Mikalai Autukhovich: “When I was released, former head of tax inspection asked for bodyguard”

2014 2014-04-18T16:10:28+0300 2014-04-18T16:10:28+0300 en http://spring96.org/files/images/sources/mikalai-autukhovich-2014-04-18.jpg The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Mikalai Autukhovich

Mikalai Autukhovich

Former political prisoner, Vaukavysk businessman Mikalai Autukhovich told about the conditions of detention in Belarusian prisons, about his opinion on the entrepreneurial movement in Belarus and assessed the level of corruption in the country.

- According to the verdict, you can not engage in business activities. What are you thinking to do in the near future?

- Indeed, according to the first sentence, I cannot engage in business activities for five years. Since I was released two months earlier back in 2008, the rest of the term was later added to the second sentence. As a result, the countdown of the five years’ ban on entrepreneurial activity starts from my last release. But at the same time, I cannot dissolve my business, as I am still in debt to the state. It’s a legal conflict. I do not know exactly what I would do. My wife can do business and I will help her. But now, first of all I want to take care of my health.

- Many years have passed since you stopped doing business. How do you assess today’s entrepreneurial movement in Belarus? Maybe you heard something from your friends who stayed in this area...

- A lot of entrepreneurs are gone. Some have flourished over the years. But it’s more for small business. Now it is very difficult to work. While I was in prison, I was trying to keep track of how the legislation was changing. I see that it only gets worse. Even in my time it was very difficult to earn money if you worked honestly. Both before and now people are looking for ways to somehow swindle to have a normal profit.

- How did prison conditions affect you?

- You start looking differently at life and your needs. When I used to work, for example, to have a house by the sea, a yacht, a small helicopter, and I could afford that, and now I do not want this. Money has fallen by the wayside. I felt that the spiritual things are more important. After prison, I see strong support from friends and acquaintances. People respond instantly. They offer help, bring things, for free, without money.

- You’re known as a fighter against corruption. In your opinion, how far has this “disease” penetrated our state bodies?

- Very deep. I spent five years and two months in prison, and nothing has changed. My family has watched over the people who send me to prison. They used to be grabbers, and they are still grabbers. They have even been promoted. Employee of the tax inspection Hanna Misko became chief of the inspection in Vaukavysk. And she was convicted! Yes, she escaped liability because limitations had expired, but how can a person with this past be appointed to such a position? Or Tamara Stasevich, who was head of the tax inspection... She illegally arranged her daughter’s studies at university for the state money, and she was promoted to deputy chief of the Hrodna regional tax office! By the way, I was told that on the day of my release, she asked for a bodyguard. If she was not engaged in corruption, or if it was not her fault, why then is she afraid of my release?

- Lukashenka came to power in the wake of the fight against corruption. After his sensational statements it may seem that he is still actively fighting this evil phenomenon. Why, then, isn’t it impossible to stop it?

- All of his “struggle” is just ridiculous. Every time we approach the presidential election, there appear slogans against corruption, so it was in 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2010... Everyone is struggling and cannot win!

- So what do you think should be done?

- Work. I do not belong to any regulatory or other government agencies, but in just six months I gathered so many criminal facts about our officials that at first I could not believe in what amounts they stole. And the authorities who are supposed to investigate these facts pretend not to notice them. Today, the situation is the same. Why? Everyone is covering each other’s back: the courts, prosecutors, police cover each other.

- I want to return to your stay in prison. Are there a lot of people behind bars who were convicted illegally?

- I did a monitoring in Ivatsevichy colony. I took a hundred random prisoners, who were asked the same questions: do people agree with the verdict, was the article of the Criminal Code properly applied to them. The results were as follows: 6 % said they totally agreed with the verdict. 47 % said that they did break the law, but they were convicted on the wrong charges. The remaining 47 % noted that they were not guilty at all.

- How crowded are Belarusian colonies and prisons?

- During my first term, when I was in prison in Minsk’s Kalvaryiskaya Street, there are about 2,200 people for 900 beds. Ivatsevichy colony accommodates 1,200 people, but there were more than 3,000 prisoners. The beds had three levels, but still some people were lying in the corridor, as the rooms could not accommodation everyone.

- According to law, the main task of criminal punishment is correcting the prisoner and preventing subsequent offenses. How is our correctional system coping with this goal? Hasn’t it turned into a punitive system?

- To the prison administration, correcting an individual means making him afraid. It’s only then, according to them, that the prisoner could be released. After all, he is willing to be silent, to execute any order. And if you do not agree with illegal actions, if you defend your rights and fight for justice, you will not be released. Since you have not been yet fully processed.

- I would also like to ask you about a system that has long been established in Belarusian prisons, but to many people who are not behind bars it may not be known. Is it true that the correction and the maintaining of order in the colonies and prisons is not only done by the administrations, which are endowed with such powers by law, but also by the group of so-called “blatnois” who, in fact, live under “their own laws”, and all the other prisoners somehow have to obey them? And how far are their activities coordinated with the administration of the colony?

- It is true. The administration recognizes that there are criminal traditions and uses these mechanisms for their own purposes. How? The chiefs are tied to the criminals themselves, who may affect the other prisoners, and through them they set the desired order. The “blatnois” are, in fact, extra wardens. For this they have certain concessions in detention rules. I have been repeatedly approached by convicts who complained that they could no longer tolerate these orders. I tried to help them – to write a complaint, for example. The administration, when seeing that the prisoner was asking for help, called the “blatnois”. Those approached the man and started their “work”: “What is it that you do not you like? Already spoke to Autuhovich? Should I break your spine?” After this many changed their minds. It is for this purpose that this cooperation between the “blatnois”and the administration was established.

- How did these “crime bosses” treat you?

- In the colony, except those who cooperate with the administration, there are “crime bosses” who refused to spy on prisoners or assist the wardens, they were by themselves. I talked with these people. It should be noted that they tend to be very fair and are not silent. If there are some problems, they try to solve them, urge the administration to perform its duties. Therefore, they are more likely to be thrown in a punishment cell, so that they could not be seen in the colony. After several solitary confinements there is a trial and such prisoners are sent to prisons, where the possibility of contact with other convicts is minimal.

- How are political prisoners treated in prisons and colonies?

- I must say that political prisoners cannot communicate with each other – it is forbidden by law. Therefore, I received all the information from the newspapers. I knew in advance, for example, that Dzmitry Dashkevich was going to Hrodna prison. On the eve of this, I was summoned to the warden, who asked me if did not mind to be in the same cell with him. I said I didn’t. But then they changed their mind and told me to go to another room, and Dzmitry was then put in my cell. We never saw each other in prison. As for the attitude of other inmates to political prisoners, then it is good. Aggression and distrust are rather an exception.

- I will ask a question you’ve probably heard more than once. Maybe it was not worth starting the struggle? Going with the tide, instead: pay the authorities not to be touched, but keep the old life of a businessman?

- I have had many opportunities to have the money from the air. There were offers from officials of the executive committee, but for me it was unacceptable. I knew very well that I earned my money myself. My parents are not government officials, no one was there. I always paid taxes. I knew that I never had any debts. And when officials came to me and demanded that I paid it just enraged me. Even in the 90s, the bandits did not come to me, because they knew they could not expect anything new from me. I could not resolve issues with the officials, as if they were bandits, therefore I appealed to the competent authorities. And everyone knows the result. On the other hand, I could not make a deal with my conscience. I’m not this sort of person.

- When political prisoners are released, people greet them with thanks, kind words. Many people hope that here is this man who has suffered so much and was not broken in prison, and he will become a Belarusian leader. Do you have any political ambitions? In 2004 you ran in the parliamentary elections...

- I did not become a candidate because of a political career. I just saw no other way to change life in the region, to improve conditions for business. All these problems are now relevant to my countrymen. In 2004, I had a strong support from my associates who helped me in those elections. With regard to the current situation. As before, I do not belong to any political parties and movements. I do not see myself in politics so far. I need time to figure out what’s going on now in the socio-political life of the country. I read that many people went abroad. The mood of the people is passive, there is a certain disappointment. The opposition did not really fulfill many aspirations of the people. But in order to give a more complete evaluation, I need time to fill the information vacuum created during my imprisonment.

- You were in Afghanistan. Is it true that someone who once was in a war, never gives up?

- This is true in a way, but I would never give up even without a war. Of course, serving in the army formed me. As a leader I am quite categorical. In my firm there was such an order: what I said was the law. The employees should comply with the requirements of the enterprise. I did not tolerate drinking, negligence, sloppiness. I sent many drivers for treatment when they agreed to that. As for the war in Afghanistan, there is a notion of the “Afghan syndrome”, which is believed to be possessed by many who were there. Indeed, the Afghan war veterans possess a painfully heightened sense of justice. They do not tolerate violation of the law on the psychophysical level. Do not forget with what noble ideas the Soviet soldiers were sent to Afghanistan, and what there was actually going on and how they were subsequently frustrated when the real purpose of the war became known.

- Now, it is a hectic time, if you look at the situation in Ukraine. I know that you were monitoring the news. How do you assess the actions of Russia? And the reaction of the official Minsk?

- What seemed impossible a few months ago, happened today. I mean the annexation of the Crimea and Russia’s further actions in eastern Ukraine. This situation has shown that the mechanisms of international law do not work against blunt force, supported by energy resources and nuclear weapons. Belarus in this sense is even weaker then Ukraine: we do not have mass protests, civil society, political forces that will resist the aggression of the Kremlin. I do not know whether Lukashenka realizes this, but his political and actual life will greatly depend on it.