2005 2005-06-22T10:00:00+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

The letter printed below in the source language that was, for known reasons, signed by an assumed name was handed over to the Human Rights Center Viasna together with another two complaints of prisoners in the Mazyr-based maximum security prison. The prisoners asked for the letters to be transferred to international human rights groups so that they could bring to attention the overall situation of the prisoners in Belarus and in Mazyr prison, in particular. We did as they asked and sent their complaints to the UN Committee against Tortures, to the head office of Amnesty International in London and to the office of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in Paris.

The handed over letters contain evidence of treatment of the convicts in the prisons of Belarus. It should be noted that Belarus occupies one of the first places in Europe in terms of convicts per person. The Human Rights Center Viasna continues to monitor how the Republic of Belarus fulfills the UN Convention against Tortures and Other Brutal Inhuman or Degrading Treatment signed on 10 December 1984 and ratified by our country.

The information contained in the letters shows that in Mazyr maximum security prison tortures and other types of brutal and inhuman treatment are used against prisoners. The convicts to these tortures, despite the requirements of the Execution and Penal Code of the Republic of Belarus, cannot file their complaints with procurator's organs or the top officials of the Prison Administration. This situation violates not only the effective legislation of the Republic of Belarus but also the principles laid down in the Minimal Standard Rules of Treating Prisoners adopted by UN on 30 August 1955.
As follows from the letters, in the penal facilities the procurator's office does not exercise appropriate control over the observation of laws in penal facilities as it should. Also, the Prison Administration does not work properly, the imprisonment conditions are terrible, there is hardly any medical help provided to the prisoners. This leads to a situation, where the prisoners in prisons are tortured, mass protests are staged, prisoners damage themselves.

The obvious need for reforming the entire abnormal penitentiary system of the country, which has not been reformed since the times of Stalin. One of the first steps within such reform could be bringing the entire penal system under control of the Ministry of Justice rather than the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as is the case now. Then a comprehensive reform that would glean the international reform experience, of the former socialist countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Lithuania) in the first place is needed.

The situation of the prisoners and protection of human rights in penal facilities.

As is known the human rights in this country have been increasingly violated with every year since Lukashenka factually usurped power in November 1996. As a result of several circumstances: closure of the Prison Administration departments to the community, the old tradition of ignoring prisoners' appeals to the governmental agencies, the low education level of most people in the penal facilities, etc., systematic violation of human rights in prisons remains unknown even to members of the Republican human rights organizations that are democratically oriented.

The administration of most prisons and penal facilities is interested in maintaining the positive image of their activity. That's why the right of appeal to high level agencies guaranteed by the Criminal Executive Code (part 4 article 10 CEC) does not work in practice. As a rule most of the complaints filed by prisoners with controlling organs about the abuse of office committed by officials do not reach destination. How can you appeal against the illegal actions committed by an officer when you are in a permanently closed penal cell or other type of secure confinement that are enclosed by barbed wire on the territory of the facility, when each paper sent goes through the hands of the officer in question?

A characteristic example of what the heads of correctional facilities think of publicity is how the administration of the Mazyr maximum security prison received a working group on arbitrary detentions of the UN Human Rights Committee in August last year. Before it came heads of prisoner groups together with officers of operative and regime parts of the facility warned their "entrusted" people against making complaints threatening harsh punishment. The violators of the rules of conduct were temporarily placed out of the penal cell, with one of the cells occupied by a specially prepared convict to answer the UN representative's questions "correctly". On the day of the working group's visit convicts from the crime prevention section, who voluntarily help the administration maintain order, were ordered by the heads to leave their reserved places on watch-towers and outside gates to keep out of the UN people's sight in some closed places in the production area. Residential premises of the prisoner sections were filled with the facility officers that controlled every step of the convicts.
When three convicts from the penal cell dared to tell the truth, after the UN representatives left the facility administration paid back by placing them in a cell with the worst conditions in a special confinement section for half a year, where a temporary medical section used to be. Only in February the following year after one of the released convicts mentioned this story in his complaints to the UN Office in Belarus and to the procurator's office for punishment execution control, those "truth-seekers" were moved to the other cells of the special confinement section with better conditions. A bit later one of them was convicted to three years in prison at the request of the prison administration.
The important reason for the unsatisfactory position of the convicts is that the correctional facilities do not get enough financing. The governing regime whose concern is to keep the illegitimately obtained power does not allocate the required funds to provide for appropriate conditions of imprisonment. The amount of money needed to pay for the keep of a Belarusian prisoner is several dozens of times smaller than that spent in civilized European countries. As a result, someone sentenced to imprisonment or arrest has to live for an extended period of time in rooms that do not have proper conditions or a proper level of sanitation. Every Belarusian prisoner deprived of material help from outside regularly does not get enough to eat and freezes in cold weather. For example, to normally function the human body needs about 80 grams of fat. However, according to nutrition standards for convicts established by the Council of Ministers of Belarus, a Belarusian prisoner does not get even half as much. Clothing is an issue that needs just as much attention. Despite the clothing standards established by the Ministry of Internal Affairs that say clothing, linen and footwear handed out should match the season, but in fact the prisoners mostly receive light demi-season clothes.
However, the main obstacle in maintaining in proper order the prisoners and human rights in penal facilities is the imperfection of the criminal executive legislation and the methodology of the correctional process. The criminal executive code of Belarus and the adopted by-laws, including the "Internal Rules", that regulate the activity of correctional facilities infringe the Constitution of Belarus, the generally accepted norms and principles of international law, the international agreements of Belarus in the field of punishment and treatment of the convicts.
Articles 60 and 101 of the Criminal Executive Code that provide for arrest and limited freedom without payment of the work done contradict both the Constitution of Belarus (article 41-42) and the Declaration of Human Rights (article 23), and the CIS Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (article 14). It is these articles that lead to numerous punishments for convicts that do not agree to work free of charge. All those who do not agree with the legalized lawlessness end up in a penal cell or is transferred to a special confinement section, or sent to an enhanced security prison.
Article 411 of the Criminal Code of Belarus results in still greater self-will. The article reads as follows: "Insubordination to the legal demands of the administration of the correctional facilities by a person that serves his sentence in a correctional facility when this person has within a year been transferred to a special confinement section for violating the rules of the correctional facility". This eloquent piece of the former Soviet justice that is now used to make short work of protesters allows for use of criminal punishment (imprisonment) for minor administrative offences. By using this article, the Belarusian justice annually sentences hundreds of people to new terms of up to 2 years. Every citizen of any EU country would be surprised to learn that Siarhei Pastalouski, a prisoner in penal facility-2, was sentenced by the court of Pershamaiski District of Babruisk to 1 year and 6 months in a maximum security facility for being late for morning exercises and failure to come to lunch.
It is believed that the main goal of reforming the convicts is to cause them to be prepared to lead a law-obedient life. However, this intention remains an unfulfilled one. Most of the means used to this end due to their imperfect and violent nature cause alienation from the prisoner community. A considerable part of the Belarusian convicts try to keep to the rules of criminal conduct, an unwritten code that emerged in the inhuman conditions of Gulag and the Soviet penitentiary system and regulates life in correctional facility and beyond. This code, despite its obvious bias, quite efficiently regulates the behavior and actions of incarcerated people and allows them to retain the best human qualities and traits of character.
But the cornerstone of the criminal conduct code is rejection of all governmental agencies and the administration of correctional facilities in particular, cooperation with which is an act of disgrace. That's why the officers working in almost all penal facilities in Belarus conduct a harsh and uncompromising struggle with the adherents of the alternative outlook, completely ignoring the laws and human rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the Human Rights Declaration.
According to the Minimal Standard Rules of Treating Prisoners adopted by UN, the rules established in a correctional facility should attempt to minimize the difference between imprisoned life and free life. However, the administration of correctional facilities in Belarus does not eliminate the difference but, on the contrary, groundlessly steps up the toughness of the rules, which turns the convicts' situation into an ordeal.
Some of the Internal Rules provide for almost torturing treatment of prisoners by causing the convicts in prison to do without outer clothing during the transition period (until 15 October and from 15 April). The prisoners placed in the penal cell have an especially hard time having to do without beds. As a result of this, many convicts are ill with tuberculosis, pneumonia, pyelonephritis and other catarrhal diseases caused by overcooling.
Most human rights violations are caused through use of force. All common and maximum security facilities have unpaid jobs, which nobody often needs, such as sweeping the territory, digging up the separation border, cleaning the toilets, doing all of which is disgraceful from the standpoint of prisoners. That's why the administration of penal facilities, especially No.15,1 and 20 knowingly use illegal methods: beating, intimidation, unjustified harsh punishments, including conviction by terms of Article 411 of the Criminal Executive Code.
The prisoners in Mozyr-based experimental model facility with enhanced security No.20 are in the worst situation, though the facility, judging by many indices, is considered to be one of the best in the country. But the "successes" in Mozyr facility are achieved through illegal and often criminal methods used by the administration over the past five years.
So, in December 2000 officers of facility No.20, acting on the order of the then governor Bakaviets, ruthlessly beat about 100 convicts kept in the penal cells and special confinement section. Many received traumas and various injuries. After such torturing treatment, 6 beaten convicts inflicted cuts on themselves and drove metal items into the internal organs so that the procurator could be called. A.Sanko, a young Homel resident, who is now in Hrodna ST-1 (cell No.112) still has inside his lungs a sharpened prong because the doctors of the surgery department of the Republican hospital for prisoners thought they'd better leave it there.
The tragic story of a Svetlahorsk resident Aliaxandr Pavecharouski known as "Student" in the prisoner community is noteworthy. At the end of March 2002 after getting back to the penal facility from the Hrodna prison, this 40 year old convict was severely beaten because he had refused to give up warm things he was entitled to as a TB patient. Protesting against the lawlessness, he kept to a long-term hunger-strike, which eventually led to his death. The medical unit specialists sent him to the Republican hospital too late, where he died in June, though he could have lived years.
Inhuman treatment of convicts continues today with the new governor Yu.B.Zbarouski at the head who sometimes takes part in the initiated brutal treatment of the prisoners himself. On 14 March 2005 acting on his order, the operative unit officers brutally beat Ramazan Mamedbekau for refusing to do unpaid work. Mr.Zbarouski himself first insulted the national dignity of the man and then from a few steps away started to throw a rubber truncheon over the "objector's" head (who had to be standing with his legs wide apart) threatening murder.
On 24 March 2002 the officers of the regime unit together with the controlling officers of the assistant governor for regime and operative work Mr. Rabau illegally used physical force against the convicts Haponchykau, Mamedbekau, Tsviatkou, Unhura from cell No.6 and Plieshchaeu from cell No.7 who had his arm broken by Major Shulha. After that more than 50 prisoners from the penal cells and special confinement section went on a four-day long hunger-strike to prevent further tortures.
By the way, this has been the second mass hunger-strike since the beginning of the year, excluding single prisoner convicts. At the end of January after a "tide" of physical reprisals, in particular against the prisoner Maiseenka, a five day hunger strike of the prisoners placed in the penal cells and special confinement section took place.
Apart from illegally using physical force, the facility administration do not maintain proper imprisonment conditions, and violate the nutrition standards, for example, the prisoners placed in the penal cells and special confinement section are not given sugar and meat, and are not provided the required level of medical assistance. The complaints and the appeals by the convicts to the governmental agencies and public associations for human rights are not sent to destination.
The conditions of those sentenced to arrest are no better. Because there are no arrest houses, which are only due to appear in 2006, these convicts are kept in overcrowded investigation cells, where appropriate conditions cannot be maintained.
These facts are only single cases of human rights violations regularly committed in the penitentiary system of Belarus. This situation calls for decisive actions by the Republican and international human rights organizations, and the UN Committee for Human Rights. The first step in this direction should be transferring the Prison Administration from the Internal Affairs Ministry to the Justice Ministry of Belarus, as is the case in the civilized countries of the world.

5/20/2005. Sauka Astrozhnik, a convict.

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