Our newest and very interesting interview with political prisoner Zmicier Kasparovich.
– Zmicier, in 2006, you have fulfilled the dream of many Belarusians who wanted national flags, not accepted by the authorities, to wave on the official buildings. Why did you decide to display the flag on the building of the Municipal Executive Committee in Minsk?
– It was not the first time that I hung out the flag, I was already detained for that reason few years ago. In 1999 together with one of my friends I hung the flag on the tower BielSala. My friend was sentenced to 15 days in jail, I was a minor, which is why they held me for the night and released. Now I can talk about it normally, because the case is invalid now. I was not arrested for the first time but unfortunately, the second time was not so lucky.
So why I did it for the second time? It was a time before the presidential election, the authorities began to intimidate the people. Lukashenko started to claim publicly that he allegedly controls everyone and everything in Belarus, that the elections will be easy win, that no one will even protest. So it was my way to protest. Exactly 2 days after his statement I made an attempt to hung out the flag. Unfortunately, it proved to be ineffective. Nevertheless, I do not regret what I did, and I do not regret even that I had to serve a sentence for that..
– At first, you were held in remand prison, then in Volodarka prison in Minsk, and later in prison in Zhodino … Can you tell something more about those places?
– For the first three days in remand prison I was told that I will be released and get a ban on leaving the place of residence … At first, I was accused of insulting the national flag. According to this article the maximum sentence is two years of imprisonment but usually people charged under similar articles received the ban on leaving. Another preventive measure is not used. But the authorities changed the article under which I was charged and they accused me of hooliganism. The maximum sentence under this article is three years of imprisonment. My friends – Dzmitri Gavrusik and Pavel Batujev were witnesses in the case. In fact, the investigator who interviewed me (who, moreover, spoke very good Belarusian), told me that the decision to imprison me was not taken by the prosecution, but by the mayor of the city – Pavlov.
– How do you remember the time you have spent in Volodarka prison, how you were treated by other prisoners?
– There, I came into contact with a real prison life: all these concepts and rules of thief or villain life … It’s all there in Volodarka. More or less I was able to adapt, but I never became one of “them”. The main difficulty consisted in the fact that the cells were overcrowded and there was a penetrating chill in them. We slept one by one. A winter of 2006 was very cold, and the cell was unbearably cold! All of us was ill. In the prison, I caught pneumonia, and I was ill for the whole stay in prison as I was incorrectly diagnosed. It was only after my release from prison, when I went to the doctor, and it turned out that I had unhealed pneumonia.
When it comes to Zhodino – there was another problem. At 6 am there was a wake-up call, we went to bed by 10 pm, but because the whole time I was ill, those 8 hours of sleep was not enough for me. The lack of sleep was terrible to me. You could not even put your feet on a bunk, it is recognized as a violation, after 3 violations one is put in a punishment cell. And everyone there, everyone in Zhodino, the whole cell wants to sleep. And every day is the same. All the time you want to sleep. Although there are much better conditions than in Volodarka, where per capita there is less than 2 square meter. But still, the cell was very crowded, there was no air to breathe. And the light that burns day and night … Most of prisoner smoke, the entire cell is smoky, and all the time one is sitting in the smoke. One is allowed to take a walk only for an hour per day.
– When were you transferred to Zhodino?
– On January 17, 2006, when the most cold came, I was imprisoned in Volodarka. I was transferred to Zhodina in March, few days before the presidential election. Then the authorities started to transfer political prisoners from Volodarka to other prisons. Lukashenko maybe was afraid that if something happens, the political prisoners will be released. So it was better to deport political prisoners as far away as possible from Minsk.
– In March 2006 to Zhodino prison were brought several hundred people who were arrested during the police crackdown on October Square.
– Were you aware about the events on October Square? Did you know that those people were so close to you in the prison?
– After the events on October Square, my mom visited me and told me everything. When I told this to my fellow prisoners that 200 people were brought here from October Square, nobody believed me, they said, “How could such a thing happen?”. We did not hear any screams. But Zhodino is a very large prison. People should have believed my word then. They learned about it later from newspapers.
Except for me and another man all prisoners were allowed to vote, but we were deprived of the right to vote. We both were illegally transferred to Zhodino, because the court was still considering our appeals and the sentence did not gain legal force. According to the law, if there is no sentence, but the investigation is pending, the citizen cannot participate in the election. And in my cell all the people were voting. There were those who voted for Lukashenko, but the majority voted for Milinkevich.
– How many people were in the cell?
– Around 20.
– And how the prison staff behaved towards you? After the Shydlovski’s and Labkovich’s case from 1998 the prison became known as notorious.
– Yes, it’s true. But this ” notoriousness” was associated with the then head of the detention center – Mr. Kuzovok. Then, when I came to Zhodina, Kuzovak was gone, some time before he was transferred to the colony in Vitebsk
I was treated very raw from the very beginning, As soon as I arrived, I was held for two hours in an overcrowded police bus, then I spent 24 hours in a punishment cell, with 15 other people. It was difficult to stand there and absolutely impossible to sit down. The day before, in Volodarka, I was not allowed to sleep too so when they finally moved me to a cell I was happy that everything is over.
I was never beaten in Zhodina prison. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Kuzovak has been moved. Every day prison officers searched our cell. We had to put our stuff in the middle of the cell, take mattresses in our hands and stand in the hallway, then we had to put mattresses over our heads leaning against the wall. It usually lasted about 20 minutes. In the course of time they started to conduct searches every second day. It was visible that the situation in the prison started to improve a little bit. And some of my cell mates told me that when Kuzovak was the head of the prison the situation was very bad and the cases of physical violence were often.
The prison officers referred to me per “Mr.” It is possible that this was due to the fact that I was a political prisoner. And I was the only prisoner in the cell with higher education. It was evident that prison staff treated me in a different way. I believe that current political prisoners arrested in 2010 are in much worse position. They were beaten and tortured in KGB jails. The fate of political prisoners in 2006 was better and the repressions were never as that severe as they are now.