“Soon after I was released, I gave a press-conference in which I stated about the conditions in the KGB prison and the tortures taking place there. I wanted people to know the truth on what is really going on with the political activists and former presidential candidates, that such things are possible in a European country in the centre of Minsk in the 21 century,” Ales Michalevich writes, presidential candidate in the 2010 election in Belarus.

I was always advocating for the peaceful evolutionary change of the country’s political regime and I saw the upcoming 2010 presidential elections as an opportunity to openly declare my views on the country’s further political and economic development, find possible ways of cooperation between the authorities and civil society in Belarus. Work with various sectors of Belarusian governmental system convinced me that the Belarusian state structure was in need of an urgent modernization, with an emphasis on local self-government, democratic procedures and respect to human rights. My participation in the presidential campaign also resulted from all my previous civic and political activities.

In January 2010 I officially declared I would be taking part in the presidential elections in Belarus as an independent candidate. I saw my presidential campaign as an opportunity to attract people that never before actively participated in politics, but were willing to improve the economic and political image of the country without resorting to radical ideas but rather by means of progressive reforming of the major spheres in economy and political sector. From the very beginning I tried to work with the various target groups of Belarusian society, organizing events and addressing them directly, aiming to attract their attention. I left the classical opposition voters to other candidates, instead focusing on a larger segment of society.

I must admit that the conditions for organizing a presidential campaign in Belarus were more liberal than in the previous years. I was able to freely address my views and meet with the people, despite minor violations from the side of the authorities. In May 2010 I presented a thesis of my electoral program: ”Belarus: Strategy of Evolution” in Minsk city hall. The electoral program consisted of three basic parts: economy growth, effective state, active society. I was also able to register Union ”For Modernization”. The organization promotes transformation of a Belarusian state to modern forms of organization of economics, social and cultural spheres, as well as preparation of Belarusian society for the upcoming changes. The Union aims at reaching a different level of business-state relations, stimulation of inner market competition, attraction of new technologies, investments into high-technology production, development of service industries.

During my campaign I gave numerous interviews to Belarusian and foreign media, participated in the debates and made working visits to Belarusian regions. My initiative group was able to collect the necessary amount of signatures for balloting. Which was quite surprising, most of them were from Belarusian province. After I was officially registered as a presidential candidate, I continued my promotion campaign, making strong accent on agitation in the regions, fully using my time on state television and radio, seeking understanding with the authorities on the issue of modernization of the country and implementation of democratic changes. All in all, I believe the campaign proved to be relatively successful for me with independent polls giving me 10 % of the electoral votes. If I were to go back, I would not seriously change any point of my campaign. During the campaign period, I was able to meet many new people, establish contacts and I believe the voters were able to hear my message on the modernization of the country.

What happened at the day of elections, on December 19, cannot be described in any rational terms. To the moment when I came to the rally a big amount of its participants were beaten and injured. Hundreds of people who protested against the election result have been arrested in the post election crackdown. I was arrested by the KGB troops later in the night at my campaign office and taken to the KGB prison. Members of my initiative group were being constantly called to the KGB for interrogation, as well as some of my relatives.

Shortly before the New Year I was officially accused of organizing of mass disorders. The events following the accusation were even more disturbing. In the KGB prison I was subjected to tortures. KGB jail carried out personal searches of prisoners for five or six times a day: Men in black masks with no markings conducted such searches. We were stretched naked, with our legs hooked up to a complete string. We could feel our ligament tearing; in the end of this procedure, it was difficult to walk. We were placed naked a meter apart from the wall with our hands stretched forward, propping up the wall in the room, where the temperature didn’t exceed ten degrees. We had been kept so for 40 minutes until our hands got swelled. Sometimes they made us prop up the walls with our palms up. Some prisoners with a poor health got faint during such ”procedures.” However, the people in masks did not stop. They didn’t turn off the fluorescent lamps at night but demanded to lie down under the lamp, not even covering the face with a handkerchief to see the face. As a result, the eye-sight began to deteriorate. We were ordered to sleep with our faces turned to the ”eyes” in the doorway, the compliance of which was continually watched – if turned while sleeping, they went in and woke us up, forcing to lie down as ordered. In fact, it caused a complete absence of sleep. Prisoners were denied their legal right to medical help. Lawyers were also not allowed to prisoners. This was done deliberately to make the prisoners keep silence about torture.

I refused to read out a statement, condemning the other candidates, on TV. KGB conducted questioning without lawyers, without protocol, thus violating the procedural rules. They confiscated my diary with every-day records, made there; but it is impossible to erase from my memory what happened within those walls. The condition for my release was the signing of a ”cooperation agreement.” I deliberately took this step, and it was not dictated by the pressure and torture, but the desire to convey information about what’s happening to the prisoners.

Soon after I was released, I gave a press-conference in which I stated about the conditions in the KGB prison and the tortures taking place there. I wanted people to know the truth on what is really going on to the political activists and former presidential candidates, that such things are possible in a European country in the centre of Minsk in the 21 century. I wanted to show what the current regime was ready to do to remain in power, how it violates basic human rights and how it makes oppositional political activists agree to cooperate.

After two weeks of active campaigning on informing the society on tortures and conditions in KGB prison, I secretly left the country for fear of persecution from Belarusian authorities and possible new detainment by KGB.

It is evident that the regime now faces one of the most serious economic crises that ever happened to Belarus. In some spheres it seems as if we went back to the beginning of the 90-ies with the deficit of products and inflation. The regime relies on Russian credit and financing but this will not change the situation in the long term. What is needed is serious economic, social and political modernization, but the regime is unlikely to start reforming as it will diminish Lukashenka’s personal power.

The EU should first of all press the regime for stopping of tortures and for the release of all political prisoners. It may also impose sanctions, though previously I was against such measures. Third sector and pro-democratic representatives, independent media and organizations should be supported.

Ales Michalevic,
Presidential Candidate in Belarus, 2010