KYIV, Ukraine — While visiting her son in a Belarusian jail, Natallia Makavetskaya noticed deep scars on his wrists left by tight handcuffs. She additionally observed the yellow tag sewn onto his garments.
The tags mark these jailed for becoming a member of demonstrations towards authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and single them out for “particularly harsh prison conditions,” Makavetskaya instructed The Associated Press.
“They have decided that my son is prone to extremism and treated him accordingly,” she mentioned in a phone interview.
Her son, Uladzislau Makavetsky, was convicted in December of threatening a police officer with a truncheon throughout a conflict between protesters and police in his hometown of Vitebsk and was sentenced to 2 years in jail. He denied the costs, saying he was solely attempting to guard an aged man who had been crushed by police and he simply tossed away a truncheon dropped by one of many officers.
Makavetsky instructed his mom that authorities at jail colony No. 22, positioned close to Brest on the border with Poland, denied him any private objects or guests for a time. During day by day lineups, he was ordered to face other than different prisoners and say: “I’m prone to extremism.” Prisoners with yellow tags additionally get intensive common searches.
The 28-year-old woodcarver was one among greater than 35,000 individuals arrested in Belarus in a harsh crackdown on protests that followed Lukashenko’s reelection to a sixth time period in an August 2020 vote that was broadly seen as rigged. Thousands had been severely crushed by police.
The wide-ranging repression was spotlighted once more on May 23, when a Ryanair flight touring from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Minsk the place authorities arrested Raman Pratasevich, a dissident journalist who was aboard. He has been proven in a number of movies on state TV since his arrest, most recently Thursday night, tearfully repenting for his actions and praising Lukashenko in remarks that the opposition mentioned had been clearly made below duress.
Outraged European Union authorities denounced the flight’s diversion as air piracy and imposed extra sanctions on the nation.
Belarus human rights activists say authorities have toughened jail situations in latest months for individuals who took half in protests. Many of them have been marked with the yellow tags, a observe denounced by human rights activists.
“The tags’ yellow color draws direct associations with yellow Stars of David for Jews in Nazi Germany and it’s hard to understand why the Belarusian authorities did it,” mentioned Valiantsin Stefanovich of the Viasna human rights middle. “In any case, these dangerous experiments lead to stigmatization of political prisoners by prison authorities and other inmates.”
Viasna says that at the very least 460 political prisoners are being held in Belarusian penitentiaries on legal prices associated to protests that carry phrases from six months to a number of years.
The Belarusian authorities have ignored criticism of harsh situations for jailed protesters. Lukashenko has repeatedly forged protesters as pawns in what he described as efforts by Western spy businesses to destabilize Belarus and forcefully change the federal government.
Besides Makavetskaya, three different girls instructed the AP that their sons had yellow tags sewn on their garments after they visited them in April and May.
One of them, who requested to be recognized solely by her first identify, Valiantsina, fearing reprisals from authorities, mentioned her son instructed her he’s stored in handcuffs across the clock. The IT specialist from Minsk is serving his four-year sentence in jail colony No. 1 within the metropolis of Novopolotsk.
“My son whispered to me that he was being held for days in a stretched position in a punishment cell, his legs stretched far apart to cause intense pain without any trace left,” she instructed AP.
Another prisoner who was given a yellow tag was Katsiaryna Barysevich, a journalist of the Tut.by impartial information portal who was launched final month after serving six months on prices of showing private information in her report a couple of protester’s dying.
“I wouldn’t say that I have been broken,” Barysevich instructed reporters after her launch. “I have learned to look calmly at mad things.”
Liubou Kaspiarovich, one other Tut.by journalist who spent 15 days in jail final month for overlaying a trial associated to protests, mentioned she and 14 others in her two-bed cell needed to sleep on the concrete ground that was nonetheless moist with chlorine bleach.
“They were waking us up several times during the night, ordering us to report the criminal law articles we were charged with and each morning they poured a bucketful of chlorine on the floor,” Kaspiarovich instructed the AP. “And they put a homeless woman who had lice in our cell.”
Vitold Ashurok, who was among the many first to attract consideration to harsh situations and yellow tags for political prisoners, died inside a jail in Shklov, the place he was serving a five-year sentence for collaborating in protests. The authorities mentioned Ashurok, 50, died of a coronary heart assault May 21, though his dying certificates didn’t record a explanation for dying.
When family got his physique, which bore bruises and a bandage on his head, authorities additionally launched a video wherein a person presupposed to be Ashurok was seen greedy his head and collapsing earlier than officers enter. The opposition mentioned the video was doctored.
Viasna’s Stefanovich questioned the official model of Ashurok’s dying.
“An absolutely healthy person suddenly dies in custody … and they don’t name the cause of death and (then) hand over his body with bandages,” he mentioned. “What are people supposed to think?”
His dying introduced an outpouring of anger.
“He died in the struggle for freedom and a brighter future for Belarus,” US Ambassador Julie Fisher mentioned on Twitter, including that Ashurok’s “wrongful imprisonment and senseless death demand accountability.”
Another prisoner tried to slit his throat with a pen in court docket Tuesday after authorities threatened his household with legal prices. Stsiapan Latypau, 41, was hospitalized and put in a medically induced coma afterward.
German Foreign Ministry expressed shock and anger over the incident. Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr mentioned it “symbolizes the hopelessness that Lukashenko brings upon his citizens with his repression and also the brutal violence that is obviously being used there.”
Human rights activists and family of these being held have urged the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to go to Belarusian prisons to examine situations for political prisoners.
“They are cranking up repressions and there is no way to find out the truth about what’s going on behind the walls of the Belarusian prisons that have inherited the worst Soviet traditions,” mentioned Viasna’s Stefanovich.