On the run: Activist recounts her experience of solitary confinement in Belarus
Olga Nikolaichik spent thirty days in solitary confinement with limited access to water and medicine after daring to speak out against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The 51-year-old activist, journalist and filmmaker is now hiding from police. She was detained in June after she called Lukashenko an ‘authoritarian leader who is stealing people’s future’.
She had been speaking out after the Belarusian president, known in some circles as ‘Europe’s last dictator’, prevented opposition candidates from registering for the presidential election.
Thousands of Belarusians protested Sunday’s disputed election result that saw Lukashenko re-elected for a sixth term. Many have now been imprisoned for voicing their discontent with his 26-year authoritarian rule.
Dailyrater spoke to Nikolaichik in Minsk where she is currently hiding after being resentenced to thirty days in prison.
“I was in solitary confinement. My cell was around two metres by two metres. There were no real beds, no shower, and I had no blanket,” Nikolaichik told Dailyrater of her experience in Belarusian prison.
“I only got two bottles of water every day, which I had to use both for drinking and flushing the toilet.”
She fears for the safety of the thousands of demonstrators who have been detained in recent days for protesting. For some, relatives have been trying to locate them for days, and despite many being released early on Friday, the lion’s share of arrested protesters are still behind bars.
Her testimony adds to a number of reports, across various media, that cite appalling prison conditions in Belarus, which is also the last remaining country in Europe where capital punishment is legal.
Nikolaichik says that she only had limited access to medicine after falling ill in prison. She also claims she was not even allowed to walk outside until her 23rd day in prison.
“They did not take me to the hospital,” she says while crying.
On the run
Nikolaichik was released after 30 days because the government hoped she would flee to Ukraine or another neighbouring country, she says. After she decided to stay in the country, she was sentenced to another 30 days in prison but went into hiding instead.
“Close to the election, people were trying to remove all activists, and I had to leave my apartment,” says Nikolaichik.
“I was being watched at my home and decided to leave.”
Nikolaichik said police had recently tried to detain her again.
It is hard for her to work because the authorities find ways to locate her when she uses her phone.
“I had riot police busting into my apartment yesterday, and I have been wearing glasses and a scarf not to be identified before our interview,” she told Dailyrater.
“I sleep very little, and I am stressed, but I have to keep working, keep smiling because tomorrow all of us could be dead.”
The protests over the recent disputed election have often turned violent as demonstrators clashed with police. Videos circulating on social media have shown the use of violence and rubber bullets to disperse protesters.
“People now understand that Lukashenko is on a road to nowhere, and I think that the violence that we see right now is a result of him being scared,” says Nikolaichik, who added that despite her fear, she will not stop her fight for freedom.