President's rival tells of torture in Belarus jail

A prominent opposition politician in Belarus who was one of hundreds of people arrested after the disputed presidential elections last December said yesterday that he had been tortured inside a KGB prison.

Ales Mikhalevich was released by his captors on 19 February on the condition that he told nothing about his nine weeks in pre-trial detention. But the 36-year-old father of two appeared in public for the first time yesterday and, in an emotional press conference in Minsk, tore up the agreement he had signed stating that he wanted to tell the outside world about conditions inside the KGB prison where hundreds of pro-democracy campaigners are being held.

Mr Mikhalevich was one of seven presidential candidates who were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the December elections when Belarus' president Alexander Lukashenko initiated a widespread crackdown on any opposition inside the former Soviet republic.

Speaking about his time in jail Mr Mikhalevich said guards repeatedly made him stand outside naked in the cold, used excruciating stress positions during searches, forced him to sleep in a cell where the temperature was kept at 10C and refused him access to defence lawyers.

In one particularly brutal interrogation on 10 January, he claimed he was physically tortured by a group of masked men. "Some people wearing camouflage uniforms and face-masks, with no insignia, dragged me out [of my prison cell], handcuffed me behind my back and pulled my arms so high my face was hitting the concrete floor," he said. "They took me down a spiral staircase into a separate room and started pulling my arms up so high that my bones cracked, demanding that I promise to do whatever I was told to do by State Security officers. And they kept pulling my arms up until I said yes."

A spokesperson for the secret police, which still uses its pre-Soviet independence name, said Mr Mikhalevich's descriptions of conditions inside the jail "did not match reality". But his testimony adds to a growing body of evidence collected by human rights groups on what they say is as a vicious crackdown inside Europe's last dictatorship.

Mr Mikhalevich was not immediately available by phone yesterday but The Independent was able to contact his wife Milana. "My husband knows he could be rearrested immediately for speaking out but he feels he has to tell the world what is happening," she said. "The outside world must try to help in stopping such atrocities and torture in the heart of central Europe."

The crackdown in Belarus began on the night of the election as tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists descended on Minsk's Independence Square to protest at what they alleged was a rigged election. Official monitors have since said that the election fell far short of international standards.

Official figures state that at least 689 people, including seven presidential candidates, have been arrested in the last two months although human rights groups say the figure is much higher.

Most of the presidential candidates and their key helpers have been charged with organising a mass riot which carries a sentence of up to 15 years.

Mr Mikhalevich's allegations came as Ban Ki-moon accused Mr Lukashenko's regime of seriously breaching the international arms embargo on the Ivory Coast.

Mr Ban said Belarus had recently shipped three attack helicopters to disgraced president Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down from power despite losing a presidential election in November.

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week