Some 200 people gathered on Sunday evening in Barcelona’s city center in solidarity with the people of Belarus. The event, in front of the Catalan capital’s cathedral, was organized in protest against the August 9 election, which the protesters consider “falsified,” and also to show opposition to the eastern European country’s president, Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The Belarusians in Catalonia are organized through a group called Belarusian Diaspora in Catalonia, whose spokesperson is Alena Turava. “We have had a dictatorship for many years in our country and on August 9 we held an election that was falsified again,” she said. “The people took to the streets and there have been a lot detained and tortured in prison.”

There are 1,823 Belarusians living in Catalonia, according to the latest data from Idescat (2019), and one of them is Pavel Kirylionak, formerly a prisoner in Lukashenko’s Belarus.

Arrested and tortured

In a recent interview with Catalan News, he explained that after taking part in a protest in 1999 against plans to further integrate the country with Russia, he was arrested and tortured. “I can confirm all these stories about torture in Belarusian prisons because it happened to me. The only difference is that in 1999 this was happening to dozens of people, and now it is happening to thousands,” he says.

Kirylionak says he spent ten days in prison. The stories of other detainees bring back stark memories of his own experience. “When they beat you non-stop for hours, that is torture. And they continue beating you even if you go unconscious. It’s inhumane,” he says. “They also put you in 2-3-meter cells with 20 or 25 people, so everybody has to stand still”.

Kirylionak, who has been in Barcelona for 12 years now, is confident that the current protests are a turning point for the country.

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