Belarus: Detentions and prosecutions against the initiative ‘Food Not Bombs’ in Minsk

From the first months of the initiative ‘Food Not Bombs’ in Minsk, the participants were faced with police attention. Initially, these ‘encounters’ were irregular and probably coincidental. But since the end of 2009 the police was deliberately attending food distribution. ABC Belarus collected references to these situations from open sources, describing only part of all the events, in order to give some idea about the development and escalation of the conflict.
The first food distribution of Food Not Bombs in Minsk was held in the summer of 2005. The cops attended the place of the action a month later, when some people from the neighbourhood called the police patrol. Soon, the participants were forced to relocate because of the fights between two men who came to eat, which provoked the police to stop the distribution. After the change of the meeting place, the police often appeared, but without any consequences. The rank and file police officers have not been interested in the initiative; they usually spoke a couple of standard phrases, or copied the IDs of the people, and then left. The movement evolved, with a new group. In early 2009 members of the groups began to distribute food in Mikhailovsky Park, near the train station.

The interior ministry as well as the KGB have repeatedly obstructed the free food distribution to the homeless of Minsk and Brest. More precisely, from late 2009 the authorities’ attention was drawn to the spot in Mikhailovsky Park, where the initiative shared free vegan meals as a protest to army expenditures and poverty. The Belarusian Interior Minister Anatoly Kuleshov, somehow passing through the square, witnessed one of the actions and soon gave an investigation order. Vitaly Kozlov of the Oktyabrsky police department was appointed head of the investigations. The policemen tried to influence the initiative using different methods each time: activists’ IDs were copied and sent for verification to police departments; cops dispersed the crowd and stopped the food distribution, or completely blocked the square, but also persuaded the participants to change their meeting place, and so on. The police then disappeared, but then re-appeared in Food Not Bombs events. All this went on until the end of 2010. During this period, the main police efforts were directed on stopping the free meals in Minsk.

By early 2011 the KGB intervened in the conflict. First they came alone, but the next time they brought special forces with them. They did not interfere with most of the initiative’s distributions, but attempted to verify the personal details of all attendants. In late 2011 the police were regularly showing up at the gathering point near the Vostok metro station. More verification of participants was carried out. Soon the ‘verified’ people were attended by the KGB agents at their place of work or studies. Some were invited to ‘talk’. Security officers have been trying to understand the structure of the movement and to clarify the roles of all participants. They were especially interested in the initiative’s communication with the anarchists. They have been monitoring the Russian social network service and FNB blog that posted a concert poster calling for support of the Food Not Bombs international campaign on March 24th, 2012, when nearly 120 people were reportedly detained and confronted with police brutality during the evening benefit gig, which took place in Minsk MTZ Palace of Culture. Nearly 16 people have been held in custody and sentenced to fines.

To be continued

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