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‘I can confirm torture reports in Belarusian prisons because it also happened to me’

Exiled in Barcelona for 12 years, Pavel Kirylionak sees his country "more united than ever" in its push to overthrow Lukashenko’s regime

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22 August 2020 09:30 AM

by

Alan Ruiz Terol | Barcelona

In 1999, Pavel Kirylionak took to the streets in Minsk, Belarus, to protest against plans to further integrate the country with Russia by president Alexander G. Lukashenko.

A former director of a collective farm, Lukashenko had shocked the nation five years earlier with a surprise victory against the heirs of the communist apparatus, thus becoming the country’s first leader since the independence from the USSR in 1991. 

Police cracked down on those who, like Kirylionak, did not agree with Lukashenko—a cycle that repeated with his subsequent victories in presidential elections.

Two decades have passed, Lukashenko is still in power, but is facing the biggest uprising in the country’s living memory. Kirylionak, exiled in Barcelona, watches from afar.

  • "When they beat you non-stop for hours, that is torture. And they continue beating you even if you go unconscious. It’s inhumane"

    Pavel Kirylionak · Belarussian exile in Barcelona

"I can confirm all these stories about tortures in Belarusian prisons because it happened to me. The only difference is that in 1999 this was happening to dozens of people, and now to thousands," he says.

Kirylionak says he spent ten days in prison. The stories of other detainees bring him stark memories of his own experience.

"When they beat you non-stop for hours, that is torture. And they continue beating you even if you go unconscious. It’s inhumane," he says. "They also put you in 2-3-meter cells with 20 or 25 people, so everybody has to stand steady".

Just like other Belarusians living in Catalonia told Catalan News, Kirylionak is confident that the current protests are a turning point for the country. Even if Lukashenko manages to stay in power for months, or years, Kirylionak believes that his regime is finally coming to an end.

"A part of me would like to be there, because these are not only massive protests–it’s a transformation, a birth of a nation", he says, but concedes that he’s afraid too: "If I were there I would also be afraid because I'd certainly be among the detained." 

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  • Belarussian political exile Pavel Kirylionak (by ACN)

  • Belarussian political exile Pavel Kirylionak (by ACN)

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