Mikhail Kryvau

Blog written for Amnesty International by Belarusian youth activist Mikhail Kryvau, who was sentenced to two years of ‘restricted freedom’ on 22 April 2008. In October 2007, I got involved in a group of youth activists called the United Civil Party of Belarus (UCPB). We decided to start the Young Democrats – the UCPB youth wing – and activities involved organizing political discussions and student education seminars, as well as writing and distributing materials. One of our major activities became participation in protest actions held by the democratic opposition. On the 10th of January 2008, I took part in a major action of protest. The participants of the demonstration – small entrepreneurs and opposition activists – were protesting against one of President Lukashenka’s rulings. It grew into a mass demonstration and the protesters stopped the traffic in the city centre. However, it remained a peaceful and non-violent protest. When it was almost over and I was going back home, I was brutally attacked by the officers from the special police force – the so-called “Police Squads of Special Function”. They hit me and bent my arms behind my back. Then the officers threw six or seven more people into the police van. All of us were lying on the floor with our faces down. They were fiercely hitting us with their iron-covered boots and gloves. I noticed some blood on the girl’s coat next to me.  We asked the officers to stop but they wouldn’t. It was a shattering experience. I felt like what was happening was unreal and I was just having a very bad dream. When I was taken to the police department, I felt very bad. I asked for a doctor but the police ignored my requests. I spent the night in a prison cell. The next morning we were taken to the Minsk Central District Court. In the evening, I was eventually brought before a judge. As a result of the 15-minute “trial”, I was given 15 days of administrative detention. Following that, on 4 March 2008, I was called to the police department again. This time, they handed me an Official Note declaring me accused of “organizing and active participating” in the January 10th demonstration. On 16 April 2008, the trial proceedings began in Minsk. A number of opposition activists – 14 people in total – were accused of “organizing and active participating in an unauthorized action of protest”. On 22 April, the judge found us guilty. Most of us were sentenced to two years of restricted freedom, which is a form of home arrest. Our lawyers had the verdicts appealed. However, the sentences were reaffirmed. In July 2008, my sentence officially came into force. I would have to stay in the confines of my apartment at all times, except when I was at work (eight hours) and the time designated for my day-to-day activities, such as going to the grocery store, barber’s etc. (two hours). If the police phoned me on my home landline and I was one minute late, I would get my first official warning. If I got three such warnings, my sentence would automatically change from restraint of liberty to deprivation of liberty – i.e. jail. Every two weeks I would have to go and register at the police department. The police would have the right to enter my apartment at any time of day. I would not be permitted to leave Minsk. I would not be permitted to attend public events such as any kinds of demonstrations, conventions or picketing. I would not be permitted to visit other people’s apartments. Because of the harsh restrictions imposed on my freedom and the threat of further confinement, I made a difficult decision to flee Belarus. I sought the status of a political refugee, which was granted to me by the Irish government in May 2009. Since I left Belarus, the police have visited my apartment twice. Both times there was a group of 4-6 police officers. They searched my apartment and asked my relatives and neighbours where I was. When they showed up the second time, they searched my apartment again and told my parents that they had launched a criminal investigation with regard to my evasion from serving my sentence. READ MORE Belarus activists tell of life in exile (News, 27 November 2009)Read Tatyana Tishkevich‘s blog

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Call on Belarusian President to free youth activists