Protesters freed in Belarus speak of prison beatings

MINSK (Reuters) - Anti-government protesters freed from a detention centre in the Belarusian capital Minsk spoke on Thursday of having suffered beatings, cramped conditions and starvation rations.

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As the European Union prepares to consider possible sanctions against the Belarusian authorities over a crackdown on demonstrators angry over what they believe was a rigged presidential election on Sunday, some protesters walked free from the Okrestina detention facility.

Sergei, one of the freed detainees, said there had been 28 people in a cell that would normally hold five. Prisoners took turns to sleep, he said, and were given a single loaf of bread to share out over two days.

“They did not beat me in the cell, they took me out of the cell and beat me there,” said Sergei, who declined to give his last name.

Reuters could not independently verify his or other accounts and a spokeswoman for the interior ministry declined to comment.

Election officials have declared Alexander Lukashenko, the veteran incumbent, as the winner. But protesters say he swindled the election which they say was actually won by opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Lukashenko has described protesters as criminals and unemployed trouble-makers and said anyone breaking the law will be punished severely.

Vartan Grigoryan, another freed detainee, had traces of severe beatings on his face.

“I was seized, beaten, taken to prison and beaten again. After that, I felt bad and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.”

Lyudmila, a patient in a nearby hospital, said she could hear the protesters suffering.

“We hear screams every night, terrible screams, for a very long time. It was especially scary yesterday, with people screaming so loudly that it seemed people were being beating very close to us “

Another freed detainee, 34-year-old Ilya, told Reuters of the raw aggression exhibited by prison guards.

“If someone in the cell started being noisy or shouting, they were taken down to this corridor as an example and beaten half to death so that everyone could hear.”

additional reporting by Alexander Marrow in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn, Editing by Angus MacSwan