Valiantsin Stefanovich: Medical and labour centre is prison without court decision
Belarus is the only country that has medical and labour centres.
Valiantsin Stefanovich, the head of Viasna human rights centre, spoke to charter97.org about sending former political prisoner Vasily Parfiankou to a medical and labour centre for a year.
“As for the procedure of taking a person to such centres, Viasna human rights centre considers it to be a violation of human rights, no matter to whom it is applied. Alcoholism cannot be treated forcefully, moreover by enforced labour. Patients of medical and labour centres usually work at construction sites or on collective farms. We had a mission to study the situation of enforced labour in Belarus. The report will soon be released. We studied the use of enforced labour in relation to patients with alcohol addiction isolated in medical and labour centres. We visited the centre for women in a village in the Horki district and saw how they are taken to work and returned back. Police officers take them to different types of work,” the lawyer says.
The human rights defender adds that money for food and services are withdrawn from patients' wages.
“They cannot earn much there. The isolation is not a part of criminal prosecution. They are isolated not in connection with an offence, but as part of a civil process. They were already punished for their offences: they paid fines or served a term in custody. To be sent to a medical and labour centre one must commit three alcohol-related offences a year and be named a chronic alcoholic by a special medical board. A district police office makes a warning that a person will be taken to a medical and labour centre if he or she commits one more offence. If he or she continues to commit alcohol-related offences, materials of the case are sent to a court,” Valiantsin Stefanovich says.
He underlines that the status of these people is not clear – they are not detained, not convicted, but isolated.
“The medical and labour centre is in fact a prison. A court takes a decision in a civil process, not a criminal one. A person has freedom restrictions not on the court decision and not in connection with the committed offence. It was so in the Soviet Union. Now only Belarus has it. The system of medical and labour centres was liquidated in Russia in 1993, because it violated the constitution. A person is in fact deprived of freedom for a year. If his behaviour is bad, the centre administration can apply to a court and his term can be extended for six months not as part of a criminal case, but because of public order violations and anti-social behaviour,” the human rights activist says.
Former political prisoner Vasily Parfiankou was sent from a detention facility to a medical and labour centre on Friday.