2021 Shortlist

Brutalised Minsk: how Belarusian police beat protesters

Country/area: Russia

Organisation: Mediazona, OpenDemocracy

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 3 Nov 2020

Credit: Dmitry Treshchanin, Maxim Litavrin, Anastasiya Boika, Yegor Skovoroda, David Frenkel, Nikita Shulaev, Maria Tolstova, Anastasia Poryseva, Khatima Mutaeva, Viktoria Rozhitsyna, Mikhail Lebedev

Project description:

This year Belarus has been rocked by mass demonstrations against Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who has ruled the country for more than 26 years. Belarusian police have been dispersing protesters, but every week thousands of residents of Minsk and other cities come out onto the streets.

Mediazona received access to data held by Belarus’ Investigative Committee. These data show that the minimum number of people who suffered violence during protests in August and September this year is 1,406. In this article, Mediazona shows how Belarusian law enforcement beats — systematically and with complete impunity — protesters.

Impact reached:

This is the data-investigation, so we think that our visualisation of this data is maybe even more important here than the text of the article.

We have proved the huge level of violence against protesters in Belarus. It was common knowledge that police severely beaten demonstrators, but we managed to reveal the huge number of victims and to show in details, how and where they were wounded and tortured (the real number of victims if definitely higher, but we couldn’t prove more cases).

Most independent news media in Belarus and Russia published results of our investigation, both media and political activists still use it when they talk about protests in situation with human rights in the country. 

Our media was blocked by the Belarussian government — we think that this political decision was the reaction to this investigation (as well to other our publications).

Techniques/technologies used:

We used python, Open Refine and Google Sheets to clen, to organise and to analize our data — we dropped many duplicates, find all locations that were mentioned in this leaked data, we manually analized it and divided it into several types of injuries (how hard this person vas injured, where, what type of weapon used the pilice etc). Then we converted this data to json.

Then we made the visualizasion, we use OpenStreet Map to create the map of places, where demonstrants were beated. We used D3 to create our ‘online demo’ whre you can find information about any of victims and select them by some types.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part was to analize all this leaked data — we had to merge many separate tables, to clean them, to edit this information (it was collected by Belaros Investigative Committe for its own purposes and it wasn’t possible to use it without editing), to define types and hardness of injuries etc. The second hard thing was to convert this analized data to our visualization. 

What can others learn from this project?

How to show the levet of political repressions and police brutality in countries like Belarus, where you don’t have an opportunity neither get this data officially nor collect it separately. Huge amount of victims was common knowledge before our investigation, but we first have proofed certain number and shown how many people were severely beaten. 

Project links: