that torture is any act of inflicting suffering on a person used “for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed.” The Convention also states that torture is an act of inflicting suffering “at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
There is a signature from Belarus under these words.
At the same time, the Convention does not define the infliction of suffering “arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions” as torture.
This means that if the riot police officers, policemen and prison guards inflicted pain on the detainees on purpose, that’s torture. If they only intended to deprive them of freedom under the lawful pretext, however, but inflicted some pain during arrest– it isn’t torture.
That’s what the riot police officers, policemen and prison guards are going to stress when they are tried in fair court: carried out an order, acted in accordance with the legal procedure, and if people were beaten, humiliated, starved, and denied air – that’s all an accident.
This is what they will say.
But the women from cell #18 testify: torture!
Torture through humiliation
They paid you, dumbasses, sent you to the slaughter! - screamed a riot police officer to Nastya B. as he detained her.
- Stupid broads, meddling in things! Should have sat at home, cooked borscht! – screamed the other to Yulia G.
- Did you husband bring you here, under the grenades? the third one yelled at Katya K., Divorce him, what the hell do you need a husband like this for, dumbass!
When we tell you here what they said, we do not use foul language, but they did. It shocked many women. In their circles men did not curse in their presence.
But the most insulting thing of all, says Hanna L., was that the riot police officers didn’t admit, even in theory, that either Hanna, or any other woman had free will, convictions, the ability to make independent decisions, or that she was a human being. A husband brought her, her curator brought her, she was sent over. Because broads don’t have the mind to get offended by the election fraud and then protest on their own, that’s impossible.
Was there any need for these insults? None. Is it possible that the insults during the detention just materialized in the air, like clouds, on accident? Rhetorical question.
"Public officials" caused women "moral suffering" – How is this not torture?
Torture through beating
We must admit that for the most part women were not beaten. Not during detention, not in prison afterwards. Men, however, were almost all beaten, many to crippling injuries. Beaten both during detention, and in prison.
All prisoners in cell #18, without exception, refer to these nightly beatings of men in the hallways, loud sounds of blows, animal screams of the beaten as the worst thing they experienced in captivity. Here the Convention against Torture makes a small clarification: physical suffering does not necessarily have to be caused to the person who is being tortured. It could be inflicted on “a third party.” So, when Katya’s husband is being beaten, it is not only he, but Katya who also suffers. When her boyfriend is beaten, Olesya S. shares his pain. A tortured unknown man is in pain, but so is Hanna, who hears his screams through the iron door of her cell.
However, as a rule, women were not beaten. Though there were many exceptions to this rule too. A prison guard kicked Olga Pavlova so hard that she fell on the floor. Another guard pushed Olesya S. face-first into a stone wall.
No matter how unjust the law verdicts were, none of them said ‘beat them.’ And we are not talking about accidental shoves, unexpected scrapes. The guards knew exactly what they were doing.
"Public officials caused physical suffering" – How is this not torture??
Torture through sleep deprivation
This is an old method of abuse. Solzhenitsyn already described it in the Gulag Archipelago years ago. A person deprived of sleep despairs and loses will.
The light in cell #18 is always on. This, as the guards would surely say, happened by accident. They simply left the light on so that they could watch through the peephole day and night and monitor that order was observed. So that the cellmates did not fight or kill each other. But this accidental lamp gives Nastya B migraines, and she tries to sleep with her head in the bedside table so that she could get some shade.
She tries to sleep but cannot. Prisoners are taken to interrogations at night. Why during the night? That’s also an old Gulag technique. The investigator gets his sleep during the day and interrogates at night. Prisoners are not allowed to sleep during the day. They are allowed to sleep at night, but that’s when they are taken to interrogations. Insomnia causes people to lose control. Long sleep deprivation drives people insane. And just like that, one woman already begins to think that the cell is a shop, and she works at the register:
- Stand in line, girls, in line. Please prepare cash, small bills, I don’t have change. We are not accepting cards today; something is wrong with the terminal.
How is this not torture?
Torture by hunger
The idea to starve prisoners probably occurred to someone a long time ago, in prehistoric times even. Archpriest Avvakum was tortured with hunger, so were the prisoners in Auschwitz. The Gulag Archipelago begins with a newspaper article reporting that some workers in Kolyma (prisoners, of course) dug up a prehistoric mammoth which they "ate with pleasure." How hungry do you have to be to eat a prehistoric mammoth?
The inmates of cell #18 starve for three days. All 36 people have is one sausage and some cookies that Lena A.’s parents managed to give her during her trial. For three days the feeder does not feed.
When a fair trial happens, the prison guards will of course say this was an accident: too large of a prisoner flow, van arriving after van; cells are overcrowded, the kitchen can’t cope. As soon as they figured some things out, they fed everyone right away. Towards the end of the third day six loaves of bread were thrown into the cell. No, eight loaves. No, it was six. The inmates of cell #18 can’t recall with certainty how many loaves were really there.
Do you know why? Because they were gone before anyone managed to count. How is this not torture?
Torture through stuffiness and overcrowding
Overcrowding and stuffiness also happened accidentally, the guards will say. Didn’t expect such a flow. You can’t really put them into the same cells with men, right? So, they all had to go to cell #18. 36 people – into a cell designed for four. Shortage of air till loss of consciousness.
It never occurred to them to release people if there was no more space. House arrest? A bail with a promise to not leave the country? Nah, never heard of these. “Public state officials” by “causing physical suffering” “punish people” for “an act they committed or are suspected of having committed”. In one word, torture. How else would you describe it?
And why throw buckets of water into the cell where condensation from human breath is already so dense that it streaks down the walls? To make it really feel like the tropics?
And who stuffed the vent with toilet paper? Previous prisoners? Why would prisoners deprive themselves of air? Or was it blocked during winter, to prevent cold from coming in?
This means that in cell #18 where they torture you with overcrowding and lack of air in the summer, they torture with cold in winter.
Torture through unsanitary conditions
The fact that the vent was tightly packed with toilet paper means that the cell previously had toilet paper. There are soap bar slivers on the sink. So, soap was also given out before then. And when there are four people in a four-person cell, the floor can be mopped. But when there are 36 people there, it can’t be. There is neither a rag nor a mop anywhere either.
At the same time, the inmates of cell #18 are sometimes taken to mop the floors in the hallway, collecting urine and blood left after the beatings. The jailers recognize the need for some kind of cleanliness for themselves, but the women are told to wipe themselves with their own clothes.
Still, the prisoners try to do laundry and wash their hair in the sink. They treasure the nail file as the apple of their eye and fixe their nails broken during arrest.
Grooming behavior, that is, an attempt to wash in any situation, biologists say, is a manifestation of the will to live. Only those in despair do not wash.
Therefore putting people in an overwhelming filth and stench is an attempt to drive people to despair.
Torture through fear
The prison is scary: claustrophobia, helplessness, complete dependence- it’s all terrible, no need to say more.
But fear can be amplified. Prisoners of cell #18 testify that during the first day they got especially frequent visits from unknown people in plainclothes who told horror stories. They said that it almost came to a real war in the city, that there was shooting, grenades were thrown. The women had no other sources of information other these men, they did not even know how much time went by. They got chills down their spines. With every passing hour all the crimes they were accused of were getting more serious. Even though you were detained for being an observer during the election, or for carrying peroxide and water for the demonstrators, now you became an accomplice of an armed revolt of some kind.
On the third day Lena A. is taken out of the cell into the courtyard. It is full of armed people, armed with serious weapons, not service pistols in holsters, but machine guns in their hands. And there are many of them, dozens, standing there, playing with their guns. Battered, bloodied, blue from bruises men kneel at their feet.
Lena is taken out and told:
- Hands behind your head. Face the wall.
And other women are put in the same pose right next to her, all facing the wall. Lena thinks:
"They will shoot me."
What a strange, hysterical thought you might say. They can’t just take you to a courtyard and execute you, it cannot be. But three days ago, Lena did not think that people could be arrested for observing the elections. She did not think that copy-pasted protocols existed. She was certain that 36 people could not be put into a four-person cell and starved to death. But all this happened to her. So why couldn’t this execution happen too?
Lena thinks: “They will shoot me," and other women next to her think the same as they line up with their faces towards the wall, hands behind their heads. No, no one says it out loud. They just start fainting, one, and then another, and another.
It turned out this is how they prepare prisoners for transportation between prisons, for transfer from Minsk to Zhodino. There, in Zhodino, women are taken to a large room. An entirely empty room. The wall and the floor are covered in tile. Pipes snake under the ceiling with open, downward facing tubes sticking out three feet apart from each other. Lena thinks: "This is a gas chamber, now we will all suffocate.” And someone from her companions also whispers:
- Girls, it's a gas chamber.
You’ll say what a strange, hysterical thought. What kind of a gas chamber could there be in the 21st century, in Belarus, the country that survived a fascist invasion just three quarters of a century ago?
However, despite it being the 21st century, there were already arrests for no reason, trials for false protocols, and suffocations, although not with gas. So why not use gas now?
Later it becomes clear that this empty room is not a gas chamber but a shower room. Though the women are taken there not to wash themselves, but just for a temporary hold, while the other prisoners are assigned to cells. And to scare them while they were at it. To scare with an execution before departing for Zhodino. To scare with the gas chamber upon the arrival.
When the jailers are tried in fair court where they will have a lawyer, which the prisoners of cell #18 did not, the jailers will of course say that this was an accident. They simply lined up the prisoners in the yard before transportation. Simply took them to the shower room on the arrival. Followed orders. Did not think about the delicate female state of mind. That’s what they will say. And their lawyer will ask for leniency.