Human Rights Watch has accused Belarusian security forces of detaining thousands of people and torturing hundreds of others in the days after the disputed August 9 election that gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office.
A brutal government crackdown shortly after the election resulted in the detention of nearly 7,000 people. At least three people have been killed in the protests, and hundreds of others have been hurt by police aggressively dispersing peaceful demonstrators with rubber bullets, clubs and stun grenades. Lukashenko has alleged foreign powers are behind the protests and denies the vote was rigged.
HRW said its findings were based on interviews with 27 former detainees, most of whom were arrested between August 8 and 12, 14 people with knowledge of the arrests, an examination of 67 videos and written accounts from former detainees and their relatives.
Some of the former detainees said they were arrested in the cities of Minsk, Hrodna, and Homeil as they participated in peaceful demonstrations. Others alleged that security forces pulled them off the streets or from their vehicles with “extreme violence.”
The detainees said they were subject to beatings, electric shocks and other forms of torture, resulting in injuries such as broken bones, electrical burns, mild traumatic brain injuries, kidney damage and cracked teeth. At least one detainee was allegedly raped.
Mass arrests resumed in the first week of September, with the Interior Ministry reporting that 600 people were apprehended on September 6 alone. The ministry said another 774 people were arrested in Minsk and other cities for holding unsanctioned demonstrations on Sunday.
Belarusian authorities have also targeted foreign journalists and local reporters working for foreign and local independent media organizations. HRW said dozens of the journalists have had their media credentials revoked, been expelled or harassed.
A journalist in Hrodna said he was arrested despite showing authorities his media credentials, resulting in two broken wrists at the hands of an officer with a Russian special police unit.
Russia did not immediately respond to allegations from the New York-based global non-governmental group.
HRW said the U.N. Human Rights Council began a two-week emergency meeting on Belarus on Monday.
While HRW called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Monday to open investigations into the allegations, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet demanded a probe into the Belarusian security forces.
“Given their scale and number, all allegations of torture and other forms if ill-treatment by the security forces should be documented and investigated, with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice,” Bachelet said in a speech Monday in Geneva.
A bipartisan group of 13 U.S. senators introduced a resolution Monday proposing sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for the crackdown, declaring that Lukashenka’s reelection was “neither free nor fair,” and demanding the release of all political prisoners and demonstrators who were arrested for peacefully protesting.
Russian news agencies quoted him last week saying he has nothing to discuss with the opposition, and that he would be open to constitutional reforms and a potential new presidential election.