Three layers of electrified fence. New security cameras. A military guard and a sign saying “entry barred”. Windows with bars and reflective glass on newly renovated barracks buildings. all empty, occasionally stop the security officer, deep in the woods authoritarian Belarus.
These indicate, according to videos seen by CNN and witnesses’ statements, a possible prison camp for political dissidents recently built near the settlement of Novokolosovo, about an hour’s drive from the Belarusian capital Minsk. It sits on the site of a Soviet-era missile storage facility, spread over 200 acres. It is not clear how much of the site has been renovated.
Belarus’s opposition activists have feared for some time that authoritarian regime If traditional prisons fill up, they may resort to crude detention camps. There are also growing concerns about another wave of crackdowns and arrests in response to the demonstrations marking the August 9 anniversary of the controversial presidential election that sparked last year’s protest movement. Further unrest could surround a constitutional referendum planned for later this year or early 2022.
Frank Viakorka, a senior adviser to Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Sichanovskaya, saw the footage and told CNN: “It is not surprising that [President Alexander Lukashenko] Trying to build something like a regular prison camp, because a new wave of protests will emerge anyway. It could start with his statements, it could start with the economic situation. But will come He understands this, and he also wants to be more prepared in 2020 than last year. ”
Belarusian dissidents in August 2020 Said Police kept him for several days in a prison camp, which was temporarily made up of an addiction treatment facility.
In October, ByPol, an activist group of former security officials, released a recording which they alleged was made by the deputy interior minister, Mikaia Karpyenkou, in which they said “restore” prison camps more Needed to make up for a more “sharp heel”. “The protesters to reform them. In the recording, Karpyenkou proposed building a camp out of an existing penitentiary in the city of Ivtsevichi.
The Belarusian government dismissed the recordings as “fake” news at the time of their release. The government did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on this article.
CNN has not been able to access the interior of the facility near Novokolosovo, and there are no signs that there are prisoners in the camp yet. A Western intelligence official told CNN that it was “possible” to use the facility as a prison camp, although they did not have direct evidence to that effect. The locals of the city of Novokolosovo call this facility “camp”. One resident, who had recently been asked by military guards to leave the area, when he arrived at the site, said: “My friend Sasha, a builder, told me they renovated the place. There are three levels, and it’s electrified. I was picking mushrooms here when a soldier came up to me and said I can’t walk there.” Two other witnesses also observed the military patrol.
The camp’s images emerge after a week of crackdowns against independent media remaining inside Belarus, and after increasing international attention to the crisis inside the authoritarian country.
on Sunday, Olympic athlete Kristina Timnovskaya He said he was forced into the airport in Tokyo after criticizing Belarusian Olympic officials on Instagram, and had to seek help from Japanese police to stop him from boarding a flight back to Minsk. She landed in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday, where she was offered asylum and a humanitarian visa.
The National Olympic Committee of Belarus has said that she was dropped from the Olympic team due to emotional and psychological issues, which she denies.
On Tuesday, fears for a growing diaspora of dissidents from Belarus heightened when activist Vitaly Shishovy was found dead in a park outside Ukraine’s capital Kiev, apparently hanged with bruises on his body. Police are investigating the possibility of suicide or murder.
In May, the country’s regime shamelessly diverted a passenger plane to Minsk and arrested the dissident Journalist Roman Protasevich, in an incident described by some Western leaders as a “state-sanctioned kidnapping”.
Police brutality has decimated Belarus’s protest movement, with many demonstrations now taking the form of flash mobs, filmed and posted online. Still there are signs workers New measures of proactive disruption are being adopted.
CNN has spoken to activists who say they have taken steps to sabotage railway lines run by the Belarusian government. He sent CNN a series of videos that show him using an established technique of delaying trains without causing damage. CNN is not disclosing the location or nature of the strategy, and has not been able to independently confirm the effectiveness of the protest actions.
One of the organisers, who said their activities had slowed trains to around 20 kph (12 mph) in some areas, told CNN: “The main goal is to cause economic damage to the regime, because of delays.” Because of paying heavy fine to them.
Many of the railways that pass through Belarus ferry freight from China to the European Union, meaning that frequent delays could be of widespread importance to international trade across the continent, making Lukashenko’s regime hard in the pocket.