Hundreds of witnesses have told of the brutal tactics used by OMON—the government’s security force—to suppress protests in the days following the elections. Peaceful protesters and passersby were seized, severely beaten with batons, tortured, and held in inhumane conditions.
Belarusian pastors reported that dozens of church members suffered in the violence, and evangelical leaders across denominations united to issue a statement condemning the violence and calling for prayer. Pastor Leonid Mi-kho-vich of the Baptist Union of Belarus said that while church leaders avoid direct involvement in politics, they are in contact with their members encouraging them to pray for a peaceful resolution to the nation’s conflict. There are approximately 70,000 evangelical Christians in the nation of 9.5 million.
Sergey is a 32-year-old composer and musician who leads worship at the New Generation Church in Minsk. (WORLD is withholding his last name over concerns about government reprisals.) He posted a YouTube video telling of his experience. On Aug. 11, he did not attend the rally, but while walking home with a friend he came upon a group of men dressed in black military gear. After initial cordial exchanges, the armed men suddenly grabbed them and threw them into a nearby bus. Sergey and his friend were beaten, tortured, and imprisoned for two days without hearing the charges against them.
His pregnant wife and 1-year-old daughter visited the prison, but guards told them no one with his name was there. Under torture, prisoners were forced to sign a document without being able to read it. Sergey was released after two days with comparatively “minor” injuries: massive bruising on his legs and back. A fellow detainee had both legs broken as a result of the beatings. Sergey says authorities informed him his trial will be held in September and that he’ll either have to pay a fine or serve more time in prison.
Sergey’s story is far from isolated. Military forces detained 7,000 civilians in the days just after the elections, and many have similar stories. The prisons released those with the worst injuries to local hospitals, where healthcare workers have been speaking up about the violence-inflicted injuries they saw.