By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Imagine a painting of a female nude but with the bare flesh of her legs and body blotched with purple, green and yellow bruises as she lies on the floor and embraces an outline of her country Belarus.
The striking protest image, an oil painting by Belarusian artist Yana Chernova, takes aim at what rights groups says is systematic violence and torture used by police to try and quell mass anti-government protests.
Tens of thousands of Belarusians have taken part in nationwide protests against veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko for more than five weeks. Women have taken a particularly prominent role in the movement.
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"Everything happening with us here is injustified cruelty against people, against girls - it is a mockery of everything that is wonderful, everything that is soft and warm. It is not just against women, but against Belarus," Chernova said.
The Interior Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment about torture by police on Wednesday. The government has previously denied accusations of abuses.
Chernova's painting shows a female figure lying with her arms around the red shape of Belarus against a white backdrop, colours she said she chose to match the red and white flag that protesters have made a symbol of their struggle.
Chernova, 24, an artist in her final year of art academy in Moscow, said by telephone from Belarus that she has long been critical of the Belarusian government.
"I was born in this regime, I grew up (in it), I saw and listened to stories of what has happened and continues to happen. It's not news in Belarus that people disappear, are killed and kidnapped,"she said.
"This has always happened and I don't know how you can support authorities like that."
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)