Since the beginning of August 2020, hundreds of Belarusians have received huge fines and sentences for offensive comments on social media against police officers, government officials and the illegitimate president. We talked about some of the cases here. However, the channels supporting Lukashenko cannot be called polite either. To intimidate the Belarusians, the Interior Ministry has spawned a new genre of video – remorse. The detainees are forced to talk on camera about themselves and how they expressed their disagreement with the Lukashenko regime. The videos are abundantly flavoured with insults and humiliation, the authors do not even hesitate to publish facts of violence and torture. We analysed publications in the largest Telegram channels and are ready to share the results.
Long before the 2020 elections, this channel exposed the opposition, ridiculed those who were not Lukashenko’s supporters, and glorified all the actions of the Belarusian authorities. During this time, he gained more than 76.5 thousand subscribers. As the protests began, the authors began to publish videos of the remorse of people who had taken part in street rallies and pickets.
Since August 2020, more than 150 videos have been published on the Telegram channel with “repentances” from people who wanted change in the country. Moreover, while in the autumn of 2020 there were about 10-15 such videos a month, after 20 May 2021, when, according to the state propaganda, the protests stopped, the videos came out even more frequently. For comparison, in November 2020, “Zheltye slivy” posted 17 videos of protesters who regret their deeds. In July 2021, 29 videos were released.
Only part of these clips has been posted on the official press service channel of the Belarusian Interior Ministry. The rest were not marked with the MIA channel logo and sometimes the videos were watermarked by the channel. Videos were recorded in various conditions. At least three of them show people in a prisoner transporter (bars are visible in the background), at least four show people under torture (in one case the hands were tied with wire, in another video the suspect was recorded with his hands wrung, in a third the hero of the video had his face smashed, in the fourth the hero was on his knees with his hands behind his back). In at least two cases, the detainees were marked with paint.
At first, the channel posted videos of detainees at mass protests and strikers. Since January 2021, videos have started to appear more often with the participation of those who left comments on social networks, protested by hanging white-red-white flags on windows and even joining protest Telegram chats. For example, in July and August 2021, Belarusians participated in 20 videos, who were in opposition chats. Those who, according to the channel’s authors, committed other crimes (wrote a post or comment, declassified the data of the security forces) were two to three times less.
In more than 90% of videos, suspects give their last name, first name and patronymic. Slightly less often, the city and home address. All this contradicts Articles 23.7 of the Administrative Code and 203-2 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. Interestingly, alongside videos of protesters, videos of riot police and GUBOPIK employees talking about the “crimes” of peaceful Belarusians are also released. In all the videos, the security forces have their faces covered and their voices changed, and their names are not mentioned.
Descriptions for videos on the channel contain insults and humiliation. The authors of the channel call the heroes of the videos idiots, “fighters”, degenerates, fools, stooges, slackers and scumbags. And this rhetoric has been around since January 2021, before which the descriptions were neutral. The authors of the channel can be convicted under Articles 19.1 and 10.2 of the Administrative Code for obscene language – however, they are at large and continue to proudly talk about the “crimes” of the opposition-minded Belarusians.
Grigory Azarenok Channel
Journalist Grigory Azarenok, the son of propagandist Yuri Azarenok, rose to prominence in 2020, when the state TV channel STV aired the first political programmes featuring him. After the elections, he had his own show “Secret Springs of Politics”, as well as a heading “The Order of Judas”. In both programs, he insults well-known Belarusians who spoke out against Lukashenko. Almost 6.5 thousand people have subscribed to his Telegram channel. We talked more about Azarenok here.
On 20 May 2021, Azarenok voiced the slogan: “Not a day without a “fighter’s” repentance!” and since then has clearly followed this rule. In just seven days in August, 15 videos with detained protesters were released on his channel. In total, during the existence of his Telegram channel (since December 2020), more than a hundred videos have been released, the heroes of which are Belarusians accused of non-existent crimes. The peak came in July, when Azarenok posted about 40 videos.
In about 50% of the videos, the detainees stand in front of the camera with their hands behind their backs, which already indicates the use of handcuffs. At least three times the heroes of the videos were beaten before giving testimony to the camera. Three people appeared before the audience without clothes. In 95% of the videos, Belarusians gave their last name, first name and patronymic. Their faces were never hidden.
Like “Zheltye slivy”, Azarenok uses obscene vocabulary in his publications. The descriptions of the videos of the protesters are rife with hate speech: he calls the participants in the videos bastards, cocks, pigs, rotten, carrion, goats, threatens searches, visits by the security forces and burns them with red-hot iron. In most cases, the detainees are accused of administering Telegram chats and comments on social networks. For the anniversary of the protests, there are more videos on the channel from those detained for last year’s mass rallies. Out of more than a hundred clips, only about a fifth are taken from the Interior Ministry’s Telegram channels.
Channel of the press secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
This channel appeared in 2019. More than 19 thousand people read it. Compared to the previous two, the resource is the most neutral to the protesters. They are characterized by gender (male, female), by place of residence (for example, a Homel resident, a Minsk resident) or by type of activity (working in an IT company).
The main difference is that a big part of the video is on the YouTube channel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus. It published more than 80 videos, links to which appeared in the Telegram channel. In 95% of the videos, people’s faces were open, and the descriptions indicate the cities where the accused live. This fact is especially strange because thieves, scammers, hooligans also appear in such videos. And the channel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs carefully blurs their faces.
The crimes of demonstrators are connected both with protest activities and calls for forceful actions, insults to police officers and government representatives in social networks. At least two Belarusians from published videos were accused of reposting information from Telegram channels recognized as extremist by the illegitimate state. At least three videos are dedicated to the destruction of the red-green flag. About 10 participants of the videos caused damage to police cars, apartments, bus stops and buildings. At least five were participants of street rallies. The rest participated in protest Telegram chats, were subscribed to protest groups in social networks, wrote posts on their pages.
The video shows episodes of torture and violence against protesters. People are filmed both during detention or searches and during interrogations in the offices of security forces. The treatment of the police officers to peaceful Belarusians is perfectly audible.
Belteleradiocompany and ONT channels
In total, just over 21 thousand people have subscribed to the channels. Both posted videos confessing to “crimes” much more frequently and assertively in the autumn of 2020. During the summer of 2021, fewer than 10 videos of protestors’ remorse were released on each channel. All of them were reposts from the channel of the press secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In October 2020, ONT channel published about 30 such videos, and BT channel – more than 35. Among them were both videos of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and recordings of their own videos.
In the videos, which were recorded by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the protesters are rather neutral. The description indicates gender, age, city of residence, and briefly describes the essence of the crime. In the same clips recorded by the TV channel itself, the protesters are called alcoholics, couch brawlers and fools, and it is emphasized that they are participating in the protests for money.
At least one video was recorded with the use of torture – his hero lies on the floor prone with his hands behind his back. At least ten people are handcuffed. Heroes of at least two videos are marked with paint. At least three people appear in front of the camera without clothes. In 90% of the videos, the protesters give their first and last names, home addresses or city of residence.
It should be noted that the voices of the interrogators are heard on almost all videos. However, special filters are imposed on them, as a result of which it is almost impossible to identify the speakers. This does not apply to protesters. Out of hundreds of videos, fewer than 10 could be counted which hide the faces of the accused.
More than 80% of the crimes of which Belarusians are accused are joining Telegram chats and offensive comments, much less often – making white-red-white symbols. Confessions from such detainees began to appear around January 2021. “Penances” of those arrested for mass actions and radical actions were more often recorded in September-November 2020.
Lyudmila Gladkaya’s channel
Lyudmila Gladkaya is an odious journalist for the state newspaper “SB. Belarus today”. She writes materials on topics of crime, covers the activities of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Investigative Committee, prepares reports of court hearings and in every possible way emphasizes that the Lukashenko regime is fighting criminals – protesters who spoke out against the illegitimate government. After the election, Gladkaya also started her own Telegram channel. Since February 2021, more than 2.4 thousand people have subscribed to it.
Almost as soon as the channel was established, Gladkaya became involved in the information battle against the “criminals”. During the six months of the channel’s existence, the journalist has published about 50 videos with the participation of “repentant” protesters. More than half of them are videos recorded by Gladkaya herself and have not been repeated on any pro-government channel. This indicates that the journalist has the right to be present during interrogations.
Most of the heroes of the videos are participants in the protest Telegram chats. Much less frequently, Gladkaya posted videos of those accused of unauthorized picketing and resisting police officers. In each video, they give their first and last names (or Gladkaya states these details in the descriptions of the posts). The journalist does not disdain insults, calling the heroes of the video alcoholics, stupid, comparing them to animals. Also, in her publications with remorse, Gladkaya thanks the GUBOPiK and OMON – these organizations were the cruellest to the protesters in the first months after the elections.
Channels of the holding “Belarus Today” and the agency BELTA
These state media also have their own Telegram channels. The channel, owned by Belarus Today, has a little over 2 thousand subscribers, and the BelTA channel has almost 21.5 thousand subscribers. After the elections, they also began posting videos of protestors’ remorse. During the protests, about 70 videos appeared on the Belarus Today channel, and about 100 videos on the BelTA channel.
Most of the videos on the channels are repeated – these are re-posts from other resources. But about 10% are original videos. Among the heroes of the videos, released on the channel “Belarus Today” – at least one citizen of Ukraine, one person with a disability, one minor. One video captures the protester with his face smashed in.
The most frequent videos on both channels are those in which the protagonists admit to participating in Telegram protests and insults on social media – approximately 60 percent of these, and the videos mostly started appearing in January 2021. Previously, protesters in the video were more often charged with resisting police officers, damaging police cars, painting on buildings and cars, and attempting arson. Twice Belarusians appeared on the video, who repented of the abuse of the red-green flag.
In only about 20% of videos, Belarusians give their surname and first name. About 5% of the videos do not allow you to see the face of the protesters. The text is used quite neutral – most often the leading channels write facts of crimes in which Belarusians are accused, without using offensive descriptions and their own assessments.
The purpose of such repentance videos is quite clear: not only to morally humiliate the protesters, but also to intimidate others who have not yet made up their minds about what is happening. At the same time, Lukashenko’s henchmen do not hesitate to give the activists characteristics (alcoholic, parasite, fool), and humiliate them. Based on the recent months, the worst thing for the regime’s employees is a different point of view. Most of all, they want to show that the Belarusians have surrendered and love the usurper. But it is impossible to respect someone by force, and the confession videos evoke not so much fear of retribution as disgust at an illegitimate government. And we hope that there will be even more of those who want Lukashenko to leave, and together we will strike a blow at the dictatorship.