By Daisy Sindelar
Someone in Andrey Sharenda's home had the presence of mind to secretly turn on a recording device at the moment a group of KGB officers crossed the threshold, brandishing a search warrant, shortly after 10 a.m. on January 10.
What resulted is a 45-minute audio recording that offers rare insight into the day-to-day work of Belarus's secret police as a systematic crackdown continues against journalists and political activists in the wake of the country's disputed presidential election.
The tape -- made available to RFE/RL's Belarus Service
within hours of the visit -- records an exchange that is being repeated in numerous households throughout Belarus. Crackdown
Several dozen activists and journalists have been subjected to KGB scrutiny for their role in violent December 19 protests against that day's disputed presidential vote, which handed the authoritarian incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka a fourth presidential term.
Those protests began peacefully but ended with violence, as police rushed the square, beating and arresting hundreds of demonstrators, including seven presidential candidates.
Sharenda, a young activist in the western city of Brest, had worked for one of the jailed candidates, Vital Rymasheuski. Rymasheuski and others have since been released, but four candidates and many demonstrators remain behind bars on suspicion of sparking the violence.
Belarusian authorities today charged 31 of the detainees with organizing the protests and said that police have identified 120 people who "actively participated in the mass disturbances on December 19."
One of those people appears to be Sharenda, who had participated in the protests but was not arrested. A search warrant, signed by an official from the KGB's Brest Oblast division and presented to Sharenda as the agents entered the apartment, notes that a criminal investigation has been opened into Sharenda's participation in the demonstrations, and says, "There is reason to believe that the suspect's residence will yield objects of significance to the case."'You Are Advised...'
In the recording, the KGB officers appear calm and somewhat officious.
"You are advised to voluntarily give up any objects that have any significance for this criminal investigation," one says brusquely, asking Sharenda to hand over the family's mobile phones and cameras and duly noting Sharenda's refusal to sign the search warrant.
The KGB officer then informs the family that they will be free to observe the search and can register any complaints. He then asks for passports and says he and his colleagues will be "looking for objects that have any significance for the criminal investigation or objects that are banned from civilian use."
Much of the recording is voiceless, as the officers set to work searching the apartment. There are sounds of drawers being opened and rifled through, bags being unzipped, and phones and cameras being collected on a shelf for evidence.
There are a few lighter moments, as when a series of froglike croaks abruptly echo through the apartment, evidently from a child's toy caught up in the search. Several people can be heard laughing as more toys begin to emit electronic pops and whirs.
But for the most part, the interaction is clinical and, on the part of Sharenda's wife, Palina Sharenda-Panasyuk -- increasingly angry. At one point she berates the officers for failing to investigate Lukashenka for vote falsification and mockingly suggests that they were only able to get jobs because they were relatives of the KGB higher-up who signed the search warrant.
"I would ask you not to photograph or videotape anything," one of the officers says, to which Sharenda-Panasyuk quickly replies, "And I would ask you to have Luka arrested for what he's done for the past 10 years instead of coming here babbling about some law."
She also teases the officers for "blushing" in response to her comments.
Toward the end of the visit, the KGB officers formally remind the family of their rights to volunteer any information "to help clarify the circumstances of the criminal case" and give the Sharendas an opportunity to make comments. The family refuses, and the officers leave. It is not known what they seized in the search, but at the very least the family's phones and cameras were confiscated.
A total of four Brest activists were targeted in the January 10 raids, but Sharenda's search was the only one that appears to have been recorded. It is unclear whether Sharenda or his wife have faced any ramifications as a result of the publication of the audio recording.
The Belarusian postelection crackdown has continued despite mounting criticism from the international community.
Members of the European Parliament held a special meeting today in Brussels
to discuss the issue. The parliament's president, Jerzy Buzek, said, "The Lukashenka government clearly lacks democratic legitimacy. And from this point of view, it's necessary to have a revision of the EU policy toward Minsk."
Buzek also called on Belarusian authorities to free all those remaining in prison in connection with the protests and to drop the charges against the 31 activists.