Belarusian dissidents fear the regime will place them in detention camps. He may have already built one



These are indications, according to videos seen by CNN and witness statements, of a possible prison camp for political dissidents, recently built about an hour’s drive from the Belarusian capital Minsk, near the settlement of Novokolosovo. It sits on the site of a Soviet-era missile storage facility, which spans over 200 acres. It is not clear to what extent the site has been renovated.

Belarusian opposition activists have feared for some time that the authoritarian regime will resort to rudimentary detention camps if conventional prisons fill up. Concerns are also growing about another wave of crackdowns and arrests in response to protests marking the August 9 anniversary of the disputed presidential election that sparked last year’s protest movement. Further unrest could surround a constitutional referendum slated for later this year or early 2022.

Franak Viacorka, senior adviser to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, viewed the footage and told CNN: “It’s no surprise that [President Alexander Lukashenko] try to build something like an ordinary prison camp, because a new wave of protest will arise anyway. It can be triggered by its statements, it can be triggered by the economic situation. But it will come. He understands that, and he also wants to be more prepared than last year in 2020. “

Belarusian dissidents in August 2020 noted the police detained them for several days in a prison camp, temporarily set up from a drug treatment center.

In October, a group of former security activists, ByPol, released a recording they allegedly made of Deputy Home Secretary Mikalay Karpyankou, in which he said prison camps “resettled “Were to be built for” protesters to reform them. In the recording, Karpyankou offered to build a camp out of an existing penitentiary in the town of Ivatsevichy.

A spokesperson for the US State Department said they were aware of this information and that “we will continue to monitor the situation closely. The United States condemns in the strongest terms the recent and ongoing crackdown on journalists and civil society by the Lukashenka regime. [We] renew our call for an end to the repression, for the immediate release of all political prisoners … and for free and fair elections under international observation. “

The Belarusian government called the tapes at the time of their release “fake” news. The government did not respond to CNN’s request for comment for this story before it was published.

After the post, Belarusian state television channel ONT broadcast video and drone footage from what appeared to be the same location on Friday. The report said the facility was an armaments depot for the Belarusian military’s air defense department, and featured an officer and another person in front of the camera detailing its contents and saying the residents were fine. aware of its purpose. The report also showed the interior of what it said were the same buildings, which contained military equipment.

CNN was unable to gain access to the interior of the facility near Novokolosovo, and there is no indication that the camp still housed prisoners. A Western intelligence official told CNN that the use of the facility as a prison camp was “possible”, although they did not have direct evidence to this effect. Residents of the city of Novokolosovo call the facility “the camp”. One resident, who was recently asked by military guards to leave the area when he approached the site, said: “My friend Sasha, a contractor, told me that they had renovated this place. There are three levels of barbed wire and it is electrified. I was picking mushrooms here when a soldier approached me and told me I couldn’t walk there. ”Two other witnesses also observed military patrols.

Images of the camp are emerging after a week of crackdown on remaining independent media in Belarus and increased international attention to the crisis inside the authoritarian country.

Olympic athlete Kristina Timanovskaya said on Sunday that she was forced into Tokyo airport after criticizing Belarusian Olympic officials on Instagram and had to seek help from Japanese police to avoid that she does not resume a flight to Minsk. She landed in Warsaw, Poland on Wednesday, where she was offered refuge and a humanitarian visa.

Belarus’ National Olympic Committee said she was removed from the Olympic team due to emotional and psychological issues, which she denies.

On Tuesday, fears for the growing diaspora of dissidents in Belarus heightened when activist Vitaly Shishov was found dead in a park outside the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, apparently hanged, with grazes on his body. The police are investigating the possibility of suicide or murder.
In May, the country’s regime brazenly hijacked an airliner to Minsk and arrested dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, in an incident described by some Western leaders as a “state-sanctioned hijacking.”
The protest movement in Belarus has been drastically curtailed due to police brutality, resulting in many protests now taking the form of a flash mob, filmed and uploaded. Still, there are signs that activists are adopting new measures of active disruption.

CNN has spoken to activists who say they have made the decision to sabotage Belarusian government-run rail lines. They sent CNN a series of videos that show them using an established technique to delay trains without causing damage. CNN does not disclose the location or nature of the tactics and has not been able to independently confirm the effectiveness of the protest actions.

One of the organizers, who said their activities caused trains to slow down to around 20 km / h (12 mph) in some areas, told CNN: “The main objective is to cause economic damage to the regime, because delays cause them to pay huge fines. “

Many of the railways that pass through Belarus carry goods from China to the European Union, meaning that frequent delays could have wider significance across the continent and for international trade, putting the Lukashenko regime hard. in the pocket.

Editor’s Note: This report has been updated with a response from the government broadcast by Belarusian State TV and a comment from the US State Department.


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