Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

EU small print sheds light on Belarus repression

  • Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko (r) with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán in June (Photo: Viktor Orban)

Details of last week's new EU sanctions on Belarus have shed light on how the regime is trying to crush a peaceful uprising.

"According to witnesses, he personally supervised and took part in torturing unlawfully detained protesters," the EU's legal gazette, the Official Journal, said of Siarhei Kalinnik, a 41-year old police colonel from Minsk.

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Vadzim Prygara, a 40-year old lieutenant, "personally supervised beatings of unlawfully detained protesters," the EU also said on Thursday (17 December).

Viktar Stanislauchyk, a 49-year old deputy police chief, also "personally supervised ... beatings", the EU added.

The word "torture" appeared nine times in the EU sanctions text and the word "violence" 10 times.

And the majority of the 29 new names added to the EU blacklist were from president Alexander Lukashenko's security cadre.

Belarus authorities snatched about 100 more people off the street during another protest on Sunday - the 20th weekend in a row of demonstrations since rigged elections in August.

And personal testimonies of individual victims, such as Kristina, who recently spoke to Swedish news agency etc.se, showed the horror of the torture that some detainees have faced.

Kristina was left incontinent after being raped with truncheons and had 25 teeth smashed out.

Other people have had their arms and legs broken in ways to deliberately cause permanent disabilities, a Belarusian opposition source, who asked not to be named, told EUobserver.

People found to have used secure apps, such as Telegram, to follow protests, have had their fingers broken in punishment, the source added.

Meanwhile, three entities blacklisted last week showed the industrial scale and sophistication of the repression.

The EU said the firm 140 Repair Plant manufactured armoured vehicles for the regime.

The Electromechanical Plant made riot-control equipment, such as street barriers.

And Synesis made facial-recognition software to help scan video footage to pick victims.

The EU sanctions showed how other public services had been perverted.

Judges were blacklisted for "politically-motivated rulings".

Belarus' former health minister, Uladzimir Karanik, was listed for "using ambulances to transport protesters in need of medical assistance to isolation wards rather than to hospitals".

And Ihar Lutsky, the minister of information, was blacklisted for blocking information, by "cutting off access to independent websites".

Corruption schemes

The EU sanctions also shed light on Lukashenko's corruption schemes.

Opposition leaders, such as Valery Tsepkalo, say the dictator has salted away a private fortune of more than $1bn (€800m) by taking kick-backs from business favours.

The EU blacklisted Dana Holdings, a real-estate firm, for having "received plots of land for the development of several large residential complexes and business centres" in Minsk.

It noted that Lilya Lukashenko, the president's daughter-in-law, held "a high-ranking position in the company", even though Dana Holdings' London and Moscow-based PR firm, EM, had previously told EUobserver she was just a "designer" who had left Dana three years ago for maternity leave.

The EU blacklisted Aleksandr Shakutin, a construction and machine-building tycoon, for having "benefited most from the privatisation during Lukashenko's tenure as president".

It also designated Nikolay Vorobey, a petroleum and banking baron, for getting "tax breaks".

For his part, Tsepkalo told EUobserver it was "good news" the EU had targeted Dana Holdings, which is owned by the Karić business dynasty in Serbia and which has a subsidiary in Cyprus, because it was directly involved in Lukashenko's money-making schemes.

Tabakerka

The EU should also have targeted Tabakerka, a cigarette-selling monopoly, owned by Belarusian businessman Alyaksei Aleksin, Tsepkalo added.

Its kiosks have been vandalised by opposition activists for years on grounds of regime links.

"They've put cigarette kiosks next to hospitals, high-schools, and kindergartens," Tsepkalo said.

"They even took away the post office's right to sell bus tickets, so that people had to get tickets from Tabakerka kiosks instead," he added.

But it made "little sense", for Tsepkalo, to sanction firms such as MZKT, a tractor factory, as the EU also did last week, on grounds it had fired people who went on an anti-Lukashenko strike.

"They [MZKT] didn't have any other option," than to follow regime orders, Tsepkalo said.

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