Ales Bialiatski: Penitentiary System of Belarus Needs Urgent Reform’
The conditions in which the Belarusian prisoners are kept have always disturbed the human rights activists. However, it is almost impossible to conduct a qualified monitoring of this issue because of the unwillingness of the authorities to open penitentiary institutions to the public. Most often this information is passed to human rights activists from prisoners, especially prisoners of conscience. Recently Human Rights Center Viasna has received quite an interesting document from Orsha. It is the answer of V.V.Ieustafieu, chair of the internal affairs department of Vitsebsk Regional Executive Committee, to Orsha regional ethnographers.
We should say some words about the history of this paper. The authorities decided to build a new pre-trial isolator in Orhsha. A good thing to do, but the local ethnographers were indignant at the fact that it was intended to build it on the fundament of Sviata-Pakrouski women’s monastery. In order to prevent it they submitted the appropriate application to some interested state organs. They received an answer from the internal affairs department of Vitsebsk REC in which its chair tries to convince the local intellectuals in the necessity of this building. Actually, this letter describes the problems that are characteristic for the majority of penitentiary institutions of our country. Here it is:
To the regional ethnographers of Orsha (the original continued their surnames)
Having attentively studies Your application I inform that the existing pre-trial isolator is situated in the basement of Orsha District Department of Internal Affairs in Lenin Street 20. The building was constructed in 1951. It can house 35 persons at once. In 2005 the medium filling of the isolator was 123 persons.
Because of the large density of the people who are kept in the cells the ventilation is insufficient, as a result of which the cells aren’t ventilated well enough and accumulate humidity. The sanitary norms are violated. There’s neither a sanitary check-point with a shower and a disinfection cell neither a walking yard in the isolator. There’s no hot water in the cells. It is very hard to conduct timely disinfection and restoration of the cells. It is also impossible to implement the defined regime of housing the prisoners. Minors are kept together with adults, those who don’t have previous criminal sentenced with those who have them, sentenced persons – together with those awaiting the trial. It creates preconditions for incidents, because the evident quantitative advantage of those who are kept in the cells can provoke assault on the guards.
By Order of President of the Republic of Belarus of 12 December 2005 #588 About adoption of the program of state investment for 2006 the object Pre-trial isolator of Orsha City Department of Internal Affairs was included into the program of state investment for 2006.
The human rights activist Ales Bialiatski calls such conditions of keeping prisoners in Belarusian penitentiary institutions ‘inhuman and violating the UN Convention against Torture. He thinks that the penitentiary system of Belarus needs urgent reforming. It is also worth saying that Orsha ethnographers managed to defend the monastery – the isolator will be built in another place.